IIoT: The Cornerstone of the Digital Enterprise

The automation industry is evolving and gaining tremendous value from the Industrial Internet of Things, laying the groundwork for the next era in smart manufacturing.

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It's impossible to imagine the Industrial Revolution happening without an ecosystem of roads and railroads, electrical grids, telephone networks, machines and methods for high-volume assembly. Today, a new ecosystem called the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is being built to enable what many are calling the digital enterprise, a next-generation system for smart manufacturing that promises to help companies be more productive and profitable.

Though there are still many building blocks needed to fully realize this vision, the outline of this new ecosystem is emerging. Suppliers, system integrators, industry organizations and governments around the world are working to fill in gaps in the infrastructure and knowledge base needed to gain value from all this connectivity.

One example of this collaboration is the 2-year-old Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), now 252 members strong and representing 30 countries. The IIC recently published an architecture document that tries to capture each element involved in an industrial Internet system.

Stephen Mellor, chief technical officer, says the organization’s primary goal is enabling the interoperability of operational and information technologies anywhere in the world. “We’re trying to bring together two cultures that have wholly different ways of thinking and have different meanings and priorities for key system characteristics, such as safety and security, so that people can quickly deploy new systems,” he says. “As part of that effort, we’re trying to develop a global approach to the IIoT so that differing regional standards don’t add further complications.”

Although the group doesn’t set standards, it conducts a number of test beds sponsored by one or more companies. These controlled experimentation sites surface findings and ideas for standards and best practices. One recent effort on track and trace, for example, sponsored by Bosch, Tech Mahindra and Cisco, identified the need for different devices in a system to talk in a consistent way. Other test beds are exploring issues such as connectivity, security and strategies to identify risks and opportunities.

Applications expand services
There’s much more to the story of the IIoT than the ability to connect devices. The real news is how these connections are becoming a platform for business growth for many suppliers and OEMs, enabling companies of all sizes to provide new value-added services to their customers.

“Connectivity and data storage are old news,” says Rob McGreevy, vice president of operations, asset and information management at Schneider Electric Software. “The ability to connect to more things more cheaply is necessary, but not sufficient. What’s interesting are the applications this makes possible, like predictive analytics for asset management or allowing a company to capture data usage on its products to improve engineering design. Innovation is in the applications, not the platform.”

These customer-driven applications vary by the economic priorities of different companies and industries, whether it’s a city trying to determine how weather impacts traffic patterns, a utility monitoring turbines and other equipment to reduce the cost of power generation, or an OEM monitoring machine performance for customers to reduce the causes of equipment failures.

Smart cities, like smart manufacturing plants, are leveraging both industrial and consumer technologies to improve operations and empower workers. The public works operation in Carson City, Nev., is one example. It deployed Schneider Electric’s Smart Cities technology and Wonderware software, along with smartphones and tablets, to manage the city’s water, wastewater, transportation, landfill, fleet, environmental and renewable power systems.

Administration and overhead costs were reduced while operations reliability and disaster recovery processes were significantly improved. Key results include a 15 percent savings in operations staff hours due to remote management capabilities and a reduced work week from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. The city is able to generate up to 748,000 kWh of clean power each year with solar plants, as well as deliver 22 million gallons of water and process 6.9 million gallons of wastewater every day.

A new business model
“The IIoT is really about ways to garner more information to drive business value,” says Bob Karschnia, vice president and general manager of the wireless business at Emerson Process Management. “We call it ‘see, decide, act.’ If you can’t see a problem, you can’t fix it. You have to make the solutions to do this simple and cost-effective, or people won’t do it. Then data must be transformed into information that’s easily understandable and actionable.”

With fewer workers, many plants now rely on outside technical support from suppliers like Emerson to keep their systems functioning. They’re taking advantage of the IIoT to monitor plant equipment for their customers and provide expert technical advice on an ongoing basis. “A valve, for example, is a complex device that requires unique expertise to optimize its performance, which directly impacts plant performance,” Karschnia says. “Accessing our experts lets us help them optimize their operations.”

The result is a fundamentally new business model for Emerson, Karschnia says. “We install and continue to own devices like steam trap monitors at a plant, then monitor the steam distribution system and all the equipment involved. We can do that because the IIoT allows us to bring new information from a plant into our own service centers for advanced analytics. Since plants often have tens of thousands of steam traps, we’re able to show dramatic steam performance improvements.”

This new method of operation grants Emerson other advantages as well, most notably from a customer familiarity standpoint. “This greater engagement allows us to provide greater value and changes our relationships with customers,” Karschnia explains. “With data storage costs dropping, it’s essentially become free, allowing us to store massive amounts of historical data for many years. This changes how historians and analytics software are used, allowing you to see patterns you could never detect before, particularly when you can now correlate data from multiple plants. Then you can do things to prevent failures from happening.”

Slicing and dicing data
The impact of this collaboration is being felt across industry, though questions still remain. Rockwell Automation is working with its PartnerNetwork members across the different disciplines within an organization to determine how the convergence of OT and IT and the value of the IIoT will impact new business models for system integrators and end users. “Everyone is at a different place in the transition,” explains Beth Parkinson, market development director for the Connected Enterprise business unit at Rockwell Automation. “There is a lot we don’t know about what’s going to be different in the future. It’s hard for customers to keep up with the skillsets required to manage and analyze all the data coming out of devices, so we’re expanding our services to help them, such as monitoring large equipment-like drives for predictive and preventive maintenance.”

It may take time to get everyone acquainted with all these new processes and procedures, but the data becoming accessible will be invaluable. “While there has always been tons of data available from the devices running processes, now we have new ways to use and leverage the data to improve operations and processes,” Parkinson says. “These improvements can help meet the information needs at different levels in the organization through role-based applications and dashboards.”

Breaking down barriers
Frustrated by how difficult it was to get information out of manufacturing processes, former system integrator Steve Hechtman founded Inductive Automation in 2003 to find new solutions. The company offers a modular approach that includes historian, analytics and HMI software, using system integrators to go to market and offering unlimited licensing in contrast to typical supplier fee structures that can pose a barrier to the adoption of smart manufacturing systems by small or mid-sized manufacturers.

“If you have to pay for every tag and connection, it becomes an economic wall,” says Don Pearson, Inductive Automation’s chief strategy officer. “Unlimited licensing enables you to scale up with thousands of devices connected. Our aim is to connect everything in an enterprise in a cost-effective and technologically correct way so that data can be accessed by everyone, from the field to the warehouse to finance and the executive suite.”

Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation, says the company’s Ignition software serves as a communications hub, connecting data from multiple sources and functioning much like a smartphone platform. “This approach to the IIoT makes it simple for customers to add new applications when they need additional capabilities,” he says. “It also enables the integration of OT and IT, so that companies can develop migration strategies that don’t require rip-and-replace.”

Ignition employs the MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) protocol, co-developed in 1999 by Arlen Nipper, now president and CTO of Cirrus Link Solutions, and Andy Stanford Clark of IBM. Instead of the poll/response methodology used by legacy communication protocols, MQTT is a lightweight IIoT solution supported by many industry suppliers. The technology uses a publish/subscribe methodology to create a single, super-efficient data pipeline, pushing data from thousands of devices into a central location where it can be accessed by industrial and business applications. Its one-to-many capabilities decouple devices from applications, which Pearson says is significant from a development, information and security standpoint.

MQTT fulfills the need for a universally accepted way to transport data within the realities of the installed industrial infrastructure, according to Nipper. “Automation can’t deal with IT’s bandwidth issue,” he explains, “and poll/response is a dead end for innovation because it commits devices to a single application. It leaves 90 percent of the data we could be getting stranded in the field. The fact that operations, rather than IT, is beginning to lead the charge is proof that the transformative potential of the IIoT is now being taken seriously by industry.”

