Dave Sutton, Product Marketing Manager, Schneider Electric

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 are becoming two of the most overused industrial automation buzzwords today. The explosion in domestic Internet of Things (IoT) applications, e.g. smartphones, and wearables is a key driver, but is there more to it than the surrounding hype?

According to IDC, the global IoT market is set to grow to $1.7 trillion by 2020. This means an increase in the number of active IoT endpoints, resulting in a new era where data from interconnected devices is being increasingly used to improve industrial performance.


What impact will IIoT have on manufacturing?

IIoT is changing the Industrial manufacturing competitive landscape in a similar way to how the Internet has impacted the wider business world since the mid 1990’s. In order to stay competitive, industry needs to understand the potential of IIoT, and the risks of moving too slowly. It provides significant transformation potential, offering a means to increase the value they derive from modern IIoT open standards based automation technologies.

It is a world where smart connected products and systems operate as part of larger, more responsive and agile information infrastructure. Improvements in efficiency and profitability, increased cybersecurity and innovation, and better management of safety, performance and environmental impact are just some of the benefits. Industry 4.0, or Digital Manufacturing (as the UK Government call it) is the overarching blueprint for the fourth industrial revolution that encompasses the IIoT, autonomous manufacturing systems, business systems and people to deliver increased supply chain flexibility, greater product customisation and shorter lead times.  


The IIoT is an evolution, not a revolution

IIoT is an evolution that has its origins in technologies and functionalities developed by visionary automation suppliers more than 15 years ago. As the necessary global standards mature, it may well take another 15 years to realise the full potential of IIoT. The good news for end users and machine builders is they can leverage existing investments while taking advantage of new IIoT technologies. Introducing IIoT solutions alongside existing applications will enable greater business control, and drive towards a smart manufacturing enterprise that is more efficient, safer, and sustainable.


It’s happening now

IIoT is already having an impact on industrial performance in two areas: asset performance management and operator efficiency. This can be seen in increased deployment of open Ethernet based technologies, wireless technologies, cloud connectivity, low cost sensors, the use of advanced data analytics, and new generation control systems capable of handling heightened demands for connectivity and “Big Data” management. These enable the gathering of asset information that supports maintenance programs and decision systems for manufacturing operations. That means unnecessary “routine” maintenance can be avoided, as can the neglect of equipment that subsequently fails.

Today, there are fewer skilled operators inside the plant as the older workforce retires. IIoT presents a great opportunity and augment today’s workforce by putting real-time status and diagnostic information at their fingertips. It can also make it simple to enable mobile phones to scan dynamic QR code error messages for troubleshooting. Other examples include the use of smart tablets and industrial automation apps, which are providing simpler, easier to use, richer information to the operator, and making the plant user-centric.


We are in the era when IT meets OT

Most of the fervor associated with IIoT has been at the technology level, which is already gaining acceptance and delivering business improvements today. Particularly in areas like connectivity, asset management and operator efficiencies. However, these technologies present greater opportunities for smarter manufacturing and the potential to remove constraints imposed by legacy technologies on automation systems in particular.

As the deployment of IIoT continues, we will see further deployment of Open Ethernet technologies across both the manufacturing and device level. The Operational Technology of the factory floor will become increasingly tightly integrated with the Information Technology of upstream business systems (IT meets OT). Architectures will become flattened, and with these new levels of agility, automation systems will perfectly match to industrial process topologies, simplifying the application and operation of both. IIoT will also allow automation applications to be aligned to the process, independently of the automation hardware. Tightly integrated systems will distribute the application transparently to the hardware, configuring all communication mechanisms automatically, and allowing the connected devices to publish important information in a standardised format. Intelligent brokers will make this information available in a transparent manner to the systems and applications that require it.

Smart organisations are already on the IIoT road, phasing in new technologies alongside their installed base systems in order to start reaping the benefits. Contact Schneider Electric to discover the practical steps you can take to evolve your facilities towards the IIoT enabled Factory of the Future – www.schneider-electric.co.uk/brightfuture