As advances in technology make it more cost-effective to deploy the industrial internet of things (IIoT), companies must formulate a strategic approach for integrating new sensor data with pre-existing data environments. The IIoT can unite people and systems on the plant floor with those at the enterprise level. It can also enable users to get the most value from their automated systems while reducing technological and economic limitations.
To ensure successful deployment of the IIoT, organizations can benefit by embracing new design infrastructures, including a framework that supports collaborative work processes across functional lines, as well as between internal and external resources.
Processes, digital devices and business systems can all support implementation of the industrial internet of things. From laying the foundations to help guide future technology investments to easing integration of current systems with new controls, automation and data-processing benefits, there are several ways to help smooth the transition and get the desired results. When evaluating new systems for IIoT implementation, consider the following factors:
Look at assets, processes, data collection, analytics and real-time visibility to assess the ability to predict and detect issues and opportunities. For example, what types of sensors, cameras and other instrumentation are available to make use of available data-tracking potentialities?
Use machine learning, big data and automation technologies to create a system that can accurately and consistently capture, analyze and transmit data with visualized dashboards for operations management.
Employing open integration and communications technologies can help connect data from varied sources on the way to extract meaningful value for decision-making. This can include software that brings high-fidelity data from disparate operational sources to people in all corners of the enterprise – wherever, whenever and however it is needed.
Look to centralizing data in the cloud with new applications that connect multiple disparate systems, applying higher level analytics and leveraging expertise with the benefits of being physically remote from the operating site.
Consider employing cloud-based applications that add value, such as advanced process control (APC) monitoring, condition-based monitoring (CBM), enterprise data historians, mobility solutions, and planning and scheduling tools. This new instrumentation can help facilitate real-time decision making and allow long-term data tracking for precise adjustments
With these new controls and automation tools, look to define how functional groups can work together and how to enable smart collaboration across the organization using IIoT advantages. This may include sharing data in operations, maintenance, system reliability, supply chain management and other potential synergies.
Stay flexible with new updates and demographic changes using technology tools and collaborations with third-party experts who understand industrial automation, process data and control-related issues. Traditional information technology (IT) providers may not offer that depth, and the potential for niche integration consultants is ripe for growth.
Integrating new technologies into existing environments can present unique challenges. While connecting legacy equipment and systems offers potential benefits and is an important step in the IIoT initiatives at many industrial companies, the hurdles to implementation can be notable in the process.
However, many companies are making important strides in this area. How are they doing it? One of the challenges of legacy machines is the lack of connectivity built into the equipment. Organizations are now adding stand-alone sensors and cameras to existing environments and devices to monitor and collect data about performance and health in new ways, such as attaching sensors directly to existing devices and connecting new gateways to securely collect and transmit data, which is then analyzed and used to help boost various areas of the business.
One lingering question remains: If legacy machines don’t have sensors and automation controls built into them today, how can they be attached in a cost-effective manner? The answer would enable teams to begin measuring things like vibration, temperature, climate, dust in the air and other factors, which would be useful for quality environments where the machines are deployed. Cameras also can play a major role, enhancing the monitoring ability of team members through a common platform to tap open a video and get a real-time sense of where a machine is and how the operation is functioning.
With the increased integration of global intelligent manufacturing, companies are turning to IIoT architecture as the core of the platform strategy to ease integration. Various organizations are designing solutions as a three-layer architecture, offering neither an IIoT platform nor simply an industrial cloud platform, yet a fully connected system. The system works together in three layers: The bottom layer includes various hardware products with interconnectivity capacity, like gateways and more. An intermediate layer takes care of edge point control. The upper layer comprises various applications, analytics and services for decision-making capabilities.
These three layers are not mutually independent. The reality is that the IIoT can only be realized through intercommunication of these layers regarding information, data, communications and applications. In these cases, software platforms at the operating system level are needed to support and connect the three-layer architecture.
As more hardware devices go online, more opportunities abound for engineers to assist with the integration and novel use of controls, automation and instrumentation across industries. By following the simple steps of assessing company assets and capabilities, as well as reviewing the potential advantages and the best ways to ease integration of the IIoT, the enterprise as a whole will benefit.
Joseph Zulick is a manager, writer and editor for MRO Electric and Supply.