What Is The Industrial Internet of Things?

For many tech entrepreneurs, the big question in their minds is not “what is the industrial Internet of Things,” but “how do we use it?” For engineers, the answer is simple: data.

“We all know we can get data out of machine controls. We have done this in automotive since the eighties,” said Karl Rapp, Applications Engineering Manager, Automotive and Machine Tool at Bosch Rexroth in Engineering.com. “I think that in the future, every company will have a data scientist. If we know what the data means, and where it’s coming from, then we can improve the process, whether it’s a machine, maintenance or anything else.”

According to many IIoT experts, actionable data could be gained from machine use via IIoT infrastructure that could improve organizations of any size.

Examples of Types of IIoT Software

MES

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) serve as a medium between your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and machine data.  The point of MES to share information into the corporate network. This can make tools like dashboards, summary information, reporting, email alerts and other network-related tasks more functional and valuable.

SCADA

Similar to MES, but for remote control work instead of organizing and integrating machine data into software, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is used for work such as manipulating valves at nuclear plants. While MES connects machines to corporate networks, SCADA serves as a closed-loop architecture between controls and machines.

Is IIoT Worth the Complex Infrastructure?

One of the most common questions about IIoT is this: how small must an operation be before no benefits will be seen from the addition of the system? If an organization is a certain size, the pinging notifications and large spread of bar charts and line graphs available to larger organizations with a robust IIoT framework might seem over the top. However, some experts believe it can still be used effectively.

Dan O’Brien, an IIoT expert at Honeywell Connected Plant, admitted this question is a heavy focus of Honeywell’s IIoT business.

“It’s a really legitimate question: how is connectivity going to drive competitiveness, visibility, operational certainty? There’s a million different words floating around about IIoT, cloud and this type of stuff. But what are the opportunities afforded by the collection of equipment or process data?” O’Brien said in Engineering.com.

John Rattray, senior VP marketing and business development at Memex Inc., believes even a single machine can turn over actionable data metrics that could results in continuous improvement, however you should keep track of your degree of facility control without the system.

“I have one customer, Lynch Fluid Controls, who uses Memex MES in a high mix, low volume environment. They’re doing setup changes. They have highly flexible production. It’s tedious to do all the data collection because of all the changes. So, they have found that the automation of their data collection has improved scheduling, costing, production runs and other benefits,” said Rattray. “I’ve seen a customer with just six machines take the data and use it effectively to create business growth.”

“If you’ve got 15 or 20 machines and you run one shift a day, you probably don’t need a MES system, because you, as the owner or manager of the business, can walk around the plant and make sure everything is running optimally. On the other hand, if you’re running multiple shifts and you aren’t able to maintain that level of visibility, MES can collect the data, have the history, and have the reporting done,” Rattray said.

What About Data Security for the IIoT in the Future?

The best example of an operation hooked up to the internet is still Stuxnet, a computer worm based on Windows that was uncovered in 2010. The increased internet dependence could leave more infrastructure vulnerable to attacks of this kind.

To keep data safe, experts have made certain recommendations.

“In order to take advantage of IoT, we have data on the analytics server. This can be used as a database tool. So, we transfer the data from the controller or sensor into this database, but in order to benefit from IoT, we need to do something with this data,” Rapp said.

“In this database, we can add machine learning functions, MATLAB, Simulink or other software to read the data. Once the customers see the benefit, your company will have more willingness to store all the data in the cloud. But, often you cannot start with the cloud, for example because the IT guys will restrict or block access,” Rapp added.

In the end, like all bourgeoning technologies, the IIoT is still being massaged and refined by development engineers.

“It’s not a pure, ‘cloud or no cloud’ discussion,” adds O’Brien. “My argument is that it’s a matter of connecting the dots to improve your asset reliability and economics. I think IIoT and cloud are all really important way that customers can become more competitive and attract more generations of industry workers that we need to attract.”