Industrial Internet of Things – How to Benefit RIGHT NOW

Oct. 27, 2014
You can dream the dream of the Internet of Things (IoT) as you hear the predictions of massive numbers of simple devices turned brilliant … all working in perfect harmony to read your mind and even anticipate your every need. But as I sip my next cup of coffee from my non-IoT Keurig coffee machine, I tell myself I have to balance a dozen priorities RIGHT NOW to address the real industrial world where I work.

Do I want to make the benefits of the IoT happen for my company? Yep, but only if each step I take is useful RIGHT NOW while addressing my company’s immediate priorities. Here’s how to weave the Internet of Things into your daily work processes.

Assess, Evolve & Design for Scale

To get from where you are today to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), you’ll need to realistically assess your industrial network infrastructure and controls architecture. If both are predominantly using industrial Ethernet, you’re on a good path since the older fieldbus networks can’t scale to meet the demands of IIoT.

While this does not mean you need to ditch the older networks today, you should plan to migrate to Ethernet every chance you get to take advantage of the ability to get more information from each device, easily deploy more devices, and get more bandwidth. Your opportunities to move forward with IIoT will depend largely on upgrades to old equipment, expansion and other production drivers, but first be ready to push for an upgrade to Ethernet before the opportunity passes.

If you’re well on the path to Ethernet, check your existing design to ensure it can scale up to add many more devices. While most people plan for capacity expansions, IIoT will add even more networked devices to your existing equipment and controls architecture. For controls, expect the need for more memory. For your network, expect the need for a lot more switch ports.

Your network design will scale best if you segment your network into smaller networks connected by layer 3 industrial Ethernet switches or routers. These help manage traffic and make your applications easier to secure while still allowing everything to communicate as needed.

You can take all of these small steps RIGHT NOW. If you wait, you may not be ready to grab IIoT benefits in the future because the price of change will be too steep. (See the webinar information available at the end of this article for help with industrial Ethernet infrastructure design.)

Use More of What You Already Have

Control systems and industrial networks are built for a wide variety of industrial uses. As a result, most applications use only a fraction of the features, bandwidth, or available memory.

While using just enough functionality is incredibly practical, most companies have discussed plans for greater use of their network and device communications that include important and tangible benefits. The problem is, most companies rarely implement these plans because of time or budget pressures. Plus they think taking these implementations to the next level will be complicated.

What many users don’t realize is that technology has evolved to the point that the grander plans you have for your equipment are not as difficult to implement as they once were. Let others at your workplace know that it’s valuable RIGHT NOW to evaluate and apply more technology because you already own it. So why not make use of it?

Jump on Innovation (mesh with your list of great ideas of the past… NOW FEASIBLE)

Anyone who’s worked for a while has a list taped to the underside of their chair, at the bottom of their middle desk drawer, or scattered somewhere deep in their brains. Your list contains great ideas you’ve discussed with coworkers, brought up in meetings, or simply during a break when grumbling with others.

Your conversations about those ideas probably started with, “we aughta” and ended with “not feasible, not practical, not cost effective, not gonna happen”. In reality, there’s a ton of innovation available and in use today that can put you right on the road to IIoT, you just have to find out about current innovations and determine how they might benefit your company.

For those who work across a number of industries, you can use an approach from one industry to solve sticky problems in another. You can also look at commercial technology and ask if you can do something similar in the industrial space. Perhaps your IT group can share best tools & innovation with you… and all you need to do is ask.

More often than not, you’ll be surprised to find out you can use innovations from other fields in a way that is beneficial, practical, and cost effective. If your list is a little old (or a lot old), pull it out and ask again. Your great ideas may have been a little bit ahead of their time, but you may be surprised that some of them will be feasible RIGHT NOW.

Make New Friends

To make the most of IIoT, you’ll need to change the relationships you have with others in your industrial world. However important your suppliers, machine builders, integrators, panel shops, and customers are today, you’ll need them even more tomorrow, and for different reasons.

The existing barriers about not sharing information, keeping a distance, and protecting your own interests were put in place for a good reason, but many will have to come down or shift to gain the benefits of IIoT.

For example, your machine builder can help a lot more if you can work out how to provide secure remote access so they can plug in to analyze their machine status. Once this pathway is established, you can then establish further trust by allowing them to automatically replenish spares as you use them, or make them part of your department’s advisory team.

Make these kinds of relationships with added trust and communications RIGHT NOW to dip into the wealth of innovation these sources can provide today, with even more coming tomorrow.

Manage for Change

As more of the IIoT comes into play, one thing is certain: Change will accelerate as the number of networked devices in your system grows. Plan today to manage through constant changes to your processes, your equipment, and your industrial network infrastructure.

You’ll need to depend less on drawings and more on real-time tools that provide the status of what you have and how well it’s functioning.

In the IIoT, real-time communication with other experts, plus the use of logs, analytics and other tools that use the information available in all of those smart devices is the only way to work. If your tools and processes are old, then it’s time to go digital RIGHT NOW.

If you’re waiting for the day when the IIoT will be suddenly available so you can retrofit or upgrade or rip and replace, you’re waiting for the wrong thing. You could wake up to find that you’re too far behind the curve to catch up.

IIoT is happening RIGHT NOW, and this article has provided you with a list of tangible, practical things you can do as part of your priorities today that will change your company for the better. Don’t delay, get started today!

If you want to learn more about how to assess, evolve and design your network for scale, attend the following webinar:

Designing Reliable Industrial Ethernet Infrastructures - Industry Best Practices

Nov 13, 2014 2-3pm eastern, 11-noon pacific, 19:00 GMT

This interactive presentation will describe the most effective best practices for mainstream Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure design, along with practical tips.

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