Craig Resnick covers the PLC, PAC, HMI, OIT and Industrial PC markets as well as the Packaging, Plastics and Rubber Industries for ARC. He is the primary analyst for many of ARC’s Automation Supplier and Financial Service clients. Craig’s focus areas also include Production Management, OEE, HMI Software, Automation Platforms, and Embedded Systems. Craig has 30 years’ experience in sales, marketing, product development, and project management in the industrial market, gained with major suppliers of PLCs, process control systems, power transmission equipment, and field devices. Craig is a graduate of Northeastern University with an MBA and BS in Electrical Engineering.
The automation industry is evolving at a faster rate right now than at any other time in its history, and one of the main reasons is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IIoT and digital transformation, enabled in part by the increasing convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT), are key for both end users and OEMs.
Let’s take a look at the six major IIoT trends impacting industrial businesses today:
- Advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are becoming IIoT enablers
Organizations have long used business intelligence (BI) platforms and enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) tools to discover and understand what happened and why. Now, thanks to the IIoT, manufacturers can turn to advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to support predictive and prescriptive analytic solutions. By connecting previously stranded data from smart sensors, equipment, and other assets with advanced applications and predictive analytics in the cloud, the IIoT is becoming a strategic enabler to improve manufacturing performance.
- More industrial devices are living on the edge
Key to this growing IIoT infrastructure are edge devices or intelligent gateways that collect, aggregate, filter, and relay data close to industrial processes or production assets. They can also run analytics, detecting anomalies in real time, and raising alarms so operators or controllers can take appropriate actions.
Moving analytics to the edge of the network, and thus closer to the data sources, can help improve manufacturing quality and production yields. Inexpensive sensors and processors enable more production data to be collected and processed at the edge. Edge computing with embedded analytics is also an alternative if it’s not viable to run the analytics in the cloud, or the OEM doesn’t choose a cloud-based solution.
The “edge” of the industrial network is becoming populated by Ethernet, wireless, and cellular gateways, Ethernet switches and routers, and small computers. These edge devices help bridge IT and OT environments, bringing legacy sensors, devices, controllers, and assets into automation or enterprise architectures.
- The birth of digital twins
Thanks to the IIoT and digitalization, companies can now produce a digital copy of an asset, known as a digital twin, to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a virtual environment before committing actual resources. This virtual representation of a physical asset can include an archive of historical and real-time data, drawings, models, bills of material, engineering and dimensional analysis, manufacturing data, and operational history that can be used as a baseline to benchmark performance.
Similarly, real-time data from integrated sensors or external sources can be used for analytic tasks like condition monitoring, failure diagnostics, prescriptive and predictive analytics. This knowledge can add value to asset life by:
- Improving efficiency
- Reducing downtime
- Anticipating failures
- Allowing for continuous design & manufacturing improvements
- IIoT helps to leverage augmented & virtual reality (AR/VR)
Simulator-based training for new staff can be an effective way to convey plant knowledge. IIoT-enabled technologies, such as gaming, augmented/virtual reality, and 3D immersive, using wearable devices, can replicate real plant and job functions, controls, and assets, for a high-fidelity experience.
Simulation improves learning and helps to develop skills to deal with unanticipated plant situations, thus increasing workers’ confidence in performing their jobs and dealing with emergencies. Other simulation applications include testing and validating new software, supporting system migrations, and program testing and validation.
- MQTT as an IIoT messaging protocol
Message Queueing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), a machine-to-machine data transfer protocol, will grow as a messaging protocol for the IIoT. MQTT is designed as a lightweight publish/subscribe messaging transport, used for connections with remote locations where a small code footprint is required and/or network bandwidth is at a premium. It is used for mobile applications because of its small size, low power usage, minimized data packets, and efficient distribution of information to one or multiple receivers.
- Stronger cybersecurity eases IIoT concerns
Improved cybersecurity technologies and approaches, such as Achilles certification, will help to allay concerns so that cybersecurity will no longer remain the single greatest headwind to IIoT-enabled solutions in industrial and critical infrastructure environments. Achilles Communications Certification offers two levels of certifying the network robustness of industrial devices. It provides manufacturers and their customers with an independent verification that the certified device meets communications robustness benchmarks that are industry-recognized and mandated by major critical infrastructure operators.
End users and OEMs alike should embrace, rather than resist, the positive disruptive change that the IIoT is bringing:
- Asset management and avoiding downtime should be the first focuses
- Automation suppliers must help customers calculate the ROI justification needed to invest in these new IIoT solutions
- Legacy assets must remain a part of, and be integrated into, these latest IIoT technology solutions, wherever possible
All in all, these trends and changes make this a very exciting time to be in the automation space, and the future is looking even brighter.