Industrial IoT: Supporters and Skeptics

Stephen DeAngelis

December 10, 2019

Much of what people read or hear about the Internet of Things (IoT) pertains to non-commercial home usage, like smart doorbells, smart lights, smart thermostats, and so forth. As cool as those “things” are, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is more important for the economy. Jordan Appleson (@jordanisonfire), CEO at Hark, explains, “A subset of IoT is the Industrial Internet of Things which refers to creating interconnections between industrial equipment, facilities, personnel and processes. Sensors can be placed onto individual assets on the factory floor to allow a business to collect sensor-based data from all interlinking machines. Each of these connect to a shared and secure network to give them a three-dimensional picture of the entire operating facility. These sensors monitor a variety of functions such as lighting usage, temperature, humidity and activity levels. The higher volume and quality of data allows a business to manage and monitor operations to ensure the most efficient results.”[1] Given all the potential benefits of the IIoT, manufacturers should be jumping on the IIoT bandwagon. However, John Hitch reports, “According to [IndustryWeek’s] July survey of manufacturing leaders, optimism abounds with automation while skepticism hinders wearables and IIoT.”[2]

Who’s deploying IIoT ecosystems?

According to Hitch, manufacturers with the greatest revenue are the ones most likely to implement IIoT systems. He writes, “The most glaring difference among manufacturers based on revenue is their adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things. If data is the commodity, this is its supply chain.” The IW survey found 39 percent of manufacturers with revenue over $100 million have implemented IIoT systems with an additional 19 percent involved in proof-of-concept projects (a total of 58 percent actively involved with IIoT systems). That compares to only 41 percent of small- to medium-sized enterprises (SME) that have implemented or are experimenting with IIoT systems. Hitch writes, “The results are not unexpected, as big companies likely have more employees and more money to throw at a deployment.” With so much IIoT activity underway, one might reasonably ask: Where is the skepticism? Terri Foudray (@TerriFoudray), CEO of Rumble, told Hitch, fear of failure is holding some companies back. She cited a 2017 Cisco survey that found 75% of IIoT projects fail. “People hearing about failure is part of the problem,” she says.

Hitch notes a rise in skepticism was evident in the IW survey, which saw a decrease from the previous year’s survey in the number of SME respondents who listed the IIoT as “the most critical technology to their company’s success.” Hitch adds, “That data point is misleading, as the report itself does not suggest avoiding the IoT. After all, it takes failure to succeed, to learn from your mistakes and course-correct.” Adding to skepticism about IIoT are worries about security and a lack of standards. The staff at K&L Gates notes, “While IoT promises to deliver significant advantages, it can also raise some serious legal concerns. For one, malware can infect an IoT device’s storage, remove network configuration and halt a device’s operation. Everything from teleoperated surgical robots to popular vehicles have been hacked in controlled experiments with results ranging from widespread panic to costly recalls. Indeed, with multiple IoT devices communicating with one another via the internet, the potential for a data security breach is high.”[3]

Benefits of IIoT

In spite of rising skepticism, the IIoT does have its supporters. Appleson notes, “IIoT offers unprecedented opportunities for industrial businesses. New pioneering technology can redefine your manufacturing process allowing your business to profit from [increased safety and improved energy efficiency].” K&L Gates staffers note, “Technology is redefining factory floors and assembly lines across industries. … Chief among these technologies is the Internet of Things. By connecting devices and allowing them to communicate with one another, IoT is helping manufacturers optimize supply chains, lower maintenance costs and streamline workflows. In fact, by the end of 2019, there will be 14.2 billion internet-connected devices worldwide, according to research firm Gartner.” John McDonald, CEO of ClearObject, asserts, “IoT and data are critical for today’s operations in any industry. It’s no longer feasible to ignore the benefits for efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction that are results of using advancements in IoT and data. Each and every industry must adopt new and inventive methods like IoT and machine learning to analyze transactions and data in any form whether it’s a car that can detect driver fatigue, preventive maintenance sensors, or nanotechnology to monitor food sources.”[4] There are numerous reasons manufacturers should consider implementing IIoT systems. They include:

