Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
This is an really important question. Are we ready for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)? Maybe not, but for a more positive spin, we’ve begun building the path to it.
As it stands
In my career, I’ve visited many companies and segments, and sometimes I had trouble selling solutions. After a while, I saw a similarity among the companies – they still used analog and didn’t want anything digital! Granted, I only met resistance at a handful of businesses. But the number of companies ready to think differently seems too small compared to the companies plodding along with analog.
I also spotted a different problem at other plants. They had digital communication, like PROFIBUS or FOUNDATION FIELDBUS, but they used them as analog! The field techs went to the field to pull data because they didn’t have remote access to the devices or didn’t like to use it. Of course, these situations occur for many reasons, so I can’t say they resist the future like the first companies. But they do still seem stuck in the past.
The next step
Fortunately, it looks like it would only take a few nudges to unstick these businesses. They have the data and the tech to join the future within the devices they already have in their plants. They just need to start using them.
If you pay attention, then you’ll see that manufacturers have already had this idea. They’ve begun to sell new messages for some of their old tools, pushing the IIoT concept within these solutions. Therefore, you can draw more value from the HART devices you already have. You just need to configure your perspective to the new process!
Think about it. These devices pull lots of data that you never use! For many years, automation companies pushed the idea of plant asset management (PAM), right? PAM systems bring you all the information from the field, and you can access the field devices remotely and record conditions for diagnosis or audit trails.
How different is that from new IIoT solutions? Only a little.
A short hop from here to there
So we have that data sitting out there, waiting for us to use it. How do we collect it? As we know, most plants still use analog. I’ve written about the integration of HART field devices into an IIoT system, but in a nutshell, you have several choices like multiplexers and wireless solutions.
If you switch to a distributed control system (DCS), you may need the plant information management system (PIMS) from the DCS vendor because other software can’t read the data through the control system. The same can happen with the multiplexer you choose. Even wireless solutions can have similar limits.
If you go with PROFIBUS and FOUNDATION FIELDBUS, you need a gateway to access field devices remotely. And you can’t just buy a gateway and stick it in your network. If you want condition monitoring for your PROFIBUS or FF system, then you need to check your network conditions before install a condition monitoring system. The master II needs enough time to read the data from all the field devices.
When you use an Ethernet solution like EtherNet-IP and PROFINET, you won’t get much for condition monitoring of each field device through a PAM solution. You can do that through the programmable logic controller (PLC). However, most of the time the interface works better for automation rather than instrumentation devices.
You may think it irrelevant, but when you put platforms side by side (automation and instrumentation), you can see how some try to simplify the customer experience. You can also see where some automation software won’t give you the same experience.
We lack good solutions for condition monitoring with EtherNet-IP and PROFINET field devices, with most of them as point-to-point communication instead of constant remote monitoring.
Finding a rhythm
Now that you can get the data, you can tackle problems better. When something goes wrong, your devices should tell you what happened and why. They should also provide data for the problem’s impact on your process and schedule. Then you can make decisions and take action before the little problem becomes a big, expensive one.
We do still have a challenge to overcome, though. While all these vendors tout the “new IIoT solution” as the savior for all your problems, they neglect one tiny issue.
Their devices work great and communicate with the system well – as long as you use only their devices and systems!
A third party in your network can get left out. For example, if you have Endress’s FDT/DTM framework, you may lack access to advanced functions on your Emerson devices.
Some systems that create condition monitoring need specific files. A HART solution works well because they have most of the files from different companies, but if you go PROFIBUS or FF, you’ll run into limits on your field data.
To the beat of the same drum
Standardization is a big issue for IoT integration, although the industrial side seems to handle it okay. Field devices have the same open protocol as HART, FF, and PROFIBUS, where you can install them together and they’ll work without issue.
On the other hand, when you head for higher levels, you’ll run into PIMS, big data, and cloud platform. You can’t get the same level of information for different brands, and sometimes companies use this strategy to force brand loyalty. Does anyone else see the problem here?
Can we find a brand-neutral solution? After all, field protocols are nearly the same for most brands. Let’s just say not yet. Believe me, I get why they do it. Software and upgrades won’t create enough revenue, so they need these sales to keep their own processes going.
However, as an end user, I’d like to choose the best field device or service that offers the same performance regardless of what else I use.
Getting everybody to dance
Sadly, most customers don’t even know that they need to choose, much less what they should choose! Many also lack the confidence to try plant-wide digital or wireless communication. This reluctance could stem from earlier unsuccessful attempts to use such networks.
I had a chance to hear these concerns in a meeting once. Direct from the customers, I heard that they don’t want to hear about digital anymore because they had bad experiences with it. The project and implementation took too much time, so they decided to go analog to simplify and avoid network problems. Most of them think that 4-20 mA will work fine even with poor installation.
Of course, not all customers have this attitude. You can find companies open to new protocols and solutions that may improve their processes and reduce maintenance issues. These companies will open the door for the IIoT to succeed in the market as a solution that everyone should use. In turn, the IIoT’s success will provide measurable benefits that will show how the IoT can add value in everyday activities.
We need to break a lot of barriers before we can see a successful IIoT. Today we mix old tools with new ideas for remote access and data analysis. In the automation world, you have a few cases of IIoT success, where the solutions come as a complete package from a manufacturer for machinery monitoring or steam monitoring.
As of yet, you won’t find a case involving an entire plant filled with smart devices and different brands in the field, where all data goes through the standalone or cloud platform.
Still, before we start believing everything we see on the internet, we need to think about our facts and situations. How will the IIoT change manufacturing? How will it benefit my process? Which products should I use? How much third-party access will this platform provide? And more.
I’m an IIoT enthusiast, and I really believe that we can add value now by using smart devices and data analysis. However, we still have far to go to get a brand-neutral solution that can read any device in your plant.
The solutions currently on the market work well if you have devices all from one company, but they fall short when paired with third-party devices.
So tell me this: How many of you work in a plant with only one brand installed?
Below you have a bunch of companies offering Industrial IoT system:
You can read more about Industrial IoT applications:
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