As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) comes closer to fruition, it will mark a big change for industrial systems. One of the biggest areas of change will impact the traditional design and augmentation of industrial systems, which have long been characterized by either (1) designing a proprietary or custom end-to-end solution or (2) adding functionality by repeatedly tacking on vendor-defined black boxes. The tack-on solution described in point 2, which is very common across industry, can be quick to implement—but at what cost?
This is an important question to consider in light of IIoT’s premise of sharing data easily for improved analysis and decision-making. For example, in a vendor-defined condition monitoring solution, the data being acquired and analyzed is not easily available; the system is limited to sending simple alarms to prevent a catastrophic failure. Data may be available after an event to analyze and determine what went wrong, but by then time and money may have been lost. If the condition monitoring data is not continuously analyzed and made available through an open, standardized interface, there is no possibility of adjusting control algorithms based on the data collected or correlating the collected data to control events to improve efficiency or prevent system downtime.
The opposite is true for end-to-end solutions. When an end-to-end solution is built, the communication protocols are uniform and data can be shared easily. But at that point, the solution itself essentially becomes the black box because of proprietary communication protocols. As soon as an update is required, the engineer faces the dilemma of tacking on a solution that might not communicate well with the whole system or of starting the process over and creating a new end-to-end solution.
IIoT systems need to be adaptive and scalable through software or added functionality that easily integrates into the overall solution. When the entire system is a black box, this cannot occur.
Developing and deploying the systems that will make up IIoT represents a massive investment for decades to come. The only way to meet the needs of today and tomorrow is not by predicting the future but by deploying a network of systems flexible enough to evolve and adapt. The way forward involves a platform-based approach; a single flexible hardware architecture deployed across many applications removes a substantial amount of the hardware complexity and makes each new problem primarily a software challenge. The same principle must be applied to software tools to form a powerful hardware-software platform that creates a unified solution.
An effective platform-based approach does not focus on hardware or software, but instead on the innovation within the application itself.
The ongoing design of IIoT represents a massive business and technology opportunity for all of us. Engineers and scientists are already implementing systems on the leading edge of IIoT, but many things still need to be defined and much work needs to be done. Start focusing on a platform-based approach and become part of the IIoT generation by getting involved with bodies such as the Industrial Internet Consortium to define the future and ensure that businesses are focused on innovation and not simply integration.