The Internet of Things is now entering the phase of transition from just being a buzzword to becoming a reality. IoT is transforming healthcare, retail, mobility, manufacturing, and electronics into a service by delivering more than just a product. In manufacturing, IIoT is converting traditional products into interactive and intelligent devices, providing factory users with an immersive experience each time the product is used. Industrial IoT envisions a future of convergence of three main criteria.

  • Technology – Leveraging the best of sensing technology, communication, data storage, and processing and user interaction tools to achieve highest levels of automation in each sector
  • Process – Seamless integration of business processes interconnecting customers, sales, production, enterprise, and employees to facilitate ubiquitous information flow allowing near-real-time decision making
  • Collaboration – Allowing interaction between people and systems around the globe, creating a collaborative ecosystem of continuous learning where man and machine work in tandem towards set objectives

Fragments of the IIoT Architecture

The Industrial IoT architecture consists of layers of hardware and software technology interacting with one another and the user. The bottom most layer consists of intelligent sensors mounted on machines and devices of interest to collect specific parameters related to its performance. These are raw data which are transmitted to a data storage hub via communication devices located in the second layer. The communication devices are crucial as they connect to devices of varying protocols and streamline them into a single communicating channel; bringing interoperability into the IIoT system.

The third layer consists of data storage infrastructure primarily being classified as in-premise metal storage and on-cloud storage. The ability to store a vast amount of data has now expanded the realm of possibilities that can utilize the power of data to derive insights. The final and the most important layer consists of analytics, visualization, and user interaction tools that actually form the face value of Industrial IoT. This is the layer where IIoT platforms come into play.

IIoT platforms allow for ubiquitous connectivity between the entire set of concerned infrastructure, starting from sensing devices, communication devices, and storage to end-user operational and business management systems. It also serves as the base for all analytic tools to operate with inflowing data and to transport the relevant data form to the user interface.
The platform allows for application development and deployment according to user requirement. The platform possesses relevant tools to test, debug, and customize applications according to the user. It is really at the platforms where data grows into insights and is set out to transform the world. Such is the power of an IoT platform.

This Frost & Sullivan perspective is aimed at shedding light on the various capabilities of IIoT platforms and how they can be of use to manufacturers in different industries.

Edge Devices

Traditionally, data from sensors is fed into sensor software and then transmitted to third-party process control SCADA system for complete process control or fed as binary signals directly into the local PLC controller device. The data is seldom tracked because of the limitation in data storage and processing prowess. IoT platforms armed with IoT gateways offer interoperability between differing device protocols with their multi-protocol handshake feature. Because of cloud storage and technological advancements in high-speed data processing, sensor devices fitted with communication boards can relay data over time directly to the platforms. This transcends the need to have multiple intermediate data transfer mediums, and therefore, streamlines all factory data uniformly.

This edging capability of IIoT platforms aids factories to choose and install the best-suited sensor for their application without worrying about the need to separately integrate them into the IoT platform, speeding up their adoption rate and journey into IoT.

Translating IIoT into Business Returns

The ease to connect and update factory operations to enterprise applications is one of the critical needs of IIoT platforms. The translation of raw machine and production data into sales and profit numbers essentially forms the crux of IoT and aids organizations in monetizing value from IoT platforms.

Starting from asset management to supply chain tracking, all the data corresponding to infrastructure health can be tracked, monitored, and reported simultaneously in real time to plant managers, business applications, and machine vendors. The daily component production can then be dynamically reassigned based on this data. From the front end, real-time sales reports can be used to automatically generate demand charts; these charts, when linked along with equipment health charts in the platform, can aid in arriving at a feasible and profitable production schedule for every working day. Policies, constraints, variables, and limiting factors can be fed into the analytics models in the platform. As the platform allows for free information exchange between its modules, statuses can be updated and relayed in real time to decision makers speeding up efficiency and decision making, ultimately leading to reduced costs and increase in productivity.

Compacting into Apps

In today’s “app economy”, the user inclination towards having information literally on fingertips has increased multifold. IIoT platforms allow development of third-party apps similar to mobile-app development on smartphone operating systems. Due to modular platform architecture, app developers can simply pick and choose data modules relevant to the intended application of the customer, organize layout and interaction features, and deploy the app. Some platforms have an inbuilt capability that allows automatic scaling and graphic alignment according to the device (smartphone, tablet, etc.). Multi-user handling feature in the mobility module allows several users to access specific information of interest to them in real time. The scalability of an IoT platform allows users to pick, choose, and customize data access in the app to a relevant cadre of personnel relaying only necessary information to the people involved.

Although only a very few IoT platform developers are currently offering this option, most of the available platforms open up for third-party app development as an extension of platform features.

The Risk of Information Security

The idea of exposing process data unique to the company’s operations has always caused hiccups to the decision makers. The advent of IoT has made it even more evident as network hacking technology is evolving faster than the algorithms to prevent hacking. On the ground level, data security ensures that sensor data is published to the correct subscribers and that data remains private during transmission. This includes communication from the devices and IoT gateways to the platform, as well as from the platform to connected business applications and systems.

Most of the industrial legacy equipment were designed and installed with minimal security in mind. They were meant to work in silos, only occasionally connecting to Internet or the web. Therefore, integration of legacy equipment with security network requires modification of operational infrastructure compatible with the legacy equipment, calling for additional costs. In addition, many industrial facilities such as oil and gas and power generation work round the clock to maintain connectivity and control 24 x 7x 365. Therefore, there is a rising concern among plant managers that IIoT systems connected to public cloud may experience connectivity issues leading to loss of sensitive data.

On the other hand, although data security is a lingering concern, availability of low-cost sensors and rapid application development tools will enable organizations to deploy their factories onto IIoT platforms sooner than expected.

About Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

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