The “Internet of Things” and Automation

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I was introduced to the concept of the “Internet of Things” by Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, in 2005. Neil saw the Internet of Things as connecting heterogeneous devices rather than heterogeneous networks. Neil joked “on the Internet no one knows you are a light bulb” and outlined a seven fold plan to bring the Internet of Things to life.

Cisco renames the Internet of Things to the Internet of Everything. Cisco estimates there are 10 Billion devices networked together today and expects that number to grow to 50 Billion by 2020. The vision Cisco sees is new capabilities for networks and devices and richer experiences for the user.

To General Electric the Internet of Things is the Industrial Network with 3 key elements; intelligent machines, advanced analytics and people at work. These elements form an industrial internet data loop that continually feeds and improves itself with secure cloud-based networking as the nucleus. The complexity of the loop is overcome by transferring some decisions to the digital system.

You are part of the Internet of Things. Your cell phone(s), iPad, iPod, and car all have IP addresses. The web applications that run on these devices activate your Internet of Things. The data from the applications better your life in some way.

So, what does this mean for automation? Change is coming soon, a second industrial revolution with the rise of the machines.

Distributed computing at the device level will lead to machine and process optimization yielding better performance. New device to device communication architectures will replace the current client/server networks. This will impact the traditional PLC or DCS which will morph into cloud-based software. Automation networks will self-configure, self-regulate, and suggest efficiency improvements.

Internet of things

Much of the current decision making of the operator will be made by the machines. The operator will focus on system efficiency to include energy, security, safety and process tuning. The operator will need a cross discipline skill set of industrial engineering, digital computing and data scientist.

Automation will not avoid the Internet of Things but rather will be at the heart of it. The Internet of Things in automation will increase operational efficiency, lower costs, and improve productivity. The increase in productivity will lead to a growth in labor and wages which lead to higher standards of living.

How will the Internet of Things impact your automation network architecture?

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  • The themes you mention also tie in with the fourth industrial revolution…or Industry 4.0 as it has been dubbed. Products that produce themselves, smart factories and self-driving cars…won’t be the realm of science fiction for much longer. It is going to be an interesting ride watching & experiencing the interaction between the real & virtual worlds!

    • Todd Snide

      11 years ago

      Hello Preeya,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. The Internet of Things is one of the first enabling steps toward Industry 4.0. All the devices in the industrial automation system must become networked togehter including the sensors, push-buttons, pilot-lights, etc. in order to get to Industry 4.0. As Neil said, “connecting heterogeneous devices”. Each industrial automation evolution has happened faster than the previous evolution so we must act now to keep up.

  • Have you seen ?

    • Todd Snide

      11 years ago

      Hello Chan, I had not see this link. Thank you for pointing it out. It is interesting and I will review it further.

  • Eric Bonsignour

    11 years ago

    This is a great perspective of the Internet !
    Well done Todd

  • Igor Torrealba

    11 years ago

    Nice article. I have been fortunate enough to be working on automation at this moment and one can see the mentioned facts closer than what many would imagine.

  • Great article. It’s a great direction we’re headed in. I’d like to see more about increased productivity leading to a growth in labor and wages. I imagine there’s a good deal of disagreement there. How do you overcome that?

    • Todd Snide

      11 years ago

      Thank you, Tim. On the growth of labor and wages I was referring to the link between the labor productivity and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Looking at statistics from the US Department of Labor one can interpret that there is a correlation between labor productivity and the GDP where an increase in labor productivity also shows an increase in the GDP. There are eras where the correlation is not as direct such as during the oil crisis of the 1970’s and others. The Internet of Things should lead to an increase in labor productivity and thereby an improvement in wages. The skill set of the laborer will change as well to adapt to the Internet of Things.
      Statistics can have many different interpretations so I am sure there can be disagreement. I was not considering the minimum wage in my discussion as that is determined by the government and does not track to changes in labor productivity and the GDP.

  • I just hope everyone proceeds with extreme caution. Because unlike your cell phone(s), iPad, iPod, and car with IP addresses, Industrial automation controls real world machines with potential damage to MAN or Machine should they be compromised.

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