Seize the IIoT in just 3 steps

Good news! You don't have to start from scratch. But here's what your maintenance and operations teams should be doing to prep for IIoT success.

By Bruce Hawkins, Emerson, and Scott Bruni, independent reliability consultant

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Today it’s pretty hard to pick up an industry trade publication or Google anything related to manufacturing and not find an article on the promise of the industrial internet of things (IIoT). Combine the IIoT with advancements in cloud computing and cyber-physical systems (autonomous smart physical assets), and the experts say the stage is set for new manufacturing realities to evolve. Gartner’s Emerging Technology Hype Cycle put the IIoT firmly at the “peak of inflated expectations.” Despite the hype, we will be – or are – bearing witness to the beginning of what many are calling Industry 4.0, the next industrial revolution.

Those old enough to remember carbon paper, overhead transparencies, fax machines, and phone booths as critically important business tools will no doubt be optimistic. The IIoT promises to redefine or add to the capabilities that organizations must master to be competitive, and it promises to do so sooner rather than later. Rest assured that it will have considerable impact. Accenture estimates it could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Is your organization ready?

That said, no one can actually deliver on the complete IIoT vision today. This is the stuff of tomorrow’s competitive landscape. Although vendors have been working for more than two decades to develop and perfect smarter instruments, realizing the full promise across a much broader set of assets will require significant collaboration, development work, and the establishment of a great many new standards.

However, organizations should not use this as an excuse to wait to get started on better leveraging data from connected assets. There is a great deal you can do to ensure that your organization doesn’t go the way of the dodo bird. While industry players negotiate the standards required to enable the promise of the IIoT and Industry 4.0 and IT teams work on organizations’ information “plumbing,” maintenance and operations teams have an opportunity to do some very important foundation work.

I’ll have my data big, my factories smart, and my machines curious and chatty

Forget synergy, rightsizing, future-proofing, and a host of other terms. The new buzzword bingo cards sport terms such as big data, machine learning, and virtual twin. After unprecedented IT spending in the late 1990s, by 2005, many senior executives were taking a hard look at IT spend and demanding better returns. Despite this, the risks of chasing new and shiny IT things – to your organization’s detriment – are as real as they were back then. The organization’s focus should be balanced between new IT capabilities and leveraging legacy investments, not just IT investments.

Your plants do not have the benefit of the same kind of trade-up offered by cell phone providers that allow customers to upgrade their phones every two years. IIoT solutions must enable the previous century of capital investment if they hope to see timely adoption, so while your data is big and getting bigger, don’t let that consume all of your focus and attention.

Organizations have significant historical and real-time data that, with advanced analytical tools or machine-learning capabilities, can lead to improved but often incomplete understanding of your assets. You can close some information gaps, but one must also ask, “What am I missing?”

Pervasive sensing (think connected sensors almost everywhere, embedded or otherwise) is one of the keys to realizing the promise of the IIoT. Connected devices are critical and are growing in use, but according to a 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, only one-third of U.S. manufacturers use smart devices in manufacturing and operations. This leaves a large gap in what’s needed to optimize reliability, safety, efficiency, and ultimately financial return. For companies that are limited to legacy sensing investments, most of which were made decades ago to meet minimum automation requirements rather than lifecycle value optimization objectives, the benefits of the IIoT will be significantly limited and challenged in many cases to pay for themselves.

The good news is you aren’t starting from scratch. Your organization has already made investments in sensing that will support realization of the IIoT’s promise. Our experience setting up equipment health monitoring solutions would suggest that roughly 60% of the instrumentation needed for critical assets already exists. So we can start there.

Step 1: Know what you have

Or, stated more accurately, find out what you have. Do not underestimate the importance of knowing what you have when it comes to developing a winnable proposal. A solid inventory will give you a head start with prioritizing new needs and identifying where legacy instrumentation investment supports the future vision.

That sounds simple enough, but in practice it is generally far from simple. Most plants’ master equipment lists were developed over many years by multiple contributors. Those contributions were not frequently focused on developing an accurate inventory. Rather, much of the equipment hierarchy was probably created just to facilitate ordering parts, capture costs, or fulfill some other workflow-driven requirement. As a result, the CMMS is generally not the repository for an accurate inventory of the organization’s assets. But even if your organization has recently completed a major master data cleanup, there’s value in confirming the quality of what you have documented against what’s in the plant.

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