Have you noticed how defining a technology acronym does very little to explain what it is? Take IIoT. What is an industrial internet of things? Is it different than the internet of things (IoT)? Exactly what are "things"?
Things in IoT refer to any device or sensor that can communicate with other “things” over an internet connection. Fitness trackers, Apple watches, and Alexa are examples of things. In the industrial or manufacturing world, IIoT refers to devices or things that are connected to a network for the enterprise-wide exchange of data. For example, a device reports the condition of a piece of equipment connected to the network. The data generates an alert that service is needed.
How IIoT Works
In simplest terms, IIoT devices refer to anything with an on/off switch and some level of intelligence to collect and transmit information. These devices can be sensors, wearable devices, or embedded microchips connected to an IP-enabled or wireless network. The collected data is sent over the network to a gateway. The gateway connects to a computer system, such as the cloud, where the data is extracted and converted into actionable information. The actionable data can be used for:
- Predictive maintenance; Based on information received from endpoints, field service technicians identify potential problems in customer equipment before they become a significant concern.
- Asset tracking; Using IIoT, suppliers, manufacturers, and customers track products throughout the supply chain. From the transmitted data, the system notifies personnel if items are damaged or delayed in transit. People can make adjustments in the supply chain to accommodate the change before it becomes a crisis.
- Facility management; Placing sensors throughout a factory provides continuous data on environmental factors that can damage equipment. Using reports generated from the data, engineers can make adjustments to ensure optimum operating conditions.
As more companies integrate IIoT into their daily operations, they are finding ways to use the information to improve customer service and facilitate decision making. Although the IIoT concept has been around since the 19th century, only recently have manufacturing companies such as Volvo or Caterpillar deployed the technology with increasing levels of success.
Caterpillar uses its IIoT to share knowledge with its customers. The goal is to provide customers with insights that can move them from a "repair-after-failure" to a "repair-before-failure" mode. Caterpillar’s customers have used company-provided data for years to understand the health of their equipment, to monitor their fleets, and to improve operations.
With the move to IIoT, Caterpillar collects data from sensors, analyzes it, and provides information on a customer’s equipment in real-time. Access to real-time information enables customers to do more to improve performance and prevent unexpected downtime. Sharing machine-generated data in an actionable form makes for more reliable decision making.
Given IIoT’s success, Caterpillar plans to give its customers web-based and mobile tools through its dealer networks. Adding value for its customers through knowledge sharing strengthens its relationships with dealers and customers. Doug Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, believes ”it's time [Caterpillar] takes [customer service] to the next level.”
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the many things connected to an IIoT. For Volvo, AR is becoming a key component of its design and quality-control processes. Using augmented-reality headsets, the company’s engineers overlay information onto existing configurations to test design concepts or to capture defects during testing. With this IIoT implementation, engineers can make adjustments much earlier in the design and manufacturing processes, which results in significant cost savings.
According to Volvo, the AR headsets can be worn while driving. The headsets overlay virtual elements on top of what is seen. This ability enables designers to evaluate new features before they are added to design models or mockups. Without knowledge sharing, changes in the development process would be impossible. To be effective, the insights gained through IIoT must be converted into usable and accessible information.
Volvo also uses an AR solution to allow operators to overlay an existing engine with the latest 3D engine configuration. Comparing the two engines in real-time speeds up the process of analyzing defects. The original process was paper-based and required hours of research to collect the information engineers needed to understand the problem.
This IIoT process provides bi-directional data sharing. The latest design information is available to operators, and specific defects are transmitted to engineers for evaluation. Without real-time access to shared data, the time to market would be significantly greater.
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Although SLAC is not a manufacturing company, its use of IIoT to monitor its campus-wide systems is an indication of the value of IIoT’s enterprise-wide implementation. SLAC refers to the laboratory’s original name --Stanford Linear Accelerator Center – where the world’s leading scientists and engineers conduct research. The laboratory has five facilities that house state-of-the-art equipment for studying astrophysics to molecular science.
The scientists and engineers are implementing an IIoT system that uses intelligent sensors to monitor the one-of-a-kind equipment throughout the facility. These sensors collect enumerable data points to ensure all equipment is calibrated correctly, that the operating environment is optimized, and predictive maintenance is performed. The SLAC IIoT system feeds the mass of data into the cloud, where it is converted into actionable information for control engineers. When a facility that has produced six Nobel Prize winners trusts IIoT technology to monitor its high precision equipment, it's fair to say the technology is here to stay.
Knowledge Management Systems
IIoT IS knowledge sharing. If the devices on the network cannot exchange data, IIoT doesn’t work. Granted, a lot of the data is exchanged in binary form – zeros and ones -- but eventually, the data is converted into information that people can use. Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) can reside comfortably at this intersection.
KMS gives people the ability to transform those zeros and ones into usable information. With proper controls, end-users access a single source for information. There’s no need to reverse engineer where the data came from. That means, faster delivery of information to train employees or to present the latest product trends. It also means that the format of the data can be tailored to the device as well as the end-user. To learn more about how a knowledge management system can exist on the IIoT, talk to one of our experts.
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