IoT is ‘something real’

March 6, 2017
“They’re not in it to do something cool. They’re in it to do something real.”

That’s how Marketing Communications Manager Shane Novacek of Beckhoff, in last month’s Part Two of our PACK EXPO Innovations Report, described the growing interest in the Internet of Things now being shown by professionals operating in the packaging space.
“Real” is a good word to use these days for IoT. Because the benefits it offers are no longer fantasies about what might happen one day in some super-connected future. Those benefits are now business-place realities capable of boosting the bottom line.
Alex Vilner, a contributor to an online IoT resource called IoT Tech News, says that IoT is “taking the world by storm.” In a column he posted January 6, Vilner offers three tips for reaping the benefits of what IoT has to offer, especially if a manufacturer is in the early stages of embracing connected technology:
• Publicize your company’s business objective for your IoT program. When your people understand why things are changing and the expected benefits, embracing that change becomes much easier.
• Thoroughly review your product offering and every customer touchpoint to see where connected technology can offer improvements. This starts with development and moves through design, testing, sales and marketing, manufacturing, shipping, customer service, and maintenance.
• Identify potential partners in the IoT ecosystem. This includes consultants, software developers, hardware manufacturers, and data analysts. Knowing where to turn for help is critical to ensuring a smooth implementation.
Speaking of the IoT ecosystem, one new addition to it is an open technical collaboration under the umbrella of the Industrial Internet Consortium and the OPC Foundation. Behind this collaboration are 11 leading automation and information technology suppliers, most of whom are fixtures when it comes to packaging machines, packaging lines, and packaging operations overall: ABB, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, CISCO, General Electric, KUKA, National Instruments, Parker Hannifin, Schneider Electric, SEW-Eurodrive, and TTTech. These heavy hitters of technology are jointly promoting OPC UA over Time Sensitive Networking as the unified communication solution between industrial controllers and the cloud. Based as it is on open standards, this solution enables industry to use devices from different vendors that are fully interoperable.
The ultimate goal is an open, unified, standards-based, and interoperable IoT solution for deterministic and real-time peer-to-peer communication between industrial controllers and the cloud. The collaborators consider OPC UA TSN as the unified standard for industrial automation and IoT connectivity. It provides all of the open, standard building blocks required to unify communication for industrial automation, and it enables the broad convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT). This convergence, says the group, is fundamental to realizing the potential of IoT.
Why is this collaborative effort an important development? Because it’s such a welcome break from the past. A B&R spokesperson puts it this way: “Industrial automation solutions have traditionally been differentiated and separated from one another by different incompatible and non-interoperable standards used for communication between devices. As a result, customers have often found themselves locked into proprietary ecosystems. Vendors have had to develop multiple versions of essentially the same product to support these ecosystems. This has been limiting innovation and the integration of new solutions, with customers not being able to optimize their automation solution to its full value.”
If your manufacturing enterprise is still on the sidelines when it comes to taking advantage of IoT, maybe it’s time you jumped in. Soon you, too, will be doing “something real.” pw