We are on the threshold of a new Industrial Revolution. However, unlike the previous ones, this revolution is driven by technology and has the potential to change the world in a big way.
Welcome to the world of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), technology that is making rapid inroads into the areas of manufacturing, power generation, and other industrial sectors. Though IIoT is at its nascent stage now, the results are already profound and encouraging. Many experts believe it will open up unprecedented opportunities to both businesses and society in the future, and in the process, will bring about a positive change to the world we live.
Before going into the opportunities and benefits of IIoT, let's first understand what it means. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can be loosely defined to mean a network of connected industrial systems that share and exchange data to further human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. These systems contain embedded technology that make it possible for them to communicate with other devices, the external environment, and eventually, with people. IIoT uses different components such as network connectivity, software, and sensors to collect information and process them, and to ensure the smooth movement of data across systems and devices.
The benefits from IIoT are enormous, and this is why more companies are beginning to make IIoT an integral part of their operations. Studies by Accenture estimate the IIoT market to contribute about $14.2 trillion to the global domestic product by the year 2030.
This shift towards IIoT is most evident in the increased manufacturing of sensors, a core component of IIoT. It is estimated that the number of sensors shipped increased from 4.2 billion in 2012 to 23.6 billion in 2014. Also, the increased budget allocation for IIoT in companies like Cisco, GE, Siemens, and Huawei, and government initiatives like Industrie 4.0 in Germany point to the growing importance of IIoT for our future.
So, why our companies and governments looking to make IIoT an integral part of their future operations? There are three reasons for this adoption, and they are:
One of the main reasons for companies to turn to digital technology is to improve their operational efficiency, so their operating costs come down. In fact, a survey (PDF link) conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2014 shows that 79 percent of respondents turn to technology to improve operational efficiency.
Operational efficiency can be divided into three aspects, namely:
- Better utilization of existing assets
- Reduction in operational cost
- Improved worker productivity
Better asset utilization is achieved by predictive maintenance and remote management, both of which are driven by IIoT. For example, when machines communicate their status in timed intervals, an IIoT system can analyze this data and predict when that machine will fail. Based on this information, workers can respond more quickly to critical situations, thereby reducing downtimes and losses due to failures. Thames Water, the largest provider of drinking water in the UK, uses sensors and IIoT to predict equipment failures, and this helps them to make the most of their assets.
Worker productivity and safety can be enhanced by using the right IIoT tools. For example, it is noted in the survey findings that Rio Tinto is using remote monitoring and sensing technologies to reduce safety-related incidents for workers in harsh mining conditions.
Schlumberger also uses a combination of IIoT tools and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to monitor safety and noise levels for its workers, especially those working in hazardous and difficult weather conditions. Such tools enhance worker productivity greatly and reduce losses due to health issues. Besides safety, IIoT is expected to create high-skilled jobs such as robot designers and smartgrid managers. These jobs are sure to make the workplace more exciting and engaging for workers, thereby increasing their productivity.
Operational cost is lower when asset utilization and worker productivity are high. This cost can be further decreased by automating error-prone operations, so the time and resources needed is greatly reduced. A case in point is healthcare, where hospital errors are still a leading cause of preventable death among patients. False alarms and slow response time based on inaccurate data are causing much hardship to patients. To overcome this drawback, smart medical devices that network with each other and communicate only when a patient is critical can be the key to improved response. At the same time, these smart devices can also bring down operational costs for the hospital and can save difficulties for the patient.
Thus, IIoT contributes to increased operational efficiency by improving worker productivity, enhancing asset utilization, and reducing operational cost.
New products and services
IIoT opens up more opportunities for companies in the form of new products and services. Companies can consider newer revenue models such as pay-per-use or software-based services that enhance the convenience for users, and at the same time, provides a new stream of revenue for the company.
A case in point is the new revenue stream implemented by the Norwegian company Statens Vegvesen. This company has collaborated with Volvo to use cars as sensors in a large connected system to generate alternate streams of revenue for businesses like insurance and towing companies. How does this play out? Let's say in winter, a car is stuck in the snow and needs to be towed. By connecting to the car system, insurance companies can assess outdoor weather conditions to sell short term offers on towing, and can even charge a premium rate for such services on the basis of the weather. This car-to-car communications service is already running a pilot program and can also inform drivers about dangerous car conditions.
In fact, imagination is the limit when it comes to creating new products and services using IIoT. If you can think of a new product or service, you have a new revenue stream for your company!
Imagine a system that schedules its maintenance, adjusts its operations to reduce workload on a worn-out part, and even better, communicates it all to operators like you! Your life doesn't get easier than this.
This is exactly where IIoT can take us in the future. Everything will be automated, so we can sit back and do the things that we do best, which is create and innovate.
IIoT helps to create smarter machines that require little to no human intervention. Whether it is oil drilling, green energy, self-regulating machines, traffic management, or any other form of industrial application, automation can make them more efficient, self-reliant, and long-lasting.
In short, IIoT is a system of connected industrial applications and systems that can communicate with each other and with us, with an aim to ease workflow and improve automation. There are many benefits that stem from IIoT such as improved operational efficiency, possibilities for new revenue streams, and enhanced automation. These benefits are enormous for industries and for the society as a whole, and this is why many governments and large corporations are taking the lead to create IIoT-centric applications. Though there are many challenges that come with IIoT, systematic advancements in security and compatibility can go a long way in making your imaginations a reality!