The internet has undeniably impacted the lives of nearly everyone across the globe; be it a modern-day millennial or a baby boomer, everyone today feels the need to be connected and part of a network in this fast-paced world. It’s difficult to imagine an individual not subscribing to at least one social networking site. Connectivity is all-pervasive and it is all about collaboration and speed, even as we strive to deploy those values in our lives and organisations. A connected society encompasses the concepts of connected homes, buildings, work places and most importantly, industries which drive all major developments.The concept of a connected industry or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is inherent to companies building new products and applications that leverage the internet, using cutting-edge technology to develop simple solutions for complex requirements. For instance, a cloud-based robot today smoothly monitors and analyses thousands of phone calls at data centers, and generates a qualitative report at the end of the day even without any human intervention. The role of IIoT is becoming critical in industrial operations, where efforts are being made to increase productivity without compromising efficiency, at an optimal cost.
IIoT is no longer an up-and-coming trend—it is already here, as we see a lot of manufacturers adopting IIoT enabled technologies. A recent survey—Data’s Big Impact on Manufacturing: A Study of Executive Opinions, jointly conducted by Honeywell and KRC Research—revealed that 70% of the 200 manufacturing executives surveyed said that they plan to invest significant resources in data analytics technology in the near future. This desire is driven by the strategic and financial value of their challenges: down time and related losses in efficiency, inadequate staffing, off-spec production and supply chain inefficiencies. It has already been proven that IIoT has the capability of resolving these challenges.
IIoT, sometimes used interchangeably with other terms such as smart manufacturing, industry 4.0 and digitisation, has taken center stage in thought-provoking, future-minded conversations across the globe—and across industries. In another survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), business leaders across industry sectors acknowledged that spending on Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, apps and solutions is increasing rapidly and will reach approximately $267 billion by 2020, with 50% of IoT spending driven by discrete manufacturing, transportation and logistics, as well as utilities.
How IIoT is benefiting industry
The immediate short-term effect for companies adopting IIoT-based technologies and solutions is operational consistency and data monetisation. The long-term impact of it is utilising technological advancements to ensure an outcome-based, result-oriented economy. Another interesting development is cloud-enabled hosting. Hosting applications at the enterprise level is part of the new industrial world order. We are already witnessing several Indian and multi-national companies adopting cloud-based application hosting.
Factories of the future
Factories across the globe are getting smarter as connected products and systems operate as part of a larger, more responsive and agile information infrastructure. Higher use of automation and data exchange in manufacturing will enhance efficiency, improve profitability, increase innovation, and allow smart management of safety, performance and environmental impact. Factories of the future will encompass cyber-physical systems, advanced analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and cloud computing, among others.This is most true in the energy sector. IIoT plays an important role in creating a fundamental shift in advanced energy production and distribution technology. Technology is being harnessed to efficiently manage and maintain investments in infrastructure and operations. Also, through sensors and wireless connectivity, energy firms can monitor their assets and achieve higher utilisation rates—be it at the production stage or at the distribution stage.
The information security challenge
A comprehensive digitally driven program, however, creates data security challenges in the form of data theft and security breaches. Data security and the rate of data breaches remain an industry-wide discussion and one of the biggest challenges that IIoT currently faces. The extent of damage that data breaches can cause pose a massive threat, as businesses—primarily those in finance and capital markets— can be wiped out in cases where user data is leaked or hacked into for malicious activities. The boom of IoT across consumer and business verticals means that most of the data is no longer contained inside traditional networks and needs strong security protocols. The challenge is to develop systems that automatically identify, understand and protect infrastructures from hostile attacks. A holistic approach is required which means adopting technological solutions to detect and manage risks, deploying continuous cyber security processes, and giving relevant employee training.
Case for rapid deployment
The risks are par for the course, and the benefits that IIoT brings are immense. It is important for industrial manufacturers to acknowledge its effectiveness and devise ways to augment its advantages. One trend that can likely enhance adoption of IIoT is increased partnership among industry vendors, process licensors, equipment experts and consultants to provide technology that will deliver innovative solutions to industrial problems. Cloud-based forums of experts have the potential to deliver advice and assistance, whenever or wherever needed. The reality is that no single vendor can do everything, and therefore partnerships are needed to address barriers and gaps.
Despite initial skepticism, digital transformation in 2018 is in a very different place than it was even a year ago. Pilot projects are everywhere and are showing promising early results even as further momentum builds through industry partnerships. We are at the tipping point towards mainstream adoption of IIoT and the transformation has already begun.
Ashish M Gaikwad
The writer is managing director, Honeywell Automation India