Getting Down to Business: The Industrial Internet of Things

Prith Banerjee, EVP & CTO, Schneider Electric
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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) describes a world in which more and more machines, devices and processes are sensor-enabled, connected and able to share information about their current state and the environment in which they operate.

That world is upon us now.

While 5 billion people are expected to have internet access by 2020, experts forecast 50 billion things will become connected over that same period, producing prolific volumes of data. As this wealth of data feeds the enterprise, advances in data analytics will enable businesses to turn it into operational intelligence that can increase efficiency in every system.

Propelled by connectivity at this massive scale, the acceleration of IIOT is opening the door to innovative ways of thinking and new advanced technologies, changing how we live and work, run industrial and manufacturing processes, operate businesses, manage buildings and cities, use energy, and conserve precious resources.

  ​IIoT is already making machines and systems cheaper, faster, smarter, safer and greener, as well as more reliable and productive 

Application Proliferation

IIoT presents a transformational opportunity for industry as the trends of urbanization, electrification and digitization all converge. Whether for the supply chain, manufacturing line, energy grid, pipelines, water system or smart city, a new wave of applications for IIoT is currently being developed, mirroring the proliferation of “apps” driven by the omnipresence of the consumer internet.

An early proving ground for IIoT applications in the enterprise has been in maximizing energy efficiency and optimizing the performance and reliability of assets. Connecting assets using an IP network and monitoring their behavior through sensors used to be prohibitively expensive, but much has happened over the last few years to change the cost equation of machine-to-machine connectivity. Now assets are network-ready with system-on-chip technology, and the low cost of sensors – added liberally across operations – means that businesses are closing in on being able to precisely monitor all of their assets, not just a fraction of them, as had been the norm.

Comprehensive asset coverage via IIoT will mean every component (i.e., a drive) and every system (i.e., a machine) in a production process or supply chain can communicate whether it is performing within specifications, when it is in need of maintenance and how well utilized it is. This IIoT-enabled communication is an important development in the convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) that is maximizing enterprise productivity, efficiency and profitability.

The same principles of IIoT-led innovation that apply to industrial and manufacturing environments are applicable in cities and buildings. Today, a sensor in a meeting room can determine occupancy and “tell” the building management system to turn off lights and heat/cooling accordingly to conserve energy. That impact can be further magnified by connecting it with online weather information to shape and inform environmental controls for tomorrow’s workday. Applied more globally, leveraging IIOT can help energy managers look across their portfolio of buildings, accessing real-time and historical data, to yield the highest-returning energy-efficiency investments.

The bottom-line savings here are significant. Manufacturers are running processes more efficiently, using less energy and reducing waste; logistics companies are optimizing delivery routes based on IIoT data, slashing fuel consumption; and commercial property owners and facilities operators are maximizing occupant comfort while minimizing cost and environmental impact as part of “smart building” initiatives.

Getting “Smart”

Yet there is more to IIOT than savings; it is also poised to be a massive stimulator of growth. Simply put, IIoT will create new economic opportunity at scale, with some estimates projecting IIoT’s total impact on global GDP surpassing $14 trillion by 2020.

Think of it. Now that devices can communicate with controls, software, human operators and data-analytics applications, IIoT-enabled devices will become the building blocks of all the “smart” systems and processes we have been hearing so much about, and upon which so much depends.

Sensor-enabled pipes will detect leaks, enabling “smart water” and “smart utilities;” smart meters will communicate local usage patterns and real-time demand to fuel the “smart grid;” parking meters and traffic lights will monitor traffic and street crime, activating the “smart city;” and machines in a manufacturing process will monitor their own performance and health, ushering in the “smart plant.” The possibilities are endless, and so is the technological and economic opportunity. Even getting to work will be smarter, whether commuters take IoT-enabled autonomous cars or mass-transit systems similarly made more intelligent and efficient.

Innovation Groundswell

Seizing on this opportunity, Global 500 companies and startups alike – sometimes in partnership – are leading a groundswell of innovation. Government, too, is driving this transformation, launching well-funded national and regional plans to capitalize on the efficiencies promised by IIoT. With every process, system, device and infrastructure component ripe for improvement through IIoT, the level of thinking, interest and participation across technology sectors and economies is staggering, as are the ramifications.

IIoT is already making machines and systems cheaper, faster, smarter, safer and greener, as well as more reliable and productive. Taken together, these benefits will drive top and bottom-line gains across industries. They will also provide government and business alike the new, sharper tools needed to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges – access to energy, food and water; pollution; and climate change – and the solutions to meet them successfully.

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