1. 5G telecommunications is coming. According to Verizon, “5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks, and it is expected to be one of the fastest wireless technologies ever created. … 5G technology can increase accessibility for all people via connected appliances, autonomous vehicles, and other remote applications. Autonomous vehicles are expected to be able to communicate with each other and read live map and traffic data over 5G. Remote surgery will be possible over 5G, with the availability of nearly instantaneous data and analysis. In addition, 5G brings the potential to remotely operate robots, enabling a user to feel and touch through a machine thousands of miles away. 5G is important for these reasons as well as for creating smart cities.”[5] 5G technology will take the IIoT to an entirely new level.

2. Improved preventive maintenance. McDonald writes, “Things like IoT sensors and other products that provide businesses with information about hardware life-cycles and potential outages will not only prevent costly repairs, but it eliminates the need for 24/7 on-call engineers.” Appleson adds, “An enhanced overview of how systems are operating allows manufacturers to prevent potentially dangerous situations from occurring. One of the ways in which this can be achieved is a predictive maintenance model. As data is collected from each of the machines it is then analyzed, producing useful insight into potential failure conditions of equipment before they occur, e.g., overheating. … Recent studies have demonstrated that predictive maintenance will save companies $630 billion by the year 2025, with the majority of cost savings coming from the reduction in unplanned downtime.”

3. Better insights. According to McDonald, “The trend of collecting ‘big data’ just to have it on hand is over. Businesses now have to use that data in ways that allow them to make crucial decisions that affect their bottom-line, like customer satisfaction, preventive maintenance, etc. Predictive analytics will continue to advance and give industries like manufacturing and logistics not only the data they need, but the suggested actions and steps to take as a result.” Advanced analytics are embedded in cognitive computing systems, like the Enterra Enterprise Cognitive System™ (AILA®) — a system that can Sense, Think, Act and Learn®.

4. Improved energy usage. Appleson explains, “The industrial sector is one of the highest energy users accounting for 54% of global delivered electricity. IIoT has the ability to predict energy demands and optimize future energy consumption. Motors and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are major sources of energy usage. When the sensors are placed onto each of these machines it will be able to identify when and where you are losing energy. Continuously monitoring energy output will allow a business to determine when power should be on and operating and when they can potentially power down and conserve energy.”

Those are only a few of the ways manufacturers will be able to use the data collected by the IIoT.

Concluding thoughts

The IIoT is really an ecosystem consisting of sensors on one end and advanced analytics platforms on the other with the two ends connected by the IIoT. The lifeblood of this ecosystem is data. Hitch notes, “The way people talk about it, data can seem like a revolutionary notion. But data has always had value in manufacturing. You think Henry Ford wasn’t crunching numbers and keeping score as production of his Model T went from a takt time of 12 hours per unit to 2.5? Of course he was. The only thing that has changed is how vital this raw resource is to staying competitive in a post digital transformation landscape, where cutting-edge technology is slashing design, production and delivery times to a sliver of their previous state.” That’s exactly why the IIoT is here to stay despite some current skepticism.

Footnotes
[1] Jordan Appleson, “IoT in Manufacturing: Reduce Energy Consumption, Increase Safety,” Supply Chain Digital,
[2] John Hitch, “2019 IW Tech Survey: Robots Hot; IIoT Not,” IndustryWeek, 6 August 2019.
[3] K&L Gates, “The Impact Of IoT On Factory Floors—And Legal Strategy,” Forbes, 9 October 2019.
[4] John McDonald, “Behold the IoT Invasion: Eight Reasons to Plug In,” IndustryWeek, 12 March 2019.
[5] Staff, “What does 5G mean?” Verizon, 5 November 2019.