The Industrial Internet of Things: Making Companies Smarter

By Gaurav Khandelwal | Nov 20, 2014

If you’ve been following the latest tech news, you’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it will affect consumers. To put it simply, the Internet of Things means enabling everyday objects to have network connectivity and giving them the ability to send and receive data. The term has mostly been used to describe consumer products such as smart light bulbs and other smart devices to create an entire smart home. However, the IoT can reach beyond just your everyday consumer and go into the industrial sector.

Enterprise companies are already talking about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or the Industrial Internet, which is basically a term coined by GE that describes smart hardware used in the business world, plants, and warehouses to manage various types of equipment to perform industrial tasks. Tasks would include activities such as inspections, safety procedures, and maintenance. The industrial equipment can tell the user about its health, provide readings remotely, and indicate whether it will soon need maintenance or not. The Industrial Internet of Things will impact industries in a number of ways by improving processes and equipment.

Benefits of the Industrial Internet of Things

How will the Industrial Internet of Things dramatically impact large enterprises? Some benefits include:

Safety

Since many companies in the industrial sector have boilers and other utilities that are usually old or outdated, people have to deal with hazardous risks like equipment blowing up or causing other issues like fires. With the Industrial Internet of Things, this equipment would be retrofitted with sensors in order to spot problems in the units. The sensors could help assess the risk level of all equipment and products. In another scenario, sensors can improve safety for maintenance personnel. Usually, a maintenance worker would have to go around and inspect all equipment. In the Industrial Internet of Things, instead of having to drive around in road conditions that could become hazardous, a maintenance person could diagnose problems remotely on a phone and reduce the level of risk.

Valuable Data

The data that these devices collect can be very useful for the enterprise. For example, manufacturers can look at the data collected in order to improve and build better units, leading to smarter equipment.

In addition, the data can be helpful in negotiations between businesses such as hotels and utility companies. Hotels would have more insight into the types of units that are consuming the most energy and can use this information to negotiate contracts with providers.

Repairs and Maintenance

Instead of doing annual maintenance, workers can focus on equipment that needs more attention. Repairs and maintenance can be made just in time instead of having a regular, scheduled maintenance time, which better utilizes an organization’s workforce. Repairs can be done faster because devices can notify the right person in a short amount of time. Sensors can also help with the feedback loop to the manufacturer. For example, companies can figure out the frequency of an HVAC unit breaking down and the number of years it was in operation. The company that created the HVAC unit can then use that data to fix the unit and increase the overall quality of future products.

Challenges of the IIoT

Of course, with any technology, there will be challenges especially since the IIoT will involve so many different components in a large enterprise. Some of the key challenges in the Industrial Internet of Things include:

Educating the End User on the Power of the Industrial Internet

End users may not understand the power of the Industrial Internet and the value that it brings to the table. Companies like GE have a vested interest in this area, but it will require end users to realize the value as well. If end users don’t realize this, then industrial companies won’t be willing to pay for it or adopt the new technology. The business users in this case are different from ordinary consumers who can easily see value in smart products such as the Nest or Dropcam. On the industrial side, sensors and devices will have to be deployed on a massive scale and it can be challenging to get users to understand how it all works.

Existing Infrastructure

Another challenge of the IIoT is integrating systems of record with this new technology. Existing software may or may not be able to integrate with these technologies, which can cause headaches. Although it can be a challenge to integrate with existing infrastructure, there is still the fact that the IoT can integrate with mobile technology. Since many people already carry around smartphones, there is an opportunity to leverage the IoT. Companies won’t have to create any special software or handsets to interact with these devices. Users can use mobile technology as an input device and to view data collected from sensors.

Fear Factor

People are afraid of change and the unknown. As people grow older, they establish habits because their brains create a mind map that sorts reality into a perceptual order. In addition, “when you’re learning something new, your prefrontal cortex must work very hard as you experiment with unfamiliar ideas” according to Forbes. Because of this fear, organizations need to train and educate people on new technology so that they understand the value of it and how it works. This training will help employees perform jobs that require higher level skills and prepare them for the future.

Increasing Adoption of the IIoT

According to Forbes, “worldwide Industrial Internet spending is set to increase from $20 billion in 2012 to $500 billion by 2020”. Companies are realizing the potential of the Industrial Internet and many are encouraging others to adopt this technology. Earlier this year, AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel formed the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), which is “an open membership group focused on breaking down the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds”. According to the press release, “The consortium will enable organizations to more easily connect and optimize assets, operations and data to drive agility and to unlock business value across all industrial sectors.” Besides these major companies, the federal government is also joining in and investing over $100 million/year in R&D for things related to cyberphysical systems. The formation of the IIC and the involvement of the federal government are big moves that will hopefully encourage even more companies to adopt Industrial Internet applications.

Conclusion

It’s an exciting time to be getting into the Industrial Internet. If organizations want to take it a step further, adding context into the Industrial Internet of Things will lead to even smarter workflows and apps. Are you ready for the future?


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