It’s impossible to miss the countless articles that discuss the future of the Industrial Internet of Things, treating the idea that all our devices can and should be connected as a foregone conclusion.
There are many software products that claim the ability to create quick and seamless IoT integration, as well as some products like InduSoft Web Studio, which actually deliver on the challenge of linking multiple disparate systems into one seamless interface. But some questions are frequently overlooked in the excitement of this new, interconnected and interoperable world.
- Why does my business need this?
- How can IIoT strategies directly impact my business in the short term?
- Is it worth the investment?
- How does this put me in a stronger position than my competitors?
Before IIoT systems can be implemented widely it’s important to take a closer look at the ‘why’ of IIoT as much as the ‘how’.
IIoT for direct, quick ROI
One of the quickest ways to realize the benefits of IIoT architecture is through the power of predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance is nothing new, but the power of linking real-time machine performance data with the cloud allows a level of monitoring and analysis on machine data that just isn’t possible without the ability to connect machine performance to the current conditions on the plant floor and schedule maintenance based on both actionable data and a predetermined schedule of maintenance.
Downtime and equipment failure can be one of the most costly issues production managers face. An effective IIoT strategy may not be able to eliminate downtime, but it can certainly mitigate the damage caused by equipment failures. If a machine is able to warn operators that parts (equipped with smart sensors) have reached the end of their lifecycle, they can be replaced before they wear out. If a machine error is able to immediately trigger a connection to a remote specialist who can diagnose and correct the issue from halfway across the world in minutes, hours of downtime can be spared. Even gradually decreasing machine efficiency can trigger alarms that let operators know that it’s time to schedule maintenance outside of production hours, before there’s a machine failure.
IIoT as a long-term strategy for efficiency and supply-chain control
The promise of IIoT has always gone beyond predictive maintenance. Some of the most encouraging innovations in the prospect of IIoT include greater efficiency in production, quicker time to market, and better awareness of supply-chain dynamics.
With machines that are less prone to failure, it’s possible to focus on production efficiency. This change will mostly occur through software solutions. HMI and SCADA software like InduSoft Web Studio has built its roadmap around helping machine builders and plant managers visualize machine efficiency trends and contextualize data so that it can be quickly acted upon. The open-platform model of InduSoft Web Studio allows modular smart embedded devices to be seamlessly incorporated into an IIoT architecture, bringing machine data into the cloud, and allowing operators to correlate key performance indicators and continuously improve machine efficiency or correct course when efficiency dips.
IIoT solutions can also improve efficiency by connecting production to real-time market trends. By connecting machines to cloud-based data through IoT software, it may be possible to schedule production automatically based on units ordered or pallets shipped per day, as well as compare historical data to anticipate slow periods or demand for high volume.
Businesses that embrace IIoT and make the most of the potential will be rewarded with better efficiency and the flexibility to easily change processes and schedules to match market needs and customer demand.
IIoT goes beyond manufacturing, however. It will be exceptionally important for machine builders who are always looking for opportunities to add value to existing products. Including IIoT capabilities in machines will allow machine builders to offer more remote service and maintenance opportunities for customers, and make it easier to implement demands for new functionality and flexibility.
Investing in IIoT
IIoT is not a concept that should be put off for the vague “future”. The technology to implement IIoT exists now, and is readily available. It can also be surprisingly affordable. Solutions like InduSoft Web Studio and InduSoft IoTView are capable of running on embedded devices such as Raspberry Pi and Linux and VxWorks embedded machines that can be used to add machine intelligence to almost anything with a sensor.
With long machine lifecycles it may not be feasible or even desirable to update machinery, but software is capable of adding IIoT functionality without requiring a complete system overhaul. SCADA software with remote connectivity tools and easy web publishing like InduSoft Web Studio make getting machine data into the cloud or connecting with remote databases a simple process. Applications can then be adapted to link multiple disparate systems into one network capable of sending and receiving data to all component parts.
IIoT implementation may still be a daunting prospect, but the technology is ready and waiting, and businesses that delay adoption of IoT capabilities may find themselves far less competitive in the years ahead.