A Discrete Approach to the Internet of Things

Aug. 2, 2018
Rather than attempting to adapt your facility to IoT all at once, try a project-by-project approach to make the sure the process is more successful and easier to manage.

When the Internet of Things (IoT) became the next logical step in the progression of the Information Age, it arrived with the promise of unlimited opportunities that could be provided with interconnectivity between humans, machines, communication devices and just about anything else that can be imagined. Though the advancements in IoT in the consumer market have been significant, the industrial IoT (IIoT) is experiencing sluggish growth in realizing the full potential of smart factories.

The reasons behind the slow advancement of the IIoT can surely be tied to the usual suspects of cost, time and manpower involved. Larger companies might have the resources to commit to a facility-wide or enterprise-level IIoT platform. But smaller companies can be hindered by tighter budgets, engineering staffs that are already stretched thin, and a reluctance to fully commit to a facility-wide conversion to IIoT that would strain both of these resources.

There is a Chinese proverb that states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” There is wisdom here that can be applied to smaller companies looking to adopt IIoT strategies. This process can be approached in a discrete fashion rather than coming at it from an all-encompassing, enterprise-level approach. A discrete approach to IIoT offers a more realistic starting point for many small to medium-sized manufacturing organizations, and even for some large ones. This allows progress to be made incrementally, without the financial or manpower burden that is associated with enterprise systems.

An example of where a discrete implementation of IIoT would be a logical first step for a manufacturing business is pulling data from a compressed air system. Compressed air is expensive. Any effort to keep these systems running at peak efficiency is well worth it because losses due to leakage and inefficiency result in higher energy costs. Additionally, for any operation that relies on pneumatics, being able to understand how the source of pneumatic power is functioning is vital.

For instance, inline sensors can be installed that monitor variables such aspressure, flow, humidity, temperature and, most importantly, power associated with the operation of a compressed air system. This data can then be sent to a platform, where it can be converted into information that is useful to a maintenance manager. This discrete point of data collection can then become the basis for a wider-scale pneumatics monitoring system, where leakage and other system losses can be identified.

Four strategies

A discrete IoT implementation project should always be preceded by thoughtful consideration of the project’s objectives and whether IoT is the best way to achieve those goals. With that in mind, these four strategies can simplify the process of implementing a discrete IoT solution:

  • Target areas of concern. Which machines or processes have the most maintenance problems associated with them? Machines that are difficult or costly to repair in a timely way or have hard-to-source parts should top the list, as well as assets that could endanger employee health or safety if problems with them go uncorrected.
  • Define the parameters that need to be monitored to improve operating efficiency. As mentioned inthe compressed air example, conditions like temperature, pressure, humidity and vibration often allow operators to evaluate that asset’s health. Collect the pertinent data and take a methodical approach to using this information.
  • Select an Internet infrastructure that will support the data transmission needs of a discrete installation, but also has the capacity for expansion. The solution chosen should provide a centralized collection server that receives and transmits data from all the devices and sensors that might eventually be added to the network. 
  • Balance monitoring frequency with operational costs. Cloud-based solutions allow for round-the-clock monitoring, as well as alerting operations or maintenance personnel when conditions exceed preset limits. But there can be a point of diminishing returns. Focus on the quality of the data to be collected rather than quantity.

Starting with one veryspecificapplication, rather than trying to apply IIoT to your facility as a whole, makes approaching IIoT manageable. What’s more, it forces managers to focus ona specificproblem, ensuring a quick payback on the effort. By following the steps outlined above, plant managers can harness the power of the information that is important to them today, without having to wait for the rest of the enterprise to get connected.

For more information about how Parker Hannifin is using discrete IIoT to help customers reduce risk, maintenance costs and unplanned downtime while improving efficiency, watch a video at http://awgo.to/900 or download a white paper at http://awgo.to/901.

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