What makes a device smart?

05 June 2024

Control Engineering Europe spoke to Jenny Schaack, Vice President Sensing Technologies Process Industries at Siemens about the smart ‘things’ that form a key part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Q: What makes an OT sensor or device ‘smart’?
JS: Operational Technology sensors or devices are considered 'smart' when they possess capabilities beyond simple operational tasks. These smart devices will feature enhanced connectivity options that allow them to communicate with other devices and management systems over the internet or various networks. 

Smart devices will also be equipped with data processing abilities that enable them to analyse and handle data at the device level – which is also known as edge computing. This capability allows for real-time decision-making without the need to relay all data back to a central system. Additionally, these devices can operate autonomously, making decisions independently, based on collected data using built-in algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). 

Furthermore, smart devices are designed to integrate seamlessly with different industrial technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems, enhancing overall operational efficiency.

Q: Could you explain how smart IIoT devices differ from more traditional OT devices?
JS: Comparatively, smart IIoT devices represent a significant evolution from traditional OT devices. Traditional devices typically focus on controlling and monitoring physical processes and often operate in isolation or are connected to closed, proprietary networks. In contrast, smart IIoT devices not only collect and analyse data to optimise processes but also support standard internet protocols and cloud connectivity, facilitating broader network integration. They are inherently designed for interoperability across diverse platforms and systems, and generally feature more user-friendly interfaces that support remote monitoring and control, which traditional devices often lack.

Q: What a can you offer engineers who may be integrating smart devices into their legacy systems to ensure successful IIoT projects?
JS: Integrating smart IIoT devices into existing legacy systems presents challenges but it will also offer substantial rewards. It is crucial to start with a thorough assessment of the existing infrastructure to understand its capabilities and limitations. The next step is then to develop a strategic integration plan that addresses potential challenges and defines clear goals. Implementing a small-scale pilot project can serve as a practical test, helping to uncover any issues and validate the integration approach before proceeding to a full-scale deployment. 

Ensuring that smart devices are compatible with existing systems is vital and using standard protocols and interfaces can help avoid any compatibility issues. With increased connectivity, robust cybersecurity measures also become indispensable to guard against potential threats. Additionally, preparing the engineering team and operators to work with new technologies requires proper training and effective change management to ensure smooth adoption and optimal use of the new systems. 

Lastly, consider scalability to ensure the solution is flexible enough to accommodate growth and is able to adapt to new emerging industry trends.

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