Evaluating Industrial IoT Solutions
- By /
Sujata Tilak MD, Ascent Intellimation
11 Dec 2018
The advent of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT/Industry 4.0) has primarily been to improve operational efficiency in the manufacturing sector. And although Industry 4.0 is not a completely mature concept, it is far from being just a buzzword. Today, successful companies are using IIoT to become competitive, improve bottom line and boost revenues by enhancing production efficiency and creating new hybrid business models. Morgan Stanley predicts that IIoT will be a significant driver for industrial growth and expects IIoT spending to increase from 8% to 18% over the next five years.
Accenture estimates that IIoT could lift real gross domestic product for 20 major economies by 1.5% over trend projections in 2030. While it has a lot of potential for generating cost savings and efficiencies, implementation is not straightforward. Embracing Industry 4.0 requires careful planning and assessment. Once you have decided the strategy and created a roadmap, next step is to evaluate solution(s). Industry 4.0 is a journey and IIoT is an important part of it. So you want to not only get a solution, but a partner who will walk with you throughout the solution lifecycle and beyond.
Here’s what you need to look for in your IIoT solution:
1. Connectivity & Edge Processing: The starting point for any IIoT solution is ability of its Edge Gateway to connect to plethora of PLCs, DCS, sensors which are invariably found in every plant. The Edge Gateway should have flexible connectivity options on device side as well as support multiple options for data transfer to cloud. The Gateway should also have adequate capability to do processing on the edge.
2. Integration: One of the first things to look for in an IIoT solution is its integration capabilities. To get the most out of your IIoT investment, it is critical that the solution integrates seamlessly with your existing landscape which includes your current systems, enterprise applications, and other Industry 4.0 systems etc.. For this IIoT solution architecture should have flexible integration capability and the partner should be willing to do custom development required for such integrations.
3. Scalability: As the business environment undergoes tremendous changes with respect to technology, trends, regulations, demands etc., organizations are experiencing growth like never before. Choosing an IIoT solution that is future-ready and can grow as your business grows is extremely important. If you have a limited budget or if you only need to improve the efficiency of a specific area of your business, in addition to an enterprise-wide implementation, the IIoT solution should also offer flexible deployment options. It should allow you to pick one area of operation that you think needs the most improvement, and move on to other areas as and when your business needs change. Such flexibility not only allows for a quick deployment but also allows you to scale and grow with time.
4. Ability to Customize: Any IIoT solution will need some customizations due to complex and diverse nature of industrial operations. Hence solution architecture should provide properly encapsulated customization hooks. This will ensure that customizations integrate with the solution and at the same time don’t impact core functionality.
5. Security: Most industrial machines were not designed to connect to the Internet; hence, they are often vulnerable to attacks in an open network. Since an IIoT solution connects to large number of devices within its network and moves critical equipment and sensor data to the cloud, choose a solution which secures data using standardized, enterprise-class security protocols and mechanisms. How much security is enough? There is no one answer to this and it depends on many things. Some of the things to look for are edge gateway security, edge firewall, device identity management, cloud server security, SSL certificate, encrypted data storage etc. Furthermore, updates need to be automated to minimize the chances of breaches and ensure all your system are safeguarded at all times.
6. Easy to Configure and Manage: A key challenge in IIoT deployments is managing the new network of connected devices, sensors, systems, and applications. Monitoring a single piece of equipment in the IIoT network could involve communicating with tens of thousands of other devices. Such large-scale monitoring requires a platform that can simplify management; choose an IIoT solution that provides a central portal through which your administrator can access all connected devices, monitor the status of equipment, provision systems, push updates, and even send alerts for potential issues.
7. Analytics: With the wide variety of sensors, devices, and systems making up the IIoT environment, capturing data and driving intelligent analytics is essential to drive better efficiency. Choose an IIoT solution with excellent analytics capabilities that can efficiently capture, store, analyze and share data for improved insights. An IIoT solution with built-in analytics can efficiently collect sensor data from devices and provide you with reliable, consistent and accurate insight to reap maximum benefits from your IIoT investment. In the end, it’s all about data – and what you do with it; it’s about turning data into insights and insights into action.
According to GE, about 46% of the global economy or $32.3 trillion in global output can benefit from IIoT. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider it for your business. When you set out to search for an IIoT partner / solution, chances that an off-the-shelf IIoT solution perfectly fits your requirement are bleak. In all probability, you might have to customize the solution so that it meets the distinct needs of your business. However, by choosing an IIoT solution with robust integration, configuration, connectivity, scalability, security, management and analytics capabilities, you can not only improve your operational efficiency, but also maximize asset utilization, reduce downtime, and create new business opportunities.