IIoT & IoT: Different but Same
Imagine waking up one morning with your lights automatically turning on, the shower water at the perfect temperature, your espresso brewed and ready, and your digital assistant laying out the day’s schedule. Fast-forward to an hour later. Your car’s driving you to work. A heads-up display shows the weather forecast and your personalized news feed. When you reach the company building, the car drops you off at the front door and finds itself a spot to park.
If you read this back in 2005, you may have thought this was a science fiction article. A fantastical view of what our future could hold. Fast-forward to today, though, and we’re actually very close to reaching this future. We can talk to our phones and make our cars drive us around. So how is it all possible?
Welcome to the age of the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things can be described as devices talking to one another on their own over the internet. A “thing” could be a phone, laptop, coffee machine, anything. In other words, any device with a circuit board.
For us as individuals, IoT brings a lot more convenience to our lives. Forgot to turn the lights off upstairs? Just turn them off with your phone. House temperature too low? Tell your digital assistant to warm the place up a bit. Can’t find your keys? Ask Google to help out. This technology changes what our devices are capable of, how we interact with them.
And that is the main selling point behind consumer IoT. It’s why you see the word “smart” put in front of any device that pops up on the market. They’re designed to work together according to what task we give them.
This connected technology doesn’t just stop at us, though. There’s an entire world full of connected devices that we tend to overlook. In fact, we take advantage of these connected things every single day without even knowing.
It’s IoT for the industry, termed as Industrial IoT.
The Industrial Internet of Things
The Industrial Internet of Things (or IIoT) can be thought of as a scaled-up version of IoT. It uses smart devices (like sensors) connected on a network to gather and analyze data in order to make better decisions.
For example, companies can predict when their machines will break weeks in advance. They can even track their entire supply chain from start to finish in real time. IIoT gives businesses a remarkable level of insight, cutting down on cost and improving performance. The question then arises – How?
It’s all done using data.
Let’s use a construction site as an example. Concrete is the indispensable part of any construction project. Using IIoT, everything about the concrete pours is monitored in real-time. Hundreds of small sensors embedded within the concrete collect data for their own little regions and send it all back to the cloud.
Computers then analyze everything coming in and make calculated predictions. Within seconds, project managers know the performance of the concrete, its overall quality and when it will dry. They no longer have to wait days to get lab results back.
The entire project schedule is constantly updated and optimized. This shortens the overall construction time, resulting in huge cost savings.
A lot of what happens in an IIoT-powered project is automated, with no real need for human input. If something goes wrong, though – maybe a machine failed earlier than it was supposed to – then management gets notified with all the information.
IIoT uses connected devices to automate processes with big data. But how does that help your business? What are the benefits of collecting all this information?
Benefits of IIoT
There are quite a few. It’s tough to make a list of benefits when each industry’s experience is different. But there’s one factor that remains true for them all. One benefit that makes up the foundation of IIoT.
IIoT shapes new ways for devices to talk to each other over a network. Just like with IoT, anything with a circuit board can be connected. This opens up an infinite world of choices, and we’re just scratching the surface.
Every business, regardless of what industry they’re in, can reap the benefits of IIoT. They can monitor energy usage to find inefficiencies at any given time. Manufacturers can reduce lead times by tracking exactly when customers need their products. Companies can make accurate predictions of when their machines might break, then prevent them from happening with scheduled maintenance. Environmental agencies can keep better track of industrial carbon footprints.
IIoT doesn’t just stop at connecting devices. It connects people too.
Picture a multinational organization with factories in over 50 different countries. Using IIoT, a factory in Canada can quickly get real-time information from one in Japan. Even though they’re on opposite ends of the world, information is shared as if both factories were next door neighbors. And it doesn’t stop there. Adopting a unified network means that everyone across the business gets access to the same data. Groups that would’ve otherwise never worked together are now directly linked. The finance department can use data coming from the shop floor to make better financial decisions. Executives can instantly assess all levels of their organization to gain a broad view of its overall performance.
IIoT brings to the forefront a mentality of “right here, right now”. It’s all about using big data to make better decisions. To optimize workflows and processes. To reduce waiting and downtime. To predict failures before they happen. To streamline organizations top to bottom.
Before you think about implementing IIoT, it’s important to evaluate your business to determine if it’s ready for it.
Is Your Business Ready for IIoT?
There are a few key factors to take into account when you’re looking to bring in IIoT for your business such as hardware, network, security, and employees.
Let’s start with the hardware in place. It is easier for businesses with a robust infrastructure and updated workflows to integrate and adopt something new like IIoT. However, businesses using legacy equipment tend to struggle with the same. Can the existing equipment communicate with newer models over the internet? Would it be better to “rip-and-replace” old equipment with new ones, or add in third-party devices to extend their capabilities?
Past equipment age, it’s important to look at how everything communicates. Having a strong, reliable network is the backbone of a good IIoT system. What existing protocols are being used? Is there enough head-room for more bandwidth? Can you send more data across your existing cables? Is everything able to talk over one Wi-Fi connection? Can you bring in 4G or 5G networks to boost performance?
Once you’ve established a bigger picture of your devices and networks, time to move on to security. Real-time data collection is great, but if it’s not secured properly then it could become a serious problem. See if your existing security protocols could work. If not, then what new measures need to be taken? Are there any regulations your company needs to set in place to protect data?
Finally, you’ll need to look at employees. Do you have the right IT staff on-hand to help with implementation? Getting everyone to shift their workflows from one that’s already established can be challenging. Are there measures put in place to make sure employees have a smooth transition? Are they willing to learn new software? If your business has multiple locations, how can you make sure everyone is on board at around the same time?
Once these factors have been addressed, you can now begin implementing IIoT.
As mentioned before, IIoT is all about connectivity and big data. Ensure that all of your equipment, like controllers and sensors, can communicate over the internet. Networks need to be reliable in order to keep a constant flow of information. If the business is using old firmware versions, now is the time to update everything. This goes for both hardware and software.
Security is essential to all organizations. As the industry becomes more connected, a robust data security system keeps your data from falling into the wrong hands. Make sure you plan your networks carefully. Keep your IP addresses updated on a regular basis and try not to have one large network connection for your workspace; splitting it into multiple sub-networks for different regions is considered best practice. Furthermore, if your business is in direct contact with suppliers and distributors, you can set up private networks (or VPN’s) and create custom virtual “tunnels” to send vital data.
Once the physical infrastructure is put in place, data collection is the easy part. Managing that data, however, is key which further helps with goal setting and monitoring Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Have a system set in place that uses both hardware and software to manage the inflow of information and display those metrics in real-time to drive productivity.
Integrating IIoT into your business processes may seem like a daunting task at first, but the continuous benefits are well worth the process.