Oct 13, 2016

IIoT – The start of next Industrial Revolution

Understanding IIoT
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the massive network that connects all physical objects, helping us to remotely “talk" to devices, turn them on/off, monitor them, and even predict how they would/should function over a time period. The fact that it applies to almost everything from banking and insurance to energy/utilities, and further even to agriculture and manufacturing is what makes it so interesting and worth investing our resources.

The elements that make up IIoT
IIoT is made possible by integrating various technologies like never before. They constitute intelligent sensors connected to process equipment and machines, a seamless communication network for transferring data generated by sensor/control elements. Cloud storage/computing technologies for storing data and finally software applications that are standalone or cloud based which are used to process, analyze and visualize the data. As always the most important element in the IIoT is going to be the people involved who would make this culmination of technology work to our advantage.

IIoT in manufacturing: Why now?
The improvements in manufacturing techniques, technology and best practices have yielded considerable enhancement in manufacturing processes through the years. Cost savings and efficiency improvements have traditionally been realized through debottlenecking plans, process automation, and implementation of new business practices and lately by the adoption of IT into business processes. However, the extent to which they can contribute further value has definitely reached the limits.  Now the rise of IIoT promises to completely revolutionize manufacturing and radically change the very way business operations are conducted. IIoT achieves this by implementing seamless connectivity and facilitating real-time information exchange between machines and between factory floor and business processes, resulting in business improvement on a scale unimaginable before. IIoT will primarily generate value in four manufacturing related processes which are supply chain management, operating efficiency, predictive maintenance and Inventory optimization. 

The IIoT evolution
IIoT is the result of constant evolution of technology, methods and processes in various fields like automation, communications, computing, software and analytics.

Figure 1: Elements of IIoT

Previous automation technologies followed a strict hierarchical pyramid structure, where each of these systems was capable of complex functions but still they operated in silos and lacked seamless connectivity. Given below is a typical schematic of a conventional industrial furnace automation and control solution. It operates independently using set points defined during the building of the process plant. There is no interaction between the process data and business data like inventory or supply chain.

The next development in automation involved controlled and limited information exchange between Process Control element and corporate level applications like MES/MIS or ERP solutions. Thus the manner in which separate parts of the business operated in silos begin to change.

Figure 2: Current automation technology work flow in a furnace

Future automation enabled by IIoT will involve seamless connectivity between sensing elements, process control protocols and plant operational tools like MES/MIS and business applications like ERP. This will enable what is called the “Cyber-Physical Production Systems” (CPPS). Thus data from different business processes is analyzed at real-time to manage inventory, supply chain and operations. This interconnectedness helps attain significant business impact through increased efficiency, enhanced manufacturing performance, inventory effectiveness and manufacturing flexibility resulting in improved quality and cost savings.

Figure 3: Future automation technology work flow in a furnace

The defining and final element in IIoT puzzle will be the data itself and the realization of business potential will depends on the analytical tools that a company brings to bear to collate, analyze and generate actionable insights.

Benefits of IIoT
Sensor-enabled applications have been commonly used in the field of industrial automation and manufacturing process control for many years. Most production floors were historically managed by operational technology that was “closed type" — that is, running on proprietary network protocols and legacy management applications. With IIoT, all these systems are now migrating to open IP standards which have resulted in increased scalability, interoperability, uptime, manageability, and security.

IIoT enables managers to understand what is occurring at a given moment in a factory environment such as the performance of machines, ambient conditions, energy consumption, status of inventory, or the flow of materials. Preventative maintenance is a key use case of IIoT, and this is particularly critical in a production-floor setting. Sensors can alert managers (or machines) on real-time on whether a physical asset in the factory is exceeding acceptable levels of vibration or temperature, is malfunctioning, or is otherwise prone to fail. This has major implications in terms of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), a key metric of manufacturing productivity, and has positive ripple effects throughout the supply chain. This comprehensive view of what’s happening in the process also helps in improving the overall process efficiency.  Moreover it helps manufacturers track and better manage their inventory and supply chain.

About the author

Nitin Bhatt

Nitin Bhatt

Assistant Vice President, SME, Supply Chain Management

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