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Demystifying the IIoT: What it is, and Why it Matters

Blog Contributed by MW Industrial

There’s plenty of buzz throughout the industry about the IoT, the Industrial IoT, smart machines and computers taking over the world … okay, maybe not that last part.

But what the heck is the Internet of Things, anyway? And more importantly, why should you care?

It’s all about devices and machines (aka “Things”) that are connected via the Internet, which allows them to collect and share data. In other words, machines talking to each other without human intervention. You read that right.

The Rise of Connected Machines

 
By 2020, it’s said that anywhere from 20 to 50 billion devices will be connected. These devices can be anything from sensors and lights to blenders and manufacturing robots. According to Cisco, machines that talk to each other will be the biggest population on the internet within five years.

The revolution is underway, from our homes to the factory floor. Perhaps you already have the ability to turn on your lights, adjust your thermostat or feed the dog without stepping foot into your home. Maybe your washing machine can tell you when it requires service. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Business applications of the IoT run the gamut, from sensors in fleet truck tires that can help reduce fuel costs (via analytics / driver feedback) to windmills that automatically adjust their behavior based on wind speed and other data collected from fellow windmills.

The Industrial Internet of Things

 
As for the industrial field, there’s plenty of talk about the Industrial IoT, but much less adoption at this point. While 32% of respondents to Plant Engineering’s 2017 Maintenance Report believe that adopting IIoT technology will improve their understanding of machine health, only 7% currently take advantage of the technology.

Source: Plant Engineering Maintenance Report, March 2017

Smart machines that collect and share data are not new to the plant floor. Think: equipment with sensors that monitor variables like vibration, temperature, pressure and flow. The IIoT will allow this data to be merged and shared with similar information from other systems beyond the facility walls. This makes for superior analysis and problem solving, among other applications.

RTI explains, “The Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT) is made up of a multitude of devices connected by communications software. The resulting systems, and even the individual devices that comprise it, can monitor, collect, exchange, analyze, and instantly act on information to intelligently change their behavior or their environment — all without human intervention.”

Real Benefits

 
The bottom line? The IIoT can improve operational performance and efficiency. Plant Engineering highlights five key areas where the IIoT can make a big difference in manufacturing: predictive maintenance, supply chain visibility, cross-facility operations analysis, automation and safety.

This may look like anything from a manufacturing plant embedding sensors that identify bottlenecks to a utility company using sensors, analytics and real-time data to anticipate equipment failures and respond rapidly to issues like leaks and weather events.

Accenture reports that the IIoT may have the ability to boost manufacturing productivity by up to 30%, and improvements in predictive maintenance may reduce overall maintenance costs up to 30%, eliminating up to 70% of breakdowns.

The Future

 
There are plenty of challenges the industry will be confronted with when embracing the IIoT, from security to integration. Still, the possibilities point to this technology finding its way into the infrastructure of future plants in the not-too-distant future.

According to IoT Agenda, “Whatever the approach or extent of commitment to IIoT, the availability of more connected sensors, controls and devices undoubtedly provides the opportunity for a level of visibility and control unimaginable just a few years ago.”

“Companies have the opportunity to keep closer track of everything going on in the plant, at subsidiary and remote plant locations, at subcontractor and suppliers plants, at remote warehouses, and on goods in transit anywhere in the world.”

It appears that the future may just about be here.

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