To some degree, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has existed for 50 years or more, but until a few years ago, industry simply didn’t have a popular term for it. For at least 50 years, industry has had sensors that are connected to computers, dedicated to better collecting measurements and recording them for analysis. At a very high level, that’s what IIoT is. Today, there are some material benefits in more recent IIoT developments which many companies are capitalising on.
However, for many others, an “IIoT strategy” is understandably secondary to the day to day task of keeping operations and production running. In this article, we look at five elements organisations can consider when adopting a successful IIoT strategy, with supporting examples used to illustrate where IIoT may introduce new efficiencies and cost savings.
Consider IIoT on the periphery
In the past, sensors and actuators were wired into were expensive, specialised systems and usually the domain of safety critical equipment. These systems control hazardous, or sometimes just very high-speed operations, and any changes to wiring to add sensors quickly became expensive because of the safety critical nature of the operations. It might cost $20,000 to add a sensor because of the wiring and change control processes, even before the cost of the actual sensor.
What’s different now is that it’s possible for industry to apply IIoT on the periphery, in areas that were not cost effective previously. IIoT has been heavily influenced by lower cost, consumer grade sensors, and the reduced ownership costs benefits of the cloud, as well as user friendly analytics capacity. For those organisations that may be concerned with the high costs traditionally associated with adding sensors to the control network, the good news is that adding IIoT sensors that can collect outside data has become much less cost intensive to implement, with extensive cost savings benefits immediately demonstrable.
Consider “shadow sensors” for cost savings and downtime tracking
In most factories, sensors have traditionally not been applied to processes that aren’t critical because they have been considered too expensive. This has especially been the case where there may be existing control system sensors, but which may not be available to information and analytics systems because they are part of embedded equipment.
Rather than endeavouring to enable complex layers of access to embedded equipment, it may be more cost effective to add low-cost, parallel IIoT sensors known as “shadow sensors.”
Shadow sensors have become a cost-effective way of measuring metrics such as downtime. For example, consider packing lines that are very mechanical and produce product at a very high speed and
volume. If a packing line produces 10 packages of yoghurt every second, and the labels for the yoghurts jam and take between 10-30 seconds to fix, it’s unlikely that an operator will want to go to the trouble of manually recording the fault. However, adding shadow sensors alongside the built-in ones can give better visibility for tracking and diagnostics, particularly due to its reduced cost. If company can add a photo eye for $50, and connect over Wi-Fi and record the downtime, then the cost is worth this direct application, particularly for high throughput plants.
Consider the benefit of supplemental non-critical instrumentation
Picture this: An agricultural producer of pesticides and fertilisers may have implemented industrial software in their main plant, but not on their farms where they test the chemicals, because the cost of implementing and deploying the hardware and software is high – and because they do not have the engineering and IT staff out on a farm.
However, deploying a low-cost, cloud-managed solution with IIoT sensors can be a cost-effective way to obtain supplemental information. In this way, the producer would be able to track metrics like soil moisture and temperature remotely, with someone at the plant with the expertise to manage, deploy and maintain these analytics.
Collecting this supplemental, non-critical information wasn’t practical before the advent of more consumer grades sensors and the cloud. This type of information may not be critical because plants can still make product, but if they can gain more insight in a cost-effective way, it is helpful to have it.
Consider the full potential of the cloud in reducing ownership costs
If companies can capture data via IIoT cost effectively and without the people and technology infrastructure previously required, they are in an excellent position to realise the first of many cloud benefits: cost savings – not just in its initial deployment, but also in the cost of ownership. Managed cloud services may even represent better value.
For example, a beverage customer may have an extensive software stack and staff infrastructure in North America and Western Europe, but lack technology infrastructure and staff in Eastern Europe and Asia. However, with a cloud-based solution, collecting data for analysis and reporting is easily justified. This is an excellent example of both cloud-facilitated and optimised operations, and cost savings.
Don’t think of IIoT as all or nothing: Consider a hybrid cloud
Many sites already have extensive on-premise systems, making it hard to consider switching to cloud-based, IIoT tools and functionality. However, hybrid on-premise/cloud options are an ideal middle ground to get the benefits of more accessible information without giving up what already works.
On-premise systems may only be accessible by people in the control room. Yet for those who may now need to work remotely, cloud-based systems in addition to these on-premise systems to securely access data trapped in the control room so that engineers and plant managers can have visualise data and collaborate remotely.
The important thing is to recognise that hybrid cloud options have an earned place in today’s successful IIoT strategies, along with the other four strategic points discussed in this article.
At its most fundamental level, IIoT can give companies access to more information, and to more users in a more cost-effective way. Above all, IIoT should be making industrial operations easier, helping to connect people, and improving processes and business decision support.
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