Inspecting the Industrial Internet of Things

Many people by now have some level of awareness of The Internet of Things (IoT), if not first-hand experience. Washing machines sending notifications when a part needs renewing. A kettle boiling based on your estimated waking time. Lights that switch on when you arrive. These are all examples of devices in the IoT. 

So what’s the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), also described as the Industrial Internet, all about? Simply, it’s IoT – applied to manufacturing. Cloud computing may have freed IT support to become agile innovators and the IIoT will do the same for machines, “freeing” them to direct other machines, networks, and connectors.

Intelligent instruments

Imagine a “smart factory,” where machines connect to each other. Managers can use a mobile device and connect to an interface for real-time performance monitoring – at any time, from anywhere. Subcontracting and outsourcing can be made easier with connected devices, which is ideal for an era of globalisation and outsourcing.

Infrastructure and troubleshooting could be handled by predictive maintenance technology, enabling companies to proactively mitigate issues and reduce non-productive time. We would move towards an automated industry, with obvious advantages of scale, cost and efficiency.

As IIoT increases, we may see a shift in economic output, here’s why. Traditional manufacturing assesses outcomes in terms of tangible results and clearly defined values, such as barrels of oil or kilowatts of power. With the IIoT, the shift is towards services, spawning new roles and opportunities. We expect this will lead to a change in the measurement of success – and of ROI.

A new industrial revolution

In Germany, the government has launched INDUSTRIE 4.0, an IIoT initiative which “represents the coming fourth industrial revolution on the way to an Internet of Things, Data and Services.” Its E200m investment is supplemented by support from German companies such as Deutsche Telekom, Siemens, and SAP. Angela Merkel, speaking at the World Economic Forum, said: “We must – and I say this as the German chancellor in the face of a strong Germany economy – deal quickly with the fusion of the online world and the world of industrial production. In Germany, we call it Industrie 4.0.” 

The role of security

A GE and Accenture study of executives across industries analysed the role of big data and the IIoT. Three main challenges to adoption identified by companies were systems integration issues, security concerns and data silos:

1. Systems integration - Naturally, IIoT relies on some form of integrated ecosystem. Products will need to “talk” to services in order to function as a whole.

2. Security - The greater the number of interconnects, the higher the security risk—at least, in a standard data centre. Decision-makers may consider colocation as a viable alternative.

3. Data silos - Delivering the full benefits of IIoT requires working with partners and suppliers, perhaps over the same interoperable network, to avoid silos. There’s also the lifecycle aspect to consider. A connected device such as a smartwatch may last two years.

Consumer-oriented IoT is primarily about apps, wireless connectivity and Bluetooth. This means in consumer IoT there’s increased innovation and faster releases, but also increased disposability. Contrast that to a slower-paced industrial environment, where there are more stakeholders involved and where procurement departments likely mean a slower, more long-term investment approach.

The industrial environment is still very much about wires, legacy systems and architecture. In the short term, a hybrid solution may be most appropriate for building a successful IIoT. That being said, what’s clear is there will need to be investment on an industrial scale as data needs will also increase on a large scale.

The increased data consumption puts data centres at the heart of the 4th industrial revolution. 

 Dale Green, Marketing Director at Digital Realty 

 Image Credit: Chesky / Shutterstock