Smart Machines & Factories
The great IIoT challenges
Published:  25 October, 2016

Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Andy Bailey, solutions architect, at Stratus Technologies, about what today's industrial operator needs to know about adopting IIoT.

At a simple level, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is all about capturing data from operating systems and combining it with analytics to optimise processes, improve efficiency and add profitability.

Andy Bailey, solutions architect, at Stratus Technologies explains that by linking together the disparate processes in a given environment, industrial automation (IA) has the power to completely transform the way a business operates. This, he says, can mean genuine and useful interaction between analytics, ERP systems, automation and more besides - so why is industry so reticent when it comes to adopting IIoT solutions? Bailey comments there are certainly a great many misconceptions out there regarding the IIoT, relating to almost every stage of the process. While nobody would claim that full implementation of the IIoT will always be a walk in the park, the potential benefits are inescapable.

The challenges to industrial operators

There can be very few industrial operators who aren’t familiar, at least in principle, with the IIoT. However Bailey comments that: “Nevertheless there is still a lack of certainty for many organisations around the potential benefits to themselves of adopting a more automated approach. Furthermore, the industrial automation landscape is dominated by specialist companies, which means that most businesses that could benefit from the IIoT are not routinely being exposed to those companies which have such potential transformative power for them.”

He highlights that a typical problem is that automation engineers think that their operation is too small to benefit from IIoT – and that it is only for big industrial companies: “Take the example of a wastewater facility for a small town. Their biggest concern may be keeping the pumps and motors from going down because during an outage it could be weeks or months before they return to full operation. In such an example though, even applying low-cost sensors that monitor, for example, temperature and vibration, when coupled with the application of IIoT analytics could help protect them – before an outage occurs. Be it intelligence gained from access to more data concerning how equipment is behaving or access to more information to improve on-site issues detection and resolution, there are considerable improvements that IIoT unlocks for almost any industrial application.”

Common misconceptions of IIoT

The thought of applying the levels of networking and data sharing required by IIoT is rightly a security concern to many. As is the very sound of the word “cloud” when talking about sensitive data. Bailey says many operators want the level of control they have come to expect over the years and simply don’t trust that connected systems will allow them a similar level of security. In fact, there are many ways to mitigate the risks so that enterprises remain sustainable in the IIoT era. From developing and firewalling private clouds to employing cybersecurity controls that detect attacks on IA protocols.

He adds that on another note, operations managers who might realise that they stand to benefit from IIoT are prone to delay uptake for fear of relinquishing control of the process side of operations to the IT department. However, Bailey says with the convergence of traditionally separated IT and Operational Technology (OT), the truth is that these two groups must understand the critical role the other plays in the future of their operation:

• Industrial Architecture (IA) engineers need to drive many of the most complicated elements of the enterprise and their needs, which are different to those of other business functions must be recognised by IT operatives in order for the complex industrial processes to deliver.

• From the other side, the OT engineers must understand how the integration of their requirements into the IT infrastructure of the overall business affects the operational, financial and security rigidity of the company.

The great IIoT challenges

Bailey explains that when it comes to implementing something as broad and far-reaching as IIoT it can be very hard to know where to start: “The IIoT can reach into and improve so many aspects of an enterprise that undertaking a complete strategy can seem daunting – a jump into the unknown without fully appreciating how long it will take to make a return on the investment. However, there are some simple early steps that companies can make early on in the process to start feeling the benefit before they have the whole picture figured out. In fact, many of the extended benefits of IIoT principles are not known to the most advanced companies as the advantages of information enabled industry are only now becoming clear. Areas that the IIoT can start delivering on almost straight away are through the reduction of unplanned downtime, the improving of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and the mitigation of data loss. Continuous availability has long been a fundamental aspect of the most efficient automation systems because even a momentary lapse in availability can have a huge effect on productivity, profitability and even reputation. A simple example would be to consider the material, production and human cost of downtime for a small compressor, let alone a large turbine.”

He emhpasises the hugely positive impact of IIoT on industrial plant operations is undeniable: “Enterprises at the early adopter end of the spectrum are already outperforming their competition and the success stories we are hearing from industries of all types are showing how IIoT is changing how people approach their industrial operations. Mainstream adoption of the IIoT – what might be considered the next wave of this rapid evolution will be a larger hurdle as we seek to overcome common misconceptions that persist.”

Bailey concludes that as industry starts to break them down, more and more enterprises will step into the future of their operations – the IIoT enabled future that offers productivity, efficiency and profitability benefits to industrial operators everywhere.

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