It’s Not the Internet of Things; It’s a Business Case

May 26, 2015
It doesn’t make any sense to buy or sell IoT as a concept, but rather the value the related technologies can bring, whether for turbines or cows. Panelists at The Automation Conference discuss real-world use cases and the best way to get started.

The amount of data available to us every second of the day is staggering. We’re surrounded by opportunities to access information about everything, everywhere. As just one example in our personal lives, we’ve watched the Fitbit craze explode around us, everyone interested in how many steps they’re taking throughout the day. But how many people are gathering data to see how many steps their cows are taking?

Well, if you’ve got yourself some cows, and you want to make some more cows, getting access to that kind of data is actually pretty helpful. The window you have to inseminate your cows is a pretty small one. But, as it turns out, if you pay attention to the big spike in the data that shows how much your cow is walking around, you’ll know she’s ready. And if you’re patient and hold off just a little bit longer, you can actually control whether she has a little girl calf or a little boy calf.

Jason Young, senior program manager at Microsoft, described Fujitsu’s Connected Cow solution during one of two panel discussions about the Industrial Internet of Things at The Automation Conference in Chicago. And while it might not seem like the most industrial of examples, the technology is easily applicable to the work that’s going on across a broad range of industries to make sense of the data that we have for so long been collecting.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a popular topic, to be sure. But no amount of hype surrounding it is going to convince manufacturers that they need to buy the latest and greatest IoT-ready devices and analytics software. Instead, they need to understand the value that Big Data brings to their manufacturing business.

“I don’t think it should be our mission to try to encourage IIoT,” said Eddie Lee, director of global industry marketing for Moxa. Instead, there should be a business case that end users have discovered internally that points to a need for IoT-like solutions. “Not many people just go by buzzwords and say hey, we should try that.”

As Mike Fahrion, vice president of IoT technologies at B+B SmartWorx, puts it, “Customers don’t call them Internet of Things applications.” What they’re concerned about, he said, is that the new technology doesn’t disrupt existing processes or programming. “I’m trying to optimize my existing stuff, not my future stuff.”

Fahrion gave an example of how B+B was able to help a quarry customer (“they make little rocks out of big rocks”) get the data it needed to keep its equipment running. “Downtime is a big deal for these guys. But they have no connectivity into these sites. The way they keep this expensive and heavy equipment operating is mostly firefighting. Something goes down, they panic.”

Instead, B+B’s solution uses smart sensing to get data on bearing temperatures, current draw, vibration levels, ambient temperatures, etc. “We took an IoT type of approach,” Fahrion said. “But the customer doesn’t even know what IoT stands for.”

Benson Hougland, who described IoT as giving things the ability to sense and communicate, gave a few examples of how customers are using Opto 22’s groov mobile platform to get better connected to the data from their machines. Van DeChaff Seeds uses the mobile interface for its grain handling and seed systems to provide better service to its customers. SCADA Solutions needed secure remote control for wind turbines, along with live turbine data, from smartphones and tablets. And Data Device Corp. has augmented its existing HMI for monitoring and controlling facility compressors, pumps and ovens.

Bosch Rexroth provides IoT solutions both internally and externally, mentioned Scott Hibbard, vice president of technology for the company. A connectivity project at a hydraulics plant in Germany is one of more than 100 Industry 4.0 projects being deployed at Bosch internally, he said.

Bosch is applying a combination of its connected cordless tools and localization services for a Track and Trace testbed for the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). “Knowing where the tool is contributes to safety,” Hibbard said. “It’s ideal for aerospace and automotive assembly.”

Moxa’s Lee also mentioned the testbeds being done at IIC. “There is no single partner that can do industrial IoT end to end,” he said, noting that there could be more cross-polination going on across multiple industries. “The shame is that transportation very rarely crosses paths with heavy industry,” he added as an example.

“The people that will benefit the most from these concepts are the end users,” said Sari Germanos, technology marketing manager for the Ethernet Powerlink Standardization Group (EPSG). “They will be the people to drive the need and demand for this technology.”

Getting started

Getting started with IIoT is in many cases just making use of the data that your devices have already been gathering for years. Albert Rooyakkers, founder, CTO and vice president of engineering at Bedrock Automation, described the situation at one of the biggest companies in world. “One of the most important things they can do is to enable all the tens of thousands of HART devices they have in the field. When that happens, they’re going to have a flood of data,” he said. “There’s a pent-up capability in the market right now.”

One question is how to unlock the value of all that existing data. “In a lot of cases, it just evaporates,” Microsoft’s Young said. “Now tools are available to make use of that data. Use the data you already have. They could be indicators of failure. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit there.”

Jeremy King, IntelliSense product marketing manager for Bimba Manufacturing, recommends starting small, proving out the technology and the value it can bring, and getting that information out to everyone. “If you’re looking to start a project in your organization, find that place where all the data is going to help improve your life,” he added.

“With small investments, they can make big changes,” Hibbard noted.

“Industrial Internet of Things is an adaptive technology that you can experiment,” added Aron Semle, product manager for KEPServerEX at Kepware Technologies. “It’s subscription-based, so there’s a low cost of entry.”

Protocol and security concerns

It’s still fairly early in the IIoT game, and there’s a fear of change that will take people some time to get over, Lee said.

As one machine integrator in the audience expressed, there are concerns from users about all the protocols used for communicating between devices. But don’t expect convergence anytime soon. Or ever, actually.

“These competing technologies won’t just go away. It’s wishful thinking for them to converge to one protocol,” Germanos said. “So we just try to create PLCs that can speak many protocols. Or try to find a way to connect all of these so we can still have a well functioning machine.”

“That type of issue is never going to go away,” Young agreed. “It’s a way of life in every industry.”

Security issues were also on the minds of attendees. Getting back to the cow example, as one audience member put it, “How do you avoid two cowboys chasing after that cow with a baster?”

It’s a matter of making sure you don’t have wide open access, making use of user authentication to get the data to the right people, Hougland said. “A lot of those answers come from the IT side,” he noted. “We’re starting to see more of that find their way into control devices.”

Issues of security are often tied to how deep the root of trust is, according to Rooyakkers, who isn’t convinced that industry will be connecting to the cloud so quickly, because of security. “It’s one thing if someone hacks your cow, but it’s another thing if somebody hacks your turbine,” he said. “Cows don’t blow up.”

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