Benefitting today from the IIoT

12 May 2015

Brian Oulton, vice president strategic marketing – industrial at Belden, explains how to gain benefit from the Industrial Internet of Things right now – by weaving the IIoT into daily work processes. 

To get from where you are today to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will require a realistic assessment of your industrial network infrastructure and controls architecture. If both are predominantly using industrial Ethernet, you are on a good path as the older fieldbus networks cannot scale to meet the demands of IIoT.  

While this does not mean you need to replace the older networks now, you should plan to migrate to Ethernet at chance you get to take advantage of more information from each device, more devices, and more bandwidth. Your opportunities to move forward with IIoT will depend largely on upgrades to old equipment, expansion and other production drivers, but be ready to push for an upgrade to Ethernet before the opportunity passes. 

If you are well on the path to Ethernet, check your design to ensure it can scale up to add many more devices. While most people plan for expansion of more capacity, IIoT will likely add more networked devices to your existing equipment and controls architecture. For controls, you are likely to need more memory, while your network will need a lot more switch ports. 

Your network design will scale best if you segment (or divide) your network into smaller networks connected by layer 3 industrial Ethernet switches or routers. These help to manage traffic and make your applications easier to secure while still allowing everything to communicate as needed. 

You can do all of these in small steps starting now. If you wait, you may not be ready to grab IoT benefits because the price of change will be too steep.

Control systems and industrial networks are built for a wide variety of industrial uses. As a result, most applications use only a fraction of the features, bandwidth, or available memory. 

While using just enough functionality is incredibly practical, most companies have discussed plans for greater use of their network and device communications that include important and tangible benefits. The problem is, most companies rarely implement these plans because of time or budget pressures. Plus, they think taking these implementations to the next level will be complicated. 

What many users do not realise is that technology has evolved to the point that the grander plans you have for your equipment are not as difficult to implement as they once were. Let others at your workplace know that it is valuable right now to evaluate and apply more technology, because you already own it. So why not make use of it? 

Anyone who has worked for a while has a list taped to the underside of their chair, at the bottom of their middle desk drawer, or scattered somewhere deep in their brains. Your list contains great ideas you have discussed with co-workers, brought up in meetings, or simply during a break when grumbling with others. 

Your conversations about those ideas probably started with, ‘we should’ and ended with ‘not feasible, not practical, not cost effective, not going to happen.’  In reality, there is a great deal of innovation available and in use today that can put you on the road to IIoT, you just have to find out about current innovations and determine how they might benefit your company. 

For those who work across a number of industries, you can use an approach from one industry to solve sticky problems in another. You can also look at commercial technology and ask if it is possible to do something similar in the industrial space. Perhaps your IT group can share best tools and innovation with you… and all you need to do is ask. 

More often than not, you will be surprised to find that you can use innovations from others in a way that is beneficial, practical, and cost effective. So, even if your wish list is a little old, pull it out and ask again. Your great ideas may have just been a little bit ahead of their time, but you may be surprised that some of them will be feasible right now.

Make new friends
To make the most of IIoT, you will need to change the relationships you have with others in your industrial world. However important your suppliers, machine builders, integrators, panel shops, and customers are today, you will need them even more tomorrow, and for different reasons. 

The existing barriers about not sharing information, keeping a distance, and protecting your own interests were put in place for a good reason, but many will have to come down or shift in order to gain the benefits of IIoT. 

For example, your machine builder can help a lot more if you can work out how to provide secure remote access so they can plug in to analyse their machine status. Once this pathway is established, you can then establish further trust by allowing them to automatically replenish spares as you use them,  or make them part of your department’s advisory team.  

You can make these kinds of relationships with added trust and communications now to dip into the wealth of innovation that these sources can provide already, with even more coming tomorrow. 

Manage for change 
As more of the IIoT comes into play, one thing is certain: Change will accelerate as the number of networked devices in your system grows. Plan today to manage through constant changes to your process, your equipment, and your industrial network infrastructure. 

You will need to depend less on drawings and more on real-time tools that provide the status of what you have and how well it is functioning. 

In the IIoT, real-time communications with other experts, plus the use of logs, analytics and other tools that use the information available in all of those smart devices is the only way to work. If your tools and processes are old, then it is time to go digital now.

If you are waiting for the day when the IIoT will be suddenly available so you can retrofit or upgrade or rip and replace, you are waiting for the wrong thing. You could wake up to find that you’re too far behind the curve to catch up. 

IIoT is happening now. There are tangible, practical things you can do as part of your priorities today that will change your company for the better.

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