The Automation Internet of Things

Sept. 25, 2012
Some estimate that 50 billion devices will be IoT-connected by 2020. We previously discussed the broad concepts of IoT, but here we focus specifically IoT in the world of automation.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is about to transform the next decade. Literally everything will be connected to everything. Some estimate that 50 billion devices will be IoT-connected by 2020. The clock on the connected device transition is ticking very loudly. We discussed the broad concepts of IoT previously (Automation World, April 2011). Here we will focus on the emergence of IoT in the world of automation.

The primary drive for automation IoT is to significantly reduce operating expenditures when automation devices, sensors and actuators become Internet-enabled devices. It’s the next huge leap in productivity because there are major advantages to be derived from the acquisition and organization of previously unthinkable amounts of data. New Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence software (EMI) brings manufacturing-related data together from many sources for reporting, analysis, visual summaries and passing data between enterprise-level and plant-floor systems.

With the increasing use of fieldbus within control networks and the spread of software intelligence, some think that IoT is already emerging in industry. But, the progress that’s occurred is just a small fraction of what can and will happen over the next decade. The inflection point will occur when literally everything is connected with inexpensive and easy-to-install wireless networks.

Industrial IoT must be self-organizing, self-configuring, self-healing, scalable to large sizes, with very low energy consumption, low cost, simple to install and based on global standards. That’s a tall order, which current automation network standards simply cannot meet. In my opinion, with the spread of IoT, the ZigBee over IEEE 802.15.4 standard, currently languishing with minimal market share, will emerge to mainstream prominence.

Key question: Will IoT be secure? The focus of most companies’ security efforts is on devices with which humans interact directly. Each connected device represents a potential point of weakness through which hackers can gain unauthorized access. At a minimum, security requirements for any connected device must be addressed: remote device access and data communications between devices; device identity management; authentication of devices and device applications on the network.

Growth Opportunity
Glen Allmendinger has been preaching the technology for more than a decade. He believes that “the biggest challenge will be finding enough new technology and industry players to develop all the applications required for this expanding opportunity. ” That’s the growth opportunity.

Hardware for automation products is relatively straightforward; software is the key to growth and success. There should be no complex configurations, no network protocols for switches and routers or assignment of IP addresses for different devices. Instead, self-configuring networks, services and applications must hide most of the complexity.

>> IoT In Manufacturing: A recent feature article on this game-changing concept reveals some of the present challenges.  Visit

Today’s automation systems applications are cumbersome and complex to develop. Each new device requires too much customization and maintenance just to perform the basic tasks. Connecting disparate devices and systems entails a high level of engineering complexity, because of different data formats, diverse networks, incompatible IP addressing schemes, many operating systems, and so on.

In order for the market to really take off several key technology hurdles will need to be addressed: truly ubiquitous device communications standards and new software architecture to support massively peer-to-peer, complex event-driven data management. The present-day lack of interoperability with distributed, real-time device data remains a huge hurdle.

Traditional HMI, MES and other enterprise applications have reached saturation. In my view, here are the big, new opportunities for growth and success. Automation software developers and services providers should now turn their attention to IoT. The growth markets are very large and many critical challenges need to be addressed. To the winners go the spoils.

>> Jim Pinto is a technology futurist, international speaker and automation industry commentator. You can email him at [email protected] or review his prognostications and predictions on his website: