Cisco Regroups to Grow Internet of Things Ecosystem

Nov. 3, 2013
A new cross-platform Internet of Things Group and an IoT initiative aim to ‘connect the unconnected.’ Manufacturing today has only 4 percent of its devices connected.

Cisco has been a vocal proponent of the Internet of Things (IoT)—the concept of a world connected through devices and applications. At the Internet of Things World Forum this week in Barcelona, Spain, the IT company announced its Internet of Things initiative, outlining new investments in its efforts to “connect the unconnected.”

The initiative is intended to grow the startup ecosystem, technology partnership and university research, with an initial focus on security, sensors, real-time analytics and applications. Cisco has also formed an Internet of Things Group that brings together internal teams working in adjacent fields.

As Cisco’s lead horse, the world of manufacturing represents a significant focus for the IoT initiative, according to Guido Jouret, vice president and general manager of the Internet of Things Group. Manufacturing is also a good test case, he says. “Only 4 percent of the devices on the manufacturing floor are actually connected to some kind of network, so we still have a long way to go.”

What the growth of connected devices can mean for the future, Jouret says, is a more agile manufacturing environment—one that can bring manufacturing back onshore to North America, and one that can adapt more easily to consumer desires.

There has been considerable excitement around IoT and the concept of a more connected manufacturing environment. And it’s no wonder, given the range of opportunities the technology promises:

  • “There’s a notion around trying to optimize consumption of energy on the factory floor,” Jouret says. For manufacturing that takes a lot of energy, such as making tires, the producers are very sensitive to utility pricing that charges significantly more after reaching a usage threshold. If the manufacturer had information about energy consumption on the factory floor, and could know when it was about to hit its peak, a diesel generator could be used instead, if that were the less expensive way to go. Or the plant manager could decide to stop production if he knew it wouldn’t create a backlog. “The master scheduling system on the factory floor can peer into the ERP, and see that it’s going to be OK because the plant will have a lull at this time, so the savings on energy won’t be wiped out by staffing or delay issues,” Jouret describes.
  • In another use case, connected devices could help achieve end-to-end traceability so that one bad batch of products doesn’t necessarily lead to a recall of everything that’s been produced in the past couple days.
  • With more and more robots appearing on the factory floor, connected devices can also improve safety, providing video analytics, for example, to discover when a person might be getting in a robot’s way.
  • Automotive manufacturers in particular have made a push to lean manufacturing, integrating their manufacturing sites with those of their suppliers and pushing buffering to those suppliers. But that puts an increased inventory burden on a supplier who might know that the car maker will ultimately want 10,000 bucket seats, say, but doesn’t know how many they’ll want at any given time. “If they could have more visibility, they could match production with automakers’ needs,” Jouret says. Connected devices could show, for example, that the production line can really only consume a couple hundred seats right now. “If I knew that because your assembly line was made visible to me, I could match my production to your consumption.”

Along with the opportunities that connectivity offers, there are several challenges as well. Through continued exploration, the oil industry, for example, is getting further and further afield. “Oil rigs can generate terabytes of data a day, but they’re sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico,” Jouret says.

The kinds of connections they’re faced with are 64 kbps satellite feeds. “It’s a really interesting challenge,” Jouret says. “The control system has to move where the information is.” Instead of sending and receiving information from the cloud, which is the direction so much data is going these days, oil rigs are keeping information at the “edge.”

In mining, they want connectivity all the way down the mine, but they have to make sure they don’t generate sparks. So in this case, the technology of choice has been fiber. “Photonics are better than electronics” for this application, Jouret notes.

Connected devices aren’t just for monitoring production efficiencies and automating the factory floor; they can be applied to products like engines or turbines or solar panels to monitor for efficiencies. GE, for example, puts up to 60 sensors on its jet engines. “They want to be able to monitor performance in flight so they can tune the engines for maximum efficiency,” Jouret says.

A notion built around making connected products is leading to what Jouret refers to as “servitization,” turning connected products into ongoing service contracts. A manufacturer could continuously monitor a product to check its health, charging by the mile, by usage, or by any number of models. “There are also knock-on effects in terms of leasing,” Jouret says. “They can know exactly what the wear and tear is on the device, giving them pretty interesting insights.”

Detroit automakers expect to connect many of the cars they make within the next two to three years, he says. Rather than rely on time or mileage models to know when tires or oil need to be changed, for example, sensors can know exactly what the wear and tear has been.

Another motivation behind IoT is for regulatory compliance, Jouret says. Utilities face state and federal mandates about smart metering in order to be ready for increased use of solar, wind and other renewable energies. “When you reach 30 percent renewables on the grid, it gets very unstable,” Jouret says, explaining that the grid is not designed for such oscillations, and will require circuits to open and close quickly, and will also call for increased sampling rates. “We want more renewables, but we have to make sure the grid is still as reliable as we expect it to be,” he adds.

Cisco’s IoT initiative will be led by Maciej Kranz, vice president of the Corporate Technology Group.

The Internet of Things Group consolidates Cisco’s Connected Industries, Connected Energy and Physical Security businesses. It will focus on work across several vertical markets, including discrete manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, defense, transportation, smart cities, sports and entertainment, energy, and machine-to-machine operations for service providers.

The cross-platform group is headed by Rob Soderbery, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Enterprise Networks business, and Wim Elfrink, chief globalization officer and executive vice president of Industry Solutions.

“Using the intelligence of the network as a way to connect what was previously unconnected opens up tremendous business and services opportunities that create new experience and drive economic, social and environmental sustainability,” Elfrink says.

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