You’ve heard all the hype about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). By 2020, there will be an estimated 50 billion “things” connected to the Internet, and an increasing share of these interconnected devices will be industrial assets. Now your boss has asked you to look into it. He’s heard about all the benefits and wants to make sure he’s not being left behind by the competition.
When confronted with this challenge, there are two questions you should ask yourself. “What value will IIoT bring to my plant floor?” and “What should I consider when specifying such a solution?”
Of course, IIoT covers a broad swatch of potential applications. But what they all have in common is the capacity to provide many of your installed devices with the ability to record and share performance and environmental data. This “smart data” is then forwarded to the cloud and centralized so that high level analytics can be performed. The information gleaned (because that data has now been converted into useful business information) then has a positive impact on productivity, energy consumption, and cost reduction.
In fact, 80 percent of industrial companies indicate that big data analytics are at the top of their priority list. Some analyst surveys are reporting that IIoT will potentially generate up to €10,000 billion in business by the year 2025.
Basic Considerations for IIoT Enablement of Your Factory Floor
So, what steps should you take to facilitate the transition to this new world of data and connectivity? First, recognize that IIoT is a natural evolution of control systems. Traditional control systems operate within a limited scope of data. Their applications and programming languages tend to be complex. Making modifications to the system often involves interruptions to uptime while service updates are made.
IIoT connectivity, on the other hand, enhances the value of your existing plant assets and can be implemented at the device, machine, and/or process levels. In an IIoT world, software agents are key to tying together the disparate pieces of equipment. A software agent is a computer program which works toward goals (as opposed to discrete tasks) in an environment where change is the norm on behalf of another entity (like a human). They can activate and run themselves, not requiring input from or interaction with a human user. When deploying an IIoT approach, current control systems are still maintained to safely run the assets. The IIoT framework runs analytics in the agents interfacing with the traditional automation applications. As the data is gathered, analytics are built and deployed over time without the need to change or even shut down the existing control system.
Therefore, an important first step when deploying IIoT solutions, is to properly specify these key programming tools. Of critical importance is to make sure that the software that wire the “things” in the field to internet and cloud applications is secure. Since IIoT means connecting to the internet, this “open” system needs to be designed to both facilitate connectivity and to restrict unauthorized outside access.
Below is a list of “must haves” when evaluating IIoT programming tools:
- Open-sourced and simple to use
- A browser-based editor making it easier to wire the connections between IIoT applications
- Feature a development environment that offers a gradual and easy learning curve for users with no programming skills
- Configurable for “output” communication only. The cloud applications should have no “input” communication request to the plant level. The smart devices push data to the cloud so communications to the machine and plant levels from the cloud are not necessary and should be avoided to guard against cyberattacks
- With an engine to run on intermediary Edge devices, capable of “white listing.” Meaning to create a list of authorized applications that can be managed at the Edge device
To learn more about IIoT solutions that aid in the automation system, cloud, and IT function integration, download the Schneider Electric white paper “Magelis iPC Runs Node-RED at the Edge of the IIoT to Push Automation Boundaries.”