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    Industrial Applications of the Internet of Things (IIoT)

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What is IIoT?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) that is transforming how manufacturers, utilities and other industrial companies manage plants and equipment, as well as serve customers.

IIoT is used for a variety of industrial use cases, such as building, plant and process automation; remote-asset operation and maintenance; and profit optimization of assets. It also can be “embedded” into products and used as a means of delivering service, e.g., a meter for measuring usage and triggering automatic replenishment of equipment parts that are nearing end-of-life status.

IIoT integrates Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) for the first time. Traditionally, these have been siloed functions with little overlap: IT would handle the technology and computers needed to manage networks, data and email, while OT would handle the technology and machinery used to run the operations and provide services. As industrial machinery and other assets have become more intelligent, data rich and interconnected via IIoT, IT and OT have merged.

The standard IIoT system includes intelligent, connected devices combined with an instant compute layer to enable operational control. Hallmarks of IIoT include hardware outfitted with sensors, advanced data analytics for crunching massive amounts of data, and devices and data communicating across a single network.

While some manufacturers create their own dedicated hardware and cloud space, many choose to take a more open-ended approach to IIoT. Powered by connectivity and the openness of all layers of the enterprise stack, IIoT is brand- and device-agnostic, allowing users to integrate workflows across equipment brands and types, no matter the organization’s stage of digital maturity

The evolution of IIoT

IIoT has evolved alongside a number of different technologies over the last 20 years. Three trends have made IIoT the $100-billion-plus market that it is today:

Mobility: With industrial equipment increasingly incorporating sensors and Internet connectivity, connecting assets over large geographic areas is becoming more feasible and affordable. Additionally, sensors have moved from the machine level to the component level, allowing operators to monitor equipment at a more granular level. Meanwhile, mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, allow operators to leave the control room and be on the floor while accessing real-time data wherever they go, improving the speed of diagnostics and repairs.

More data: In an IIoT-driven facility, data is the most important asset. Smart machinery uses data from other machines and outside resources to automatically optimize plant effectiveness, schedule maintenance and ramp production up or down based on market needs and opportunities. Meanwhile, an exponential increase in data provides the opportunity to apply advanced analytics to uncover valuable insights, such as profitability at the asset level.

Digital-twin technology: A digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service. By developing a real-time integration of data between physical machines and a virtual representation, companies are able to monitor and analyze lifecycle data in a way that lets them anticipate problems, reduce downtime, explore new opportunities and conduct scenario planning within a virtual environment using real-world data. Insights learned in the virtual model can then be applied to physical machinery faster and more effectively than working with a physical machine alone.

Thanks to advances in machine learning and cloud connectivity, IIoT is more accessible and affordable for organizations of all sizes. Additionally, as technically skilled workers age out of the workforce, IIoT gives industrial companies the opportunity to incorporate digital-driven technology that attracts and leverages the skills of younger, digital-native workers.

Barriers to IIoT

Challenges to incorporating IIoT into your applications. While the benefits of IIoT are game-changing, a number of challenges can make incorporating the technology at speed or scale difficult. Challenges include: 

Lack of standards: As IIoT technology continues to rapidly develop and evolve, there’s been a significant increase in IIoT languages, protocols and standards. This, in turn, has led to a lack of agreement as to a standardized platform. This makes it difficult to ensure third-party interoperability, leaving some hesitant to make massive investments in technologies that may become outdated as standards are established.

Resistance among smaller companies: Modernizing a plant to incorporate IIoT can cost millions of dollars—a price tag many small and mid-sized companies can’t afford. Additionally, incorporating new processes, software and training can take years. Given the time and investment involved, smaller players may decide it’s easier to hold off on incorporating IIoT. This reduces the overall demand for IIoT skills and products, making modernization potentially more difficult and expensive for companies and slowing overall adoption.

Lack of understanding: Many industrial companies are stuck with siloed processes, disciplines and departments, making a traditional organizational structure an impediment to the holistic collaboration needed to effectively incorporate IIoT throughout end-to-end processes. Meanwhile, value must first be demonstrated in order to get the leadership buy-in required to secure support and funding for major IIoT initiatives. It can also be challenging for some companies to understand how to incorporate the IIoT in a way that provides end-customer benefits, such as lower costs or the ability to better manage resource consumption.

The future of IIoT

As IIoT technology becomes more widespread and standardized, resistance to incorporating IIoT will fade, as competitive benefits are able to be realized at scale. In turn, industrial companies will promote their IIoT initiatives primarily on minimizing high-cost operational downtime, making unscheduled maintenance a thing of the past. This will greatly improve the performance and profitability of assets while making possible more reliable, cost-effective service for customers.

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