How the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is shaping up Industry 4.0

  • Published: 25-May-2018

Industry 4.0 promises faster decision making, enhanced efficiency and less production of waste, creating smart factories and overhauling the manufacturing processes

We are witnessing the advent of the fourth industrial revolution. Concepts such as smart industries and the Internetof Things (IoT) are converging in an intricate web of communications and information technology. However, as these concepts are still in their infancy, precise definitions have not been developed yet. As a point of reference, we can define the Internet of Things as the smart connectivity of objects through which they can communicate with each other, thereby entirely changing the way decisions pertaining to our physical environment are taken. The Internet of Things has found application in the industrial arena as well, and devices and sensors have taken over the factory in the manufacturing arena. This phenomenon where the industry is largely adopting the Internet of Things has been given a new name – the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT.

The IIoT is fundamentally changing the way we run manufacturing processes in industries and these revolutionary changes converge in the concept of Industry 4.0. The first industrial revolution was powered by the steam engine, the second by the advent of electricity and the assembly line production concept and the third industrial revolution was powered by the coming together of computers and automation. The latest industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 is powered by the internet and web based sensors and applications through which a massive amount of big data is generated.

Germany is spearheading the fourth industrial revolution and is leading the adoption of smart technology. The main aim of the fourth industrial revolution is to actively reshape the entire manufacturing industry, as it combines the realms of the physical, virtual, IT and cyberspace worlds to create enhanced productivity and processes that enable a new relationship between man and machine. This rapid pace of evolution encompasses massive change in every sphere of industrial activity, large or small, leading to enhanced benefits brought by the technologies created and the communication platforms built, so that production of goods and services can be revolutionised. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will lead to sweeping changes in the way industries operate and this will pave the way for the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0.

There is an increasing need and ability to connect manufacturing equipment to a cloud based network and derive extensive value from such connections and also gather a massive amount of data in the process. Although it is still in its nascent stage, the foundation of this important connectivity between manufacturing hubs and web based networks has already been laid. It is in the form of standards such as MTConnect that is making this connectivity possible. This standard provides a language to machine tools through which they can express themselves with the help of software applications.MTConnect acts as a bridge between the industrial IoT and the connecting software, enabling seamless communication between humans and machines and the generation of big data. On the other hand, standards such as OPC-UA address the flexibility that is necessary for factory wide data communication. The OPC-UA standard helps ensure that the systems in place are compatible with one another. With the help of this standard, various pockets of automation in a factory are connected to a centralised command and control centre, and OPC-UA provides the architecture that connects these islands of automated systems to the data superhighway of the factory, and this superhighway is in turn connected to the internet.

The main advantage that manufacturersobtainin implementing the IIoT is to do with a faster and better decision making process. When the manufacturing devices are interconnected, they can generate vast amounts of critical data that can be used by humans to make better and faster decisions, in a timely and effective manner. By analysing the decisions thus made, manufacturers can achieve higher standards and benchmarks in the production process. These decisions will be based on pure data and analysis, thereby eliminating the role of guesswork and trial and error methods. This will lead to a much higher efficiency and less generation of waste. Factory managers will come to know instantly whether a manufacturing component is functioning at an optimal level or not. Changes can be made real time to the manufacturing processes and optimal levels and methods of production can be achieved based on the data provided by the IIoT enabled factory environments. However, the greatest challenge for the managers of such intelligent or smart factories would lie in answering questions such as what data to collect, who will get access to the information derived from this data, and how can this data be used to make correct decisions.

The other main advantage of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT is the fact that even though most of the manufacturing processes may be fully automated, humans will remain at the centre of the decision making process. In fact, this role of humans will grow both in importance and influence. However, to enable the workforce of Industry 4.0 to adapt to such sweeping changes, proper training is essential, as the workflow in manufacturing is likely to change dramatically. Another important aspect that comes to the fore while discussing Industry 4.0 and the IIoT is the security of such installations. Cyber threats to these installations include stealing of trade secrets and confidential manufacturing data, hostile alterations to the data feed and the complete disruption of the manufacturing process. Once the manufacturers connect their shop floor with the cloud or the internet, they become an easy target for cyber-attacks. Thus, keeping security in mind plays a huge role in making the IIoT viable.Manufacturers need to go step by step in creating a proper environment that can facilitate efficient proliferation ofIndustry 4.0.

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