IIoT in Practise

In my previous blog, I discussed IIoT, its potential and how it’s a key ingredient to accelerate digital transformation in our industry. Now, I want to look at the more practical applications. IIoT has many use cases and I’m going to focus on just a few.

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Related Blog: IIoT Will NOT Improve Operational Performance!

The general idea behind IIoT is to get stuck in quickly with the least amount of friction. If it takes weeks and months to set up, you’ve already lost the plot. You need to show results in days, not months! But how do you get started?

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IIoT in the Factory

IIoT has to work in harmony with the traditional automation system, rather than replace it (at least not in the foreseeable future). So if it’s not going to replace it, how will it be of benefit? Let's look at an example.

Your business relies on production lines to run at a certain efficiency. You need to know if there’s any danger of not hitting your targets or if there’s something that might be adversely affecting production. 

At the moment, you rely on the production staff on the floor to make sure everything is ticking along nicely. But they can’t be in more than one place at once. So what can we do to help? 

The traditional answer is we start a project that involves installing the right sensors, wiring them up and connecting them to an automation system like a PLC. Next, the software systems need to be configured and code changes have to be made to PLCs to accommodate the new sensors. 

How are you going to capture this data and present it to users? More work is required to look for or write software that will do this. Don’t forget this software needs to run on computers - so you’re going to have to add those to the shopping list too. The next step is to write a user specification and go out on tender to get the work done. 

It suddenly dawns on you that this is going to take some serious time, money and energy to get a system of this kind in place. What will the ROI be? At this stage, many companies realise it might just not be worth the effort. 

But there's a better way! IIoT to the rescue. 

By installing a simple, non-intrusive edge device on the plant floor that connects to the existing machines automation system, then connecting it to a cloud service, we could have a solution up and running in days. 

But what if you don't have the right sensors in place? 

No problem - just hook up some low-cost IIoT sensors to something like a local LoRaWAN network and you’re ready to go. The great thing with LoRaWAN is you don’t need a costly wireless networking survey to be done and it provides sufficient penetration. A small base station goes a long way!

With the power of the cloud and ready-built services to manage OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and preventative based maintenance, most of the work is done for you. Zero to hero in days!

IIoT in the factory

But IIoT goes beyond that in the factory - it opens new possibilities. We can now connect systems that are traditionally outside of automation into a unified system and thereby avoid the siloed approach. 

Environmental monitoring systems, building management systems (BMS), outside utilities or even third-party services and suppliers can be brought under one umbrella to enable companies to have a holistic view of their operations. Ultimately, this can extend to the entire supply chain - providing a real-time view of all facilities that form part of the enterprise.

 

IIoT for Geographically Dispersed Assets

In industries like infrastructure management, i.e. water, rail, power, facilities, it’s a challenge to manage a large number of assets that are geographically distributed - sometimes on a global scale. 

Proactive management of these assets is difficult and costly as a result. IIoT offers these industries a new and much more efficient way of managing their systems. The traditional approach has various considerations to keep in mind:

  • Networking and cybersecurity concerns when connecting to remote sites are very costly to install and maintain. A VPN is the normal approach but it comes with a huge overhead to manage.
  • Communication drivers are notoriously complex to configure as there are normally huge numbers of peer-to-peer communications to devices like RTUs that need to be maintained. It means you have to make sure every device can be connected to.
  • Scalability soon becomes an issue as systems reach their limits.
  • But the biggest overhead is the continuous management of the system to make sure remote devices are up to date and communications are working.

IIoT for geographically dispersed assetsSo what does the IIoT approach look like?

  • All devices send their data to a central server or broker using a single port outbound connection. No more peer to peer communication to manage.
  • It can be done safely using the public or private cloud.
  • Lightweight IIoT protocols like MQTT not only have minimal overhead but they also come encrypted and secure.
  • IIoT was built for scalability and device management is built-in.

 

Future Proof Solutions

Embracing IIoT allows you to travel with confidence on your digital transformation journey as it’s now easy to integrate across your enterprise and supply chain, provided you use open web-based protocols. Take full advantage of:

  • Intelligence services like AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning).
  • Integration to ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management system) and many others that will help connect silos of information.
  • Advanced analytics and big data repositories will make sure data from across all systems is always safely stored and provided back to users with the right context.

iiot in practise

The key to this is to have the right integration platform. SolutionsPT can help you on this journey but you’ll need to get your toes wet first. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

 

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