Tech explorers
At the point where the rubber meets the road, system integrators are tasked with finding ways to make the IIoT work for their customers. “Major hardware suppliers set the tone, then we’re able to apply their standard technology and put it into our software,” says Scott Ludwig, partner and director at Progea USA, a member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA).

This turns out to be a recipe for experimentation, as system integrators seek the best technology for the solutions they’re asked to create. “There’s great potential for micro devices like Raspberry Pi, a little computer that fits into the palm of your hand, in applications where you need quick, low-cost visual user interaction,” he says. Experts estimate there’s a potential for 9 billion of these micro devices to be used in both industrial and consumer sectors.

Ludwig says an infrastructure that enables connectivity to information, data storage and analytics, and visualization is central to delivering value through the IIoT. “We’re still in the early adoption phase, but customers considering new platforms tell us they want them IIoT-enabled, so it’s there when they’re ready.”

Greg Giles, executive director at system integrator and CSIA member RedViking, sees small form factor computers that eliminate the need for PCs as a more reliable alternative that is also more secure. “This enables a network of real-time, edge-based devices using a publish-subscribe model to transmit PLC-generated data.” Now, Giles adds, the challenge lies in gaining the trust of customers when it comes to taking data into the cloud for storage and analysis. “While many don’t yet realize this is a more secure approach than what can be done at the individual plant level, the new generation of management and engineers is beginning to embrace the idea.”

Engineering the transition
Suppliers are helping their customers transition to this new industrial ecosystem in many ways, from enabling greater connectivity in their products to extending the life and usefulness of legacy equipment. “Numerous engineering functions are required to implement IIoT initiatives, so we’re seeing a multi-disciplined mechatronic approach emerging to manage the complexities of integrating IT and OT,” says Daniel Repp, business development manager, automation solutions, for Lenze. “Mechatronic engineering yields better machines by simplifying design, commissioning and operation. This also makes manufacturing and supply chain automation more flexible, faster and efficient.”

The large installed base of legacy equipment in manufacturing plants makes it imperative that suppliers help end users extend the life and increase the usefulness of this equipment, says Dieter Michalkowski, global account manager for Aventics. “Our approach is to use existing hardware to create new benefits for end users, not only by offering the data for running a production line but also information for predictive maintenance. Tools like Aventics IO-Link help suppliers of sensors implement additional functionality in their products, such as capabilities for calibration using digital connections.”

A view of the digital enterprise
Sean Riley, global industry director for manufacturing and transportation at Software AG, stresses the importance of knowing one’s customer. “More than anything, we need to understand what becoming a digital enterprise really means and how this will shift everyone’s priorities,” he says. “It’s not about connecting every device or even about reliable production processes; it’s about getting customers what they want, when they want it.”

It’s no surprise that large quantities of the same product sitting on store shelves doesn’t help retailers, especially when other stores carry the same goods. “Retailers want inventory to turn over faster, for example, so they need consumer packaged goods manufacturers to make smaller shipments more frequently and of differentiated products that are not being sold by their competitors,” Riley says. "The goal then becomes precise logistics, [with products] stored closer to customers to meet their changing needs. In this scenario, power is shifting from the manufacturer to the retailer, whose priorities are cash flow and profitability. How plants are controlled and what they produce will be based on customer demand.”

This is a natural shift, it seems, but one that comes with a price. “Manufacturers will need a flexible architecture so they can segment customers by profitability, allowing them to focus on those that may be smaller but more profitable,” Riley explains. “They’ll be able to layer in landed costs, as well as how much time is required to respond to these customer demands, so they can understand how this impacts their internal organization and overhead costs.”

As part of this transformation, Riley says Software AG is reforming its product line to enable customers to communicate with practically anything, anywhere. “The IIoT will enable companies to retrieve data at scale with no isolated or hidden systems, understand what the data is saying about what’s going on in their processes, and give them the power to take action in real time. It’s absolutely going to change how manufacturers operate.”

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