Internet of Things (IoT), simply put, is a network of smart devices that are connected to the internet and are capable of sharing information and data with one another. On a more complex level, IoT helps connect various functions in an industry, right from manufacturing, logistics, and inventory and project management to cyber security and data protocols. There is both horizontal as well as vertical interaction between devices, thereby paving way for inter-industrial connectivity as well.
As IoT grows and exerts its influence over every aspect of our lives, there is no field that has come under its influence more than heavy industries. Manufacturing and production rely on massive and internet-connected equipment and processes that can share data, and make informed and cost-saving changes in workflow.
But for all the good things that come with IoT, there comes a fair amount of complex problems too. Compromised security, lack of interoperability between devices from various companies and too many technologies that enable IoT with no widely accepted technical standards are some of the issues plaguing IoT today.
Here are a few ways in which industrial operations are tackling the issues associated with IoT.
1) Manufacturing Takes the Lead
Manufacturing continues to take the lead as far as optimizing the potential of IoT is concerned. Networked automation systems do not only save costs in terms of time and labor but also eases bottlenecks in workflow and lead to more cost-effective outcomes. According to a report by IDC, manufacturing alone accounted for a massive $178 billion investment in IoT. This shows that the sector continues to take a lead in adopting futuristic technologies that work with IoT.
Manufacturing does not limit the use of IoT in production and technical aspects alone; IoT has revolutionized customer experience and end use of products as well. This has resulted in not only a highly evolved user experience for customers but has also resulted in optimizing processes and better equipment monitoring. Preventative and predictive maintenance of heavy equipment also becomes easier.
Applications for the customer-focused IoT vary widely in manufacturing. Examples include how Rolls Royce used predictive analytics to access user-generated data from its more than 13,000 commercial aircraft engines around the world. The data was used to improve fuel efficiency, cut down engine problems and empower customers. Using the Fathym IoT platform, a community in Alaska was able to monitor and track hyper-local road weather data and use it to improve road safety and save lives.
2) Factory Ecosystem Evolves with IIoT
With various players coming up with different IoT platforms and technologies, it becomes even more important that there are common and widely accepted operating standards that the platforms and technologies stick to. This will ensure that all devices are able to connect and exchange data over the various platforms, no matter what the brand, platform or product is.
Automation and connectivity were mainly limited to M2M (machine-to-machine) learning initially. But with the advent of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), it is possible to link a factory network over the internet. The availability of vast amount of information in the public domain may scare companies, but a connected factory affords the possibility of remote access and monitoring. Done right, this has the potential to change the way global manufacturing is done.
It will be possible to access IIoT data and through it the supporting applications, from any internet-connected device from anywhere in the world. It allows authorized personnel to check on machines, work schedules, inventories and other plant activities. With advanced technologies, it will be possible to activate and control plant machinery and determine production outcomes in remote or subcontracted facilities. Far-flung warehouses can be monitored and real-time transit data of goods can be gauged. In addition to improved operational performance, IIoT can also act as eyes and ears of tomorrow’s factories.
3) Security Cannot Be Compromised
Factories, plants, and manufacturing facilities make for infrastructure worth several billions of dollars. IIoT will lay bare intra-factory communications on the internet. And for several companies, this is a scary possibility which exposes them to possible hacking, data theft, and malware. Stuxnet was a malware that was located in several Iranian industrial facilities, including one where enriched uranium was produced. A full-blown attack can potentially derail global peace in such situations.
Another more recent example is that of the December 2015 hacking of a Ukrainian power grid that left close to 330, 000 people in the dark. Unconfirmed reports also hint at a possible compromise of the information network of Burlington Electric Department towards the end of 2016.
Smart devices, smart linear actuators and connected sensors linked to the internet can take away the security associated with closed plant network and internally connected factory environment. Internal internet that is compatible with Internet Protocol will help minimize risks to an extent. Tracking, monitoring, visibility, real-time data management and analytics that are benefits of an internet-connected network will be available in an enhanced and upgraded internal network as well. But remote access is not possible when a factory is using a closed internal network.
Every company will have to weigh the risks and concerns and work out a solution that is monetarily and practically feasible for them. Internal data and controls should be kept away from a direct connection to the internet. It is also possible to pass data to a database, which can be accessed ‘anytime and from anywhere’. Even if the system is hacked, the original and source data and controls remain safe in the internal network. The hackers can only manipulate the copied data in the database.
Industrial Internet of Things offers unlimited possibilities to manufacturing, transportation, utilities and other heavy industries. But it is always important that caution is not thrown to the wind while adopting the latest technologies and platforms. With the proper security protocols in place, it will be possible to save millions of dollars in productivity and operational efficiency.