The industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology, while still relatively new, is being adopted rapidly—and for good reason. The IIoT has enormous potential to maximize process efficiency and cut costs.

What is IIoT?

TechTarget defines IIoT as follows:

The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is the use of smart sensors and actuators to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes. Also known as the industrial internet or Industry 4.0, IIoT uses the power of smart machines and real-time analytics to take advantage of the data that “dumb machines” have produced in industrial settings for years. The driving philosophy behind IIoT is that smart machines are not only better than humans at capturing and analyzing data in real-time, but they’re also better at communicating important information that can be used to drive business decisions faster and more accurately.

What does an IIoT system look like?

Typically, these systems need to share data between a multitude of connected devices across sundry networks—from the edge to the cloud. This structure is not without its challenges. The sheer amount of data plus the need for stringent safety and security measures requires new ways of network management. The Industrial Internet Consortium has put forth a proven architecture known as databus. Databus manages data that is in motion, as opposed to database, which manages historical data at rest.

According to RTI International, a prominent research institute:

A databus is a data-centric software framework that distributes and manages real-time data in the IIoT, enabling applications and devices to work together as one integrated system. The databus simplifies application and integration logic. Instead of exchanging messages, software components communicate via shared and filtered data objects. Applications directly read and write the value of these data objects, which are cached locally.

IIoT Infrastructure

What are the advantages of IIoT?

These devices have automation and data-gathering features that create a more efficient workplace. Many businesses in the industrial sector are realizing the following IIoT benefits:

  • Better product quality
  • Greater energy efficiency
  • Improved decision-making
  • Improved worker safety
  • Less equipment downtime
  • Reduced costs
  • Enhanced customer engagement and satisfaction

What are the challenges of IIoT?

While the system undoubtedly enables significant operational efficiencies, there are challenges in two main areas:

  1. Interoperability: While adopting IIoT, compatibility between equipment protocols can be quite a hurdle to jump.
  2. Security: As many IIoT devices are wireless, it is vital to plan for rigorous security measures.

What are the most popular IIoT use cases?

This technology has proven to be versatile and is being used in dozens of ways. Here is a list of five of the most common use cases to date:

1. Predictive MaintenanceIIoT Maintenance

Predictive maintenance is a mainstay of intelligent factories. IIoT sensors are used to forecast when a machine will need maintenance and then alert workers. These sensors analyze machine frequencies, vibrations, and temperature to tell if it is working within normal range. This process is called “condition monitoring” and is quite time-consuming when performed manually. IIoT sensors make this process far easier and save time and money while also keeping the workforce safer.

2. Location Tracking

IIoT Tracking

IIoT devices such as global positioning systems (GPS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can locate where an organization’s assets are at any time. This is the industrial equivalent of a key fob that helps find your car keys that have been left around the house.

Dr. Richard Soley, executive director of Industrial Internet Consortium, a company that tests and promotes IIoT, talks of one of his clients with a massive inventory of tools:

The client found that its workers spent 47 percent of their time just looking for the right tools. But with an IIoT solution, the worker could be told that the tool they needed was ten meters behind them and to the left.

3. Workplace AnalyticsIIoT Analytics

More IIoT devices in the workplace mean access to more workflow data. Large amounts of data can be run through analytics engines that can detect productivity, effectiveness, and engagement and then can suggest ways to improve or streamline workflow and processes. 

4. Remote Quality MonitoringIIoT Monitoring

Remote quality monitoring is a somewhat new concept; however, it is being used in ever growing numbers. For example, chemical processing plants and pharmaceutical companies use IIoT sensors to remotely keep an eye on material and product quality. With remote monitoring, workers can scan several processes swiftly. Beyond that, real-time alerts bring about quicker responses.

5. Energy OptimizationIIoT Energy

Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the industrial sector uses 33 percent of the total energy consumption in America. IIoT sensors can detect the ebb and flow of energy use and automatically adjust operations to use as little energy as possible. Thus, with IIoT technology in use, the potential for energy savings is considerable. This is good for the organization’s bottom line as well as for the energy footprint of the country.

Further Use Cases for IIoT

  • Connected logistics
  • Freight, goods, and transportation monitoring
  • Industrial security systems
  • Smart city applications
  • Smart factory and warehousing
  • Smart metering and grid
  • Work safety and health monitoring

What industries are using IIoT?

  • Agriculture
  • Automotive
  • Aviation
  • Energy/utilities
  • Farming
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and metals
  • Oil and gas
  • Transportation

Five Steps to Consider Before Starting Your IIoT Transformation

If you feel that the benefits and applications of this system are in step with your company’s needs and goals, here are a few simple tips to help you get started:

  1. Build partnerships: First, all business decision-makers need to be on board—and partnerships between OT and IT are crucial. In addition, consider joining forces with less obvious allies (both internal and external).
  2. Clarify goals and outcomes: Unclear business goals will kill any project. Instead, define your ideas, needs, and opportunities, ensuring everyone “sees” the vision.
  3. Start small: Think in the following terms: pilot programs, incremental growth, small, go bigger, scale. But, of course, if all your ducks are in a row, and speed is essential, then go for it.
  4. Security: Security is essential. Vet all vendors you work with. Security by design (embedded) is a must. All stages of your IIoT project, even the early ones, must include security. 
  5. Build for analytics: An IIoT project is all about big data that turns into insights—then action—and finally automation.

Last thoughts

Although IIoT devices have been available for several years, global adoption is still in its infancy. However, this is bound to change as 5G technology becomes universal and organizations begin to discover what IIoT can do for them, their workforce, and their customers.

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