The ‘Oh!’ in IIoT: What’s it all about?

By : |November 30, 2015 0
Imagine a day when big machines in sprawling shopfloors too start having their own Facebook (sort-of) babble. How many ‘likes’ would this Smart Factory get and why?

Pratima H

INDIA: Model T. The car that revolutionized the automobile, or shall we say, the transportation industry to a new spin, thanks to Henry Ford’s radical innovation. As soon as the idea of an Assembly-line was laid all around car shop floors, the world drove away from Victorian chaises, unhurried wagons and the sound of horse-hooves. And at what a bristling speed!

With the wheels of 1908 the century entered a new era of low cost, versatile, durable, easy to maintain, practical and finally affordable transport. Ford sold millions of these cars but more than that, Ford sold the industry a new platform and concept that upturned the way transport was manufactured, or sold or driven.

This platform ushered in a new face of the factory, both for the customers outside and the workers within.

Inexplicably, factories today are feeling a Déjà vu of sorts as they try to get their heads and hands around a new T: The IIoT.

Another Tin Lizzie?

We know what IoT is – Internet of Things, and we have heard and seen the umpteen ways life, work and human existence can change when geysers, cars, microwaves, phones et al talk to each other with Internet in the background.

Now extend that visceral revolution to bigger fans, geysers, microwaves, and wheels that run refineries, huge plants, mega shopfloors, heavy-duty equipment, ship/aircraft yards and what not.

IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) apparently can augment, amplify or even completely redo the idea of smart factories that concepts like advanced AI, Machine Learning, 3D printing, Virtual Reality, Robotics etc have been fiddling with.

Accenture already puts figures like the $14 trillion that can be added to the global economy, thanks to IIoT. Global investment in IIoT could hit $500 billion by 2020, wherein companies could be boosting productivity by as much as 30 per cent with new automation and flexible production techniques in manufacturing. Add 12 per cent of savings in areas like scheduled repairs, 30 per cent in overall maintenance costs and 70 per cent to elimination of breakdowns that rolls in with predictive maintenance of assets which IIoT can enable.

GE, for example, is chasing the idea of brilliant-factories aggressively and hopes to churn 20 per cent rise in product performance by deploying such factories by 2020. It is turning 100 of its 400 manufacturing units to brilliant factories and is looking at a staggering $2 billion in additional productivity gains by that year.

There is still more to IIoT than chopping unplanned downtime and averting red flags in maintenance, accidents, risks with machines.

Sensor-driven computing, industrial analytics and intelligent applications, when combined in a single universe of connected processes, products and services in industrial realm can also provide rich opportunities for revenue growth with augmented offerings and product-service hybrids in this IIoT era, as Accenture’s report ‘Driving Unconventional Growth through IIoT’ augured.

Ask someone who is knee-deep in high-end, high-scale process control space for years now and we get the picture that IIoT is good news at the end of the day.

In simple words – information and intelligence are always critical for meaningful judgements – whether it is about switching off an oven at home or turning off an accident-prone part in a big factory.

Think of outcomes and he counts safety, operational advantages, and risk mitigation at the top of his fingers. And we are ready for it, tells Vikas Chadha, MD, Honeywell Automation India Ltd. “We are in a much better position to offer solutions.”

He explains how the sheer magnitude of IIoT takes the outcomes at a new level for many industries. By sensing information early, one can analyse faster and react faster. “Reliability is another outcome while efficiency and productivity are key upshots too. Today an operator has to take a call manually when something happens in a plant, but IIoT can change so much there. But if he can get an instant alert from a machine nearby on his device as something goes awry, he can take quick action.”

If you take in what Ajit Kumbhare, founder, CEO, Fresh Gravity has been observing with a hands-on play in digital market, IIoT has already started to happen. Industrial equipments have begun using IoT, he puts forth. “Some issues exist like security (a big one at that), but the industry is quite new so that explains the lack of adequate standards so far. With time, the space will get more open, more standardized and smooth enough as time rolls.”

Chadha cites the case of a leading petrochemical company that is squeezing gains from manufacturing intelligence systems, visibility dashboards of real-time information. “Real-time data is power and if a customer can get that, so much can be addressed and leveraged fast.”

The First I matters

IoT for capital-intensive, mission-critical environments may or may not live up to the tremendous potential it holds.

The quintessential brownfield-greenfield distinction will of course trickle in at some point. But experts feel that even with legacy environments and heavily-capital-intensive plants, IoT can be more of a gain than struggle.

“Yes, in terms of adoption brownfield spots would be a tad gradual and will watch the journey, but customers do want to see the benefits. Tech-savvy companies even in old-economy areas will be quick to embrace IIoT and we will see many brown-field retrofit upgrades that way.”

Kumbhare seconds that optimism. “Both kind of companies are going to adopt digital strategies. We see both old-school and early-adopter variety in our customer experiences. The strategy would not depend on where you have been but where you want to go. Some companies have amazing maturity with digital forces even if they are not new-economy ones. A lot depends on ROI, outcome expectations too.”

As Chadha advises, try it out. “In India, level of automation is relatively lower but verticals like oil and gas, power, automotive can find ready ground for IIoT.”

Even if absolute, seamless, end-to-end IIoT will take time, lot of players are evolving well and the next few years will show a different picture soon, he reasons confidently. “It is pretty un-discovered in many ways at this stage and is waiting to be mapped but IIoT’s promise as a real architecture is strong.”

He also discounts the apprehension of ecosystem deficit in the pursuit of this promise. “The whole ecosystem is getting ready well whether it is EDGE devices, control systems, user-interface parts or networking, every bit helps.”

But apprehensions still remain. A lot of issues are in the way before IIoT can actually deliver the revolution it promises. More on that in the next part, or shall we say – More Ts.

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