Widespread confusion still surrounds IIoT

Analysts would have you believe that the mainstream adoption of the Industrial Internet will happen any day now; but the reality is, it’s still years away.

Confusion Road Puzzle Challenge - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty around what the Industrial Internet represents and how it might positively or negatively disrupt operations – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Trade press over the past 18 months has been dominated by talk of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – one of the underlying technologies that is driving the digitalisation of manufacturing.

IIoT is enabling people, machines and networks the connectivity needed to embrace smarter, more efficient ways of working driven by real-time insights.

There has been a wide range of discrete IIoT 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 disrupt operations, and – most importantly – how those all-important first steps can be taken towards adoption.

If you look at automation networks today, for example, the kind found in numerous manufacturing plants the length and breadth of the nation, the majority are isolated, they are in effect ‘air gapped’.

Due to fears around potential security breaches, whether intentional or accidental, they aren’t connected to the enterprise network or the internet.

“When you explain that with IIoT, you’re going to connect disparate assets to a unified network and leverage the power of cloud computing, there is understandably still a lot of hesitancy,” notes John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions for global fault tolerant computer servers and software company, Stratus Technologies.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with Fryer, 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.”

How can we increase the number of IIoT case studies?

Proof of concepts undertaken for IIoT 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.

“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.”

Yet, isn’t there a conflict between the market needing successful adopters to share their roadmaps 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.”

Modernised operational infrastructure is vital to leveraging IIoT

The majority of automation engineers and managers face the challenge of what to do with their existing infrastructure to prepare for a future more digital world.

Our upcoming webinar on Wednesday February 14 will examine the steps you can take to prepare and demonstrate how incremental investments can streamline existing operations.

You will learn about:

  • How modernising your automation infrastructure prepares you for IIoT and Industry 4.0
  • Key considerations for upgrading your automation infrastructure
  • Best practices in realising a modern automation infrastructure
  • The ease of updating existing applications and adding new ones
  • Real benefits you can gain today and in the future

Click here to register.