How can we inspire more Industrial IoT case studies?

Posted on 12 Jan 2018 by Jonny Williamson

A lack of real-world case studies is one of the major barriers behind manufacturers not investing in Industrial Internet pilot projects, according to one industry leader.

big data analytics industrial internet of things iiot industrial iot - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Proof of concepts undertaken for IIoT related systems increased in 2017 and are likely to ramp up in 2018 and 2019 – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

There has been a wide range of isolated Industrial IoT initiatives, products and test cases demonstrating some of the benefits of adoption, however these have – for the most part – been undertaken by, or in partnership with, large multinationals and/or research institutions.

For your prototypical manufacturing SME, there is still a great deal of uncertainty around what the Industrial Internet represents, how it might positively and negatively impact operations, and – most importantly – how those all-important first steps can be taken towards adoption.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions for global fault tolerant computer servers and software company, Stratus Technologies, who noted that the biggest hurdle manufacturers are struggling to overcome is defining the return on investment.

“If a manufacturer was to invest in new kit, add a multitude of sensors, integrate the software, what kind of returns are they going to achieve? That’s not an easy question to answer, as no two businesses are the same,” Fryer said.

“We are trapped in a bit of a cycle. A lack of real-world case studies means businesses are cautious to invest. If investments aren’t made, exploration projects don’t happen and empirical evidence isn’t produced and shared, and so on.”

Proof of concepts undertaken for Industrial IoT related systems increased in 2017 and are likely to ramp up in 2018 and 2019. However, mainstream adoption isn’t likely to happen until 2021 at the earliest, he predicted.

“There is a desire from manufacturers in almost every sector to move in that direction, so that timeframe could potentially be compressed should more case studies be published and shared.

Business Meeting Investment Finance Money - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The decision to invest in an IIoT pilot project isn’t just made by engineers, it’s a business decision made by board-level management – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

“It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a decision made by engineers, it’s a business decision made by board-level management.

“Those are the people who have to be educated; people whose decisions are largely based around money either coming off or being added to the bottom-line.”

Secrecy versus sharing

Yet, isn’t there a conflict between the market needing successful adopters to share their Industrial IoT roadmap and the tangible benefits realised, and those early adopters understandably wanting to keep what is likely to be held as real competitive advantages close to their chests?

Not necessarily, said Fryer; rather, it could be a case of a rising tide lifting all ships.

“Raw data is the gold inside of your organisation. That data is what’s particular to what you do, so the fact that you’ve used it to perform analytics and drive efficiencies is absolutely something you can disclose.

“The real specifics of what you’ve done to make that happen will always be proprietary and will always be yours. If manufacturers can realise that and start to make that distinction, then sharing what you’ve done becomes far easier because you’re not giving away the crown jewels.

“Rather, just the fact that you’ve applied some machine learning and asset performance management in areas X, Y and Z, you’ve saved X amount of dollars and are X-times more efficient. The specifics of how you achieved that is your secret sauce.”

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