What does IIoT mean for Automation?

To begin with, it is hardly surprising that engineers are confused about what IIoT means for the automation of their industry. A recent study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers showed only 8% of UK manufacturers have a significant understanding of IIoT despite 59% recognising its importance. There is even confusion over the terminology.

Although the term IIot and Industry 4.0 are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Industry 4.0 is a strategic initiative from the German Government to establish Germany as a lead market and provider of advanced manufacturing solutions.

Subsequently, most major industrialised countries introduced similar strategies promoting their own version of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the UK, this strategy is promoted as 4IR.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

4IR is a holistic strategy, whereby digital connectivity in manufacturing and services will enhance productivity and bring about new ways of working smarter through self-teaching and self-learning systems.

The increased availability and analysis of data will improve automated decision-making, leading to increases in productivity and competitiveness through lower manufacturing costs. Comparatively, manufacturers not adopting this technology approach risk falling behind their competitors.

Success in business requires always having an eye to the future. UK manufacturers need to understand the benefits offered by 4IR. Equally smart businesses need a consistent and well defined long-term strategy; efficient operations that optimise the use of all their resources, and the flexibility to see and take advantage of market opportunities.

However, the fourth industrial revolution is a strategy: it does not make machines work together. So, what does IIoT mean for UK automation?

Control and automation engineers need to provide guidance and direction for management seeking to achieve this. Therefore, it is important for them to think specifically about the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), because that is where the integration of physical machinery, sensors and software happens.

Think of new ways to achieve the full benefits. Traditionally, a production plant may have consisted of “islands of automation”. In order to maximise the data gathering potential, existing infrastructures or new infrastructures must be utilised to create an architecture for data collection and management.

Implementing 4IR

At a production level, there are three core pillars for transformation, being:

  • Machine Connectivity
  • Data Capture and Analysis
  • Security of Networking Infrastructure

Machine Connectivity

Machine connectivity is the physical networking of machines and systems to allow real-time sharing and collection of small data. Typically, this is through M2M, IIoT and peer to peer network communications.

In addition to this connectivity with legacy systems will also need consideration. Increased data volumes may require the introduction of an Industrial Ethernet backbone with sufficient bandwidth for future growth.

Smarter machines offer the opportunity for more flexible production planning. This includes small batch runs and the increased integration of robotics. Access to more data enables machines to offer remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance to reduce downtime.

Big Data

Big data is a term that describes the large volume of structured and unstructured data that a business collects daily. Improving data capture and analysis in real-time will improve decision making speeds. It allows better control of assets and inventory and supports stronger supply-chain coordination, both backwards and forwards.

Increasingly, cloud services are used to store data and perform analytics. By deriving trend information and presenting users with customised dashboards, they can improve overall plant performance and asset management.

Security of Networking and Infrastructure

Processing and storing data securely will become a major factor. This can be locally using edge computing, processing power in a cloud or a central data warehouse, or a combination.

At the same time consider the physical security and resilience of the networking infrastructure; include access only to authorised users.

Scalability is a prime consideration as a growing network may need to cope with millions of nodes from expanding multiple links and the growth of wireless devices.

Where can I get more help regarding IIoT?

All things considered it requires a top down management involvement and cross-functional working. It is not something to be started lightly, and the general advice is to develop a business strategy, but start with a small implementation.

The big automation suppliers like Schneider Electric, Mitsubishi Electric and Siemens have white papers available, and more universities are seeing the opportunity to support local industry.

In addition, specialist automation distributors like BPX offer a wide product portfolio with access to IIOT products from the leading automation, sensor and software suppliers. They have the advantage of local support from BPXtras trained engineers based at their branches.

The manufacturers organisation (EFF) has produced a very helpful downloadable paper called The 4th Industrial Revolution: A primer for manufacturers

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