In recent years, the number of manufacturers leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to improve productivity, reduce defects and gain more visibility into the operation of their facilities has increased dramatically. A recent survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that over one-third of U.S. manufacturers consider it “extremely critical” to have an IIoT strategy implemented in their operation. Similarly, a survey from LNS Research found that 34 percent of companies are currently adopting IoT—a figure that will undoubtedly continue to grow in the coming years.
As part of my daily work, I speak with many organizations looking to adopt IIoT. One observation I’ve made with a handful of these companies is that they fundamentally misunderstand how the concept should be applied. Instead of simply treating IIoT as a means of interconnecting devices, lowering operational costs, increasing throughput and enhancing visibility, they perceive it as a silver bullet that will help solve problems they didn’t know they had. This has led to an increased demand from customers to identify new and detailed use cases that demonstrate how IIoT can be applied to a facility or process, which can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack in these early days of IIoT adoption.
The situation can be likened to a visit to the doctor. Patients don’t expect the doctor to guess what problem or illness they have. Neither do they walk in and ask for the best new medicine on the market to cure all of their problems. They give a detailed description of the problems they are experiencing and the doctor prescribes a specific treatment and/or prescription to address it.
It’s this process that companies should think about when looking to implement a solution, whether they call it IIoT or not. In some cases, adopting a more advanced automation system does have the potential to create a new use case, business model or competitive advantage. For example, one of our customers recently added remote monitoring to their equipment so they can better service it for their customers. Now they offer more than just equipment—they offer a means to improve uptime.
The high-level problems that IIoT helps solve are relatively consistent across all industries (e.g., increase asset utilization, improve productivity, optimize the supply chain, improve product quality, enhance security, etc.). Users look to solve those problems with one goal in mind: increasing profitability. The difference from one use case to the next will lie in the particular IIoT solution implemented—not unlike how a doctor prescribes the latest and greatest medications and/or therapies to patients depending on the specific nature of their ailment or disease.
In some cases, adopting an IIoT solution will offer additional functionality and flexibility compared with a traditional industrial automation system; however, the benefits it provides will be unique to the individual operation, facility or process where it is being applied. I believe the major disconnect between use cases and IIoT for some manufacturers lies in the simple fact that IIoT is not a technology. With that in mind, let’s start thinking about solving problems by applying the latest and greatest technologies—then we can call it IIoT.