Most people don’t realize that the much-heralded Internet of Things (IoT), which we wrote about a few months back, is actually better established and operational in the industrial environment than it is in the highly publicized consumer world.
That’s because the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is already integrated into automation solutions, using networking hardware and software to interlink and communicate remotely both between sensors and with central controls. The IIoT has been boosting automation in industrial processes for many years.
What’s new — and exciting — is the increasing use of cloud technology to mediate what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution — also known as Industry 4.0, a term coined in Germany in 2011 — is poised to fundamentally change manufacturing and industrial processes. The move to cloud-based management of IIoT resources is underpinning a rapid acceleration in IIoT investment, changing the way business decision-makers invest in and use automation.
For example, a Morgan Stanley and Automation World study suggests IIoT-related spending will more than double, increasing from 8% of industrial companies’ capital budgets to 18% in the next five years. And Accenture predicts IIoT could boost the U.S. economy by $7.1 trillion by 2030 with further impressive growth in Europe and China.
This comes at a time when the automation industry is in growth mode, as industrial organization leaders increase investment in their infrastructures. Overall capital expenditure in the sector is expected to rise around 4% this year, according to the Morgan Stanley survey. Respondents to the survey said they expect the automation industry to grow at a faster pace than global gross domestic product — with North America standing out as a top priority.
The survey also notes that cloud-based solutions will be key drivers, disrupting traditional software models by allowing non-traditional players to become involved in the provision of data analytics; and on the hardware front, the cloud will push programmable logic controllers into a less critical role in automation systems.
The promise of IIoT
The shift to the cloud should enable organization leaders to exploit the promises of IIoT, which include:
- Real-time feedback and communications that allow for predictive maintenance, fast responses, and timely intervention
- Improved asset utilization, leading to increased performance, productivity, and process enhancements
- Increased visibility of products and processes
- Connected ecosystems that unify processes beyond their functional silos
- Improved collaboration between humans and machines
- Improved cost-effectiveness through cloud-based data collection from remote sensors
- Rapid ROI; some real-world examples suggest IIoT automation investments can pay back in as little as six months
- The opportunity to obtain more precise analytics and actionable information through the availability of big data from multiple sources
Despite the attractions, there are still potential roadblocks to fulfilling this promise, notably the need for:
- Effective integration of multiple systems
- Breadth of software support for all types of equipment, including mobile devices and other forms of remote connectivity
- Inclusion of IIoT considerations at the earliest possible stage of project planning
- Speed and agility throughout the infrastructure to avoid losing competitive advantages
- Security as a central element of IIoT strategy
- Adequately skilled planning, development, and operational teams with depth of knowledge of leading-edge IIoT functionality and features
- The resources to handle the huge increase in the flow of big data
All this paints an exciting but somewhat daunting picture.
If you are enhancing infrastructure in your industrial organization to compete and thrive in today’s economy, be sure you’re taking the IIoT into account — the Fourth Industrial Revolution.