The Internet of Things (IoT) has huge implications for manufacturing and industry. Being able to monitor and remotely control every part of a factory or other industrial facility means being able to vastly improve efficiency; and the insights gained from all that data can help to drive innovation, creating new products and new markets.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is part of what some are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. The endpoint of this journey will be the smart factory, a place where manufacturing is almost entirely automated, although there is still a long road ahead.
In order to form an IIoT strategy, businesses need to consider every component of their existing operation. The Industrial Society of Automation says that there are four distinct components of IIoT, each one of which presents its own challenge:
- Intelligent Assets — For an effective IIoT, everything within the production area must be connected and capable of returning data to a central controller. In time, this will mean installing smart equipment with built-in IIoT functionality, but most industries will continue working with their legacy hardware in the short-term. This means using external, add-on monitors, controllers and other IIoT devices.
- Data Infrastructure — IIoT means having thousands, even millions of connected devices each sending and receiving data continuously. Some industries may have their operations spread over large areas, or even multiple locations. This will require a robust data infrastructure, using Wi-Fi or LTE to transmit data, and support at the back end by a robust cloud service.
- Analytics — One of the goals of IIoT is a greater level of automation. This means having a sophisticated system that can process all of this data in real time, manage outputs to maximize efficiency and warn of issues as they arise. Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasingly important role in such systems. Industrial Big Data also offers essential insights that drive creativity and allow for data-driven decisions at a senior level.
- People — People in an IIoT environment will have access to more operational data than ever before. They will also have more ways of interacting with machinery, with mobile devices and wearable tech. Everyone will need support to adapt to the new technology, but it will empower people to make better decisions and work more efficiently.
IIoT is an emerging paradigm, with no single standard to implement or roadmap to follow. However, it is a journey that many companies are already making. GE, for example, is building not a smart factory, but a “brilliant factory” in India. Connectivity in this brilliant factory works at a component level — each machine component relays its status back to the main system, allowing the repair team to fix faults before they have a chance to disrupt output. GE also intends to build brilliant factories in the U.S., including one close to us in Greenville, SC.
Industry has long been about the search for maximum operational efficiency. With the arrival of IIoT and the advent of the smart factory, that search may be over, at least for now.