IIoT: From Catchphrase to Reality

Manufacturing Engineering Magazine July 2018
By Bill Koenig

The Industrial Internet of Things is enabling advanced manufacturing. There are plenty of manufacturing catchphrases: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 and the Digital Factory. Digitalization is chaning a lot of things. It’s really driving new business models in many cases. People are finding that once they digitize more and more of their manufacturing, they are able to monetize more and more aspects of the data and the information they are able to collect.

IIoT refers to “connected” industrial equipment capable of generating, collecting and transmitting data from machines. Maintenance can occur via devices such as tablet computers or smartphones. More data is generated and it’s shared more widely within a manufacturing operation. IIoT enables manufacturers to connect to all these different devices and then pull together for a cohesive whole.

Big Names in the IIoT

Big names in manufacturing are working to turn the catchphrases into reality. Industrial Internet of Things is around the convergence of our work in creating digital twins, or digital models of our industrial systems. With the advances in computing power over the past decades, we now have the ability to not only collect and analyze the most important data. We can also create more powerful digital twins and build control systems into our machines to take full advantage of those twins. This is what the emergence of the IIoT is making possible.

The digital twin of production, which is enabling the planning out of your production processes and the digital twin of performance. If you have an IIoT-enabled product, you have to engineer it into the product. We have the tools that enable that.

Put another way, a digital twin is a virtual model of a process or system, and serves as a bridge between the physical and digital world. The virtual world requires data aggregation from the physical world for data analysis and system monitoring through an IIoT-based system to resolve problems before they even occur and prevent downtime using simulations.

According to executives, the IIoT is enabling even more automation than before. IIoT brings together a more robust sending, control and IT (Information Technology). IT will now have more oversight into all the devices on the factory floor across multiple plants. IT will also have to collaborate with OT (Operational Technology) to provide a more robust automation strategy. One area where manufacturers expect the IIoT to come into play is the deployment of collaborative robots as well as improving the performance of conventional robots.

IIoT Promotes Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are capable of working in close proximity to humans. Until now, robots have performed tasks while separated from human operators and production employess. The IIoT with “advanced sensors and the network of smart devices promotes collaborative robots on the shop floor and allows human and robots to work together safely and efficiently in an uncaged environment. With more cobots, “workers and robots would work together efficiently in an uncaged cell without the risk of damages and injuries.

At this stage, we are entering a period where you will see robots and humans working more collaboratively. The key to making this collaboration stronger is enabling the robots to more instinctively relate to humans like two humans would relate to each other. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be keys to pushing us down this path.

Robot maker FANUC Corp. has been actively developing cobot models, such as the CR-35iA, which has a payload of 35 kg. The robot stops when its sensors detect contact with an operator or objects within a work cell. According to the company, IIoT will be a boost to robots generally. IIoT will enable greater use of all robots, not just collaborative robots. IIoT could help detect changes in various safety settings of any robot system and notify the plant if there are unplanned changes occurring in order to ensure the system remains safe as it was designed.

In addition, in the long term, IIoT for traditional robots means detecting inefficiencies and problems sooner in order to save time and money, while also improving quality. This will be the same for collaborative robot systems that are deployed into plants utilizing IIoT.

Cybersecurity Need

There is an equal and opposite reaction. With the IIoT, the equivalent is for every advancement in technology, the greater the need for cybersecurity. Most industrial devices were never intended to be exposed over an open network link to the Internet. As a consequence, they do not have the proper security in place to protect data from being stolen or being hacked.

Many systems are also not able to talk to the cloud or support bidirectional communications. Data should be secured using standardized, enterprise-class security protocols and mechanisms. OEMs and manufacturers should authenticate devices and encrypt data transport from end to end.

It’s critical that security is addressed at every level when building an IIoT solution. There needs to be more partnerships between solution providers and information technology companies. Cybersecurity must become even more vigilant and it can’t be a one-dimensional strategy where you just build a better firewall. For example, we believe the use of digital twins and controls can allow you to have a system that not only acts as a shield, but also takes action to fight off or neutralize a given cyber threat, just like out human immune system. GE is developing a cybersecurity technology called Digital Ghost, which a GE senior research scientist said it would be the world’s first industrial immune system.

At Siemens, they have a group over 1000 people who work on cybersecurity at plants. The data is the customer’s, so we have to keep up with the people who are trying to outsmart you.

Place for the Little Guy?

One question that remains is whether IIoT can extend beyond its big manufacturing advocates such as GE and Siemens. Much manufacturing continues to be performed at medium- to small-size job shops, which produce parts and assemblies. According to GE, the IIoT is a natural for the smaller manufacturers.

In some cases it may be the small- and mid-size shops that develop new solutions first. As physical and digital technologies have converged and the IIoT space has emerged, we have seen an increasing democratization of manufacturing. This is allowing more companies and entrepreneurs, big and small, to be part of the manufacturing ecosystem.

‘Easy to deploy’ and ‘easy to secure’ are two essential characteristics for any IIoT application to successfully scale down for use in smaller operations, especially at job shops. Siemens works with smaller users, and the technology is such that “it makes it easy for a small company to get started, maybe even without a person coming on site. Siemens have an industrialized PC, which it’s an easy device to plug into the network. IIoT advocates say the technology has momentum on the factory floor.

What you get are controls and optimization systems with much bigger brains to see, think and act on insights on their own, whether they are running to control and optimize specific products and sub-components or entire supply chain systems, manufacturing systems or sub-systems. Because the digital twins can continuously learn and adapt, the controls and optimization technologies behind an automation strategy become more and more valuable over time.

Still, even the advocates acknowledge some manufacturers are hesitant.

There are a lot of people who don’t know how to get started with IoT. So, advices from vice president of marketing for Siemens’ cloud applications is to do a bite-sized project to get started. Get in and try it. If you’re not doing it, you can be your competitors are.