The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has received a significant amount of attention over the past several years. Most every company involved in automation and control has some kind of message around IIoT and how it can lead to improved operational performance. But with all of this activity, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of what it actually is, how it can be applied, and what it is not.
What it Is
From a high level IIoT is simply capturing operational data, analyzing it with advanced algorithms and using it to predict operational and process performance. Where it is different than current analytic capabilities is that it is forward looking. Traditional alerts let you know something has happened. IIoT alerts let you to something is going to happen.
One of the simplest applications for IIoT is with the performance of rotating equipment. Using a few machine variables, like speed and motor current, you can determine when a piece of equipment is likely going to break down. This enables you to make a decision on when the repair should occur. The benefit is you can plan when the process will be down. Keep in mind the goal of reliability strategy is that all downtime should be planned.
A more advanced application would capture data from multiple sources and provide predictive capabilities for a process. This would provide alerts for potential quality issues. Rather than waiting for off-spec product, you would know that a product might not meet specification and can decide how to proceed. You can continue to run, but use the product for another customer with a less-stringent specification. Or make process changes to ensure the desired quality is realized.
One of the emerging applications with IIoT is the concept of a digital twin. By capturing process data, models can be built to test both equipment and process performance under different scenarios. As more data is captured, the better the models become. These are extremely useful when the goal is to determine how to optimize multiple processes.
What it’s Not
To be sure, IIoT is not a product or a piece of software you can buy. It is not an advanced SCADA solution that has enhanced visualization capabilities. It is not a manufacturing execution system that is merely processing more information. As stated before, it is the use of operational data in a more advanced way to make better business decisions.
Before you embark on your IIoT journey it is a good idea to have a well defined business objective. Simply adding sensors and creating vast amounts of data with the hope of some commercial insight is not the best strategy. But now that you have a better understanding of IIoT, coming up with an application should be fairly straightforward. And this helps you resolve your manufacturing inefficiencies.
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