I was introduced to the concept of the “Internet of Things” by Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, in 2005. Neil saw the Internet of Things as connecting heterogeneous devices rather than heterogeneous networks. Neil joked “on the Internet no one knows you are a light bulb” and outlined a seven fold plan to bring the Internet of Things to life.
Cisco renames the Internet of Things to the Internet of Everything. Cisco estimates there are 10 Billion devices networked together today and expects that number to grow to 50 Billion by 2020. The vision Cisco sees is new capabilities for networks and devices and richer experiences for the user.
To General Electric the Internet of Things is the Industrial Network with 3 key elements; intelligent machines, advanced analytics and people at work. These elements form an industrial internet data loop that continually feeds and improves itself with secure cloud-based networking as the nucleus. The complexity of the loop is overcome by transferring some decisions to the digital system.
You are part of the Internet of Things. Your cell phone(s), iPad, iPod, and car all have IP addresses. The web applications that run on these devices enable your Internet of Things. The data from the applications better your life in some way.
So, what does this mean for automation? Change is coming soon, a second industrial revolution with the rise of the machines.
Distributed computing at the device level will lead to machine and process optimization yielding better performance. New device to device communication architectures will replace the current master/slave networks. This will impact the traditional PLC or DCS which will morph into cloud-based software. Automation networks will self-configure, self-regulate, and suggest efficiency improvements.
Much of the current decision making of the operator will be made by the machines. The operator will focus on system efficiency to include energy, security, safety and process tuning. The operator will need a cross discipline skill set of industrial engineering, digital computing and data scientist.
Automation will not avoid the Internet of Things but rather will be at the heart of it. The Internet of Things in automation will increase operational efficiency, lower costs, and improve productivity. The increase in productivity will lead to a growth in labor and wages which lead to higher standards of living.
How will the Internet of Things impact your automation network architecture?