With digitisation entering various walks of life, an increasing number of devices and appliances are becoming ‘smart’ and digitally connected. Consequently, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a ground reality in different domains. In large measure, however, industrial IoT is now leading the way in creating new benchmarks in connectivity. To clarify for lay readers, the industrial Internet refers to the universe of intelligent industrial products, processes and services that communicate with each other and humans over the Internet.
Three major drivers in the IoT revolution are urbanisation, digitisation and industrialisation. With 2.5 billion people expected to be living in cities by 2050, urbanisation stokes increasing desire among citizens craving comforts and conveniences at their fingertips. With 50 billion connected things expected by 2020, digitisation is driven by efforts to ensure faster, more efficient devices, processes and systems in all industries. And with energy consumption expected to rise almost 50% globally and 3-4 times in India by 2050, industries need to adopt sustainable practices based on green technologies and energy-efficient systems.
Given this scenario, our shared resources will come under unprecedented pressure within the next four decades, even as global warming and climate change accelerate. To avert this precipitous situation, carbon emissions need to be halved and industrial processes need to become thrice as efficient. Here is where industrial IoT can play a pivotal role in making products, processes and services more energy efficient. Higher energy efficiency is achieved through sensors that enable meaningful visualisation and actionable analysis using Big Data and analytics. Finally, this information is communicated through various networks for effective actions to be taken either manually or automatically.
As our lives become increasingly bifurcated between the real and virtual world, the importance of the Internet grows exponentially. Although multiple overt benefits exist via global digitisation, there are covert costs too. For instance, higher digitisation calls for more data centres and communications towers. Paradoxically, these are very energy intensive; however, there are abundant IoT-enabled energy efficiency opportunities here too. It is therefore imperative to mitigate any collateral damage by driving energy efficiency in all products, processes and services across the value chain.
This is why worldwide, industrial IoT assumes critical importance. In today’s digital era, powerful miniaturised embedded sensors are the universal connectors between the physical and digital world. Through such sensors, ubiquitous connectivity extends to physical products, infrastructure and other things. Storage of the resultant gargantuan data led to the creation of the cloud, which facilitates inexpensive and abundant storage, enabling aggregation of data streams from myriad sources.
It’s through industrial IoT that energy management and efficiency is ensured in a raft of sectors: from building and construction to transportation, healthcare, manufacturing and industrial processes.
Nevertheless, such savings come with upfront costs of installing such systems. Presently, many companies and industries may be unprepared or unwilling to invest in industrial IoT that, though beneficial after installation, may nonetheless disrupt traditional operations.
Benefits of sustainability
Significantly, companies using industrial IoT will hold a tremendous advantage over laggards. Optimised asset availability and performance resulting in shorter delivery times for industrial IoT users will in turn facilitate faster cost recoveries, better returns and higher profits. In hyper-competitive times, industrial IoT non-users will then hurtle faster towards closure due to unsustainable operations. Therefore, though moving towards industrial IoT may come with short-term costs, not doing so is not really an option. Clearly, within years, companies will have a Hobsons choice of adopting or ignoring industrial IoT at their own peril.
In itself, industrial IoT has led to the emergence of smart systems via the creation of system-on-chip technologies, enabling the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things—manifested through smart energy, smart water, smart buildings, smart mobility, smart public services and smart integration.
Undoubtedly, with industrial IoT and smart systems, similar benefits will be available to other industries.
Additionally, smart systems promote proactive risk mitigation, preventing or minimising costly downtimes and boosting service speed and quality, among other advantages. And all of the above is achieved while—and indeed enabled by—running operations sustainably. For industry and the world at large, the choice could never have been more clear-cut.
By Anil Chaudhary
The writer is country president and MD – Schneider Electric India