September 20, 2016      

CHICAGO — The Industrial Internet of Things, sometimes called the “Internet of Industrial Things” or IIoT, is still in its early stages. But as IoT becomes more pervasive, it will enable factories and warehouses to be more productive. Intelligent systems will be able to identify needed repairs for robots and other systems before they reach the point of failure, agreed speakers at the 2016 Automation and Manufacturing Summit, collocated with last week’s Industrial Manufacturing Technology Show here.

“We are on the way to our digital future — it is an IoT world,” said Jack Nehlig, president of Middletown, Pa.-based Phoenix Contact Holdings Inc. “We’ve had robotics and automation, but there has always been a wall between the human and the machine.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) provides a “trusted handshake” between humans and machines, according to Nehling. In Europe, companies are working toward standards for IIoT or IoIT, providing intelligent connections for business processes and devices such as sensors, he said.

The IoT devices gather critical data that companies can use to operate smart factories and digitize the product lifecycle.

However, the U.S. has yet to develop such standards. The adoption of industrial IoT should increase after standards are established here, Nehling said. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and a few other coalitions are leading standards efforts in the U.S.

IoIT could transform industry

“The Internet transformed retailing,” he said, pointing to the fast growth of e-commerce, led by Amazon.com Inc.

IoIT is the next stage in global automation.

Nehling said he expects IoIT’s real-time feedback to offer similar benefits to industry. For instance, wireless control systems can turn on and off heating and cooling depending on the weather, and sensors can detect supply chain delays and adjust accordingly.

“Step back and look at what you’ve been doing,” Nehling advised manufacturers. “There’s a massive amount of institutional data available. Start dreaming about how to tackle different problems.”

IIoT and data analytics could help organizations run processes more efficiently and limit energy consumption, among other things.

The ability of IoIT to connect machines and business systems provides manufacturers with a large amount of data from which they can develop intelligent operations, explained Shi-Wan Lin, co-chair of the IIC’s architecture task group and founder of Thingswise LLC in Chicago.

“Connecting to solve problems can ease the convergence of machines and business systems,” Lin said. “There has been a lot of effort to develop common models using an open interface to promote consensus.”

An open interface will harmonize different architecture efforts and transform business models, Lin added. However, he cautioned manufacturers to take their time with IoT to work out any problems, so improvements will be gradual.

Open standards are essential because IoT users want flexibility with their devices, rather than being locked into a select few, said Rob McGreevy, Schneider Electric vice president of operations, information, and asset management.

In addition, open IoIT standards would enable companies to close the loop between otherwise disparate systems for manufacturing, customer relationship management, and business applications.

For example, information from CRM systems could be fed back into design to quickly modify products to meet customer expectations. Similarly, feedback from systems to employees on the floor will help them do their jobs more efficiently by providing early alerts to system bottlenecks, etc.

“You need to start early with a few concrete projects,” McGreevy advised. Each project should be designed to provide a holistic view of how efficiently an entire plant is running. However, a comprehensive view will take years to achieve, he said.

GE moves ahead with IoT

General Electric has more than 450 manufacturing plants across the globe, said Rich Carpenter, general manager of controls platforms at GE Automation and Control. Though many of those plants have had legacy systems and operations procedures established for years, “we have to be willing to disrupt ourselves” with IIoT, he said.

While several improvements are possible with a full IoIT plan, developing such a plan can take too much time, according to Carpenter. So rather than wait for a comprehensive plan, he plans to move ahead with about 70 percent of IoIT implementations for 100 plants each year.

“I’m a fan of moving quickly rather than perfectly,” Carpenter said.

He said he expects to have IoT devices reporting useful data within a couple of days of implementation.

The growth in use of smart devices at GE mirrors what is occurring throughout the country where there will soon be more connected devices than there are people, said Jose Rivera, CEO of the Control Systems Integrators Association.

“One of the proverbial things in automation is that we have had little linkage between systems. We all used to have silos,” he said. “Now, with IoIT, all of those silos are coming down.”

IoIT links robots to business systems.

More on the Industrial Internet of Things and Advanced Manufacturing:

But IoIT isn’t a silver bullet

However, IoT is not a solution in itself, cautioned Rick VandenBoom, automated systems group manager at Applied Manufacturing Technologies. “Many of our customers haven’t thought through the roadmap. Managers can sell [the systems] internally, but you are just moving problems down the line if you don’t understand how to use assets.

Michael Lindley, vice president of business development, marketing and product development at Concept Systems Inc., agreed. He pointed out that automation strategies at some companies haven’t gone well because the entire process wasn’t considered.

So companies need to look at the data available from IoIT devices and determine how that information can be used, Lindley said. He noted that robotics should benefit in the long term because IoT sensors can monitor industrial robots and warn companies to make preventative repairs, greatly lengthening their lifecycle.