Embracing the industrial Internet

Common vocabularies, reference architectures, test beds to drive wider IIoT adoption, says Richard Soley.

By Richard Soley, Industrial Internet Consortium

In his 1999 book “Business @ the Speed of Thought,” Bill Gates wrote, “A fundamental new rule for business is that the Internet changes everything.” But has it really?

In many cases, the Internet has not changed the way we live as much as we might think it has. The discrete manufacturing systems I worked on in the 1970s have seen only incremental improvements in the intervening years and remain basically disconnected from plant information systems. Ladder diagrams still rule the factory floor, despite that fact that more-advanced, readable, and maintainable solutions exist. In 2015 as in 1973, medical monitoring devices and medical robotics often still are largely disconnected. No, the Internet did not change everything. There is still so much more that can be done. Geological data from oil and gas exploration can be integrated from multiple sensing sources. Failure sensing and automatic rerouting can be enacted by railroads. The list goes on.

The technological revolution that will shepherd in these changes is known as the Industrial Internet, and it’s the natural successor to both the Industrial and Internet revolutions. The Industrial Internet has a measurable outcome for the global economy in the trillions of dollars. Gartner estimated in 2013 that IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion in 2020. And GE estimated in 2012 that, by 2025, the Industrial Internet could be applicable to $82 trillion of output, or around half of the global economy.

How can we make sense of these numbers? As revolutionary new products and services emerge as a result of the further development of Industrial Internet technologies, new markets will be created, and revenue will be generated. The workforce will become more productive with the digitization of tasks and better deployment of resources. Maintenance costs will be reduced thanks to the wider use of predictive maintenance. Material and energy will be conserved thanks to a reduced need for product overengineering, and waste will be minimized because precision monitoring will help predict and control machine performance. Furthermore, improved service levels will lead to fewer unplanned disruptions, which means greater customer satisfaction. We may be headed for a world in which products no longer fail, or if they do, we have a replacement in hand before the failure happens.

With all of these wonderful benefits awaiting us, why are Industrial Internet technologies not already widely in use? Unfortunately, there are roadblocks to widespread adoption. Efforts to forward development have been disjointed amongst industry, academia, and governments; standards have not been set; security is still a major concern for connected machines and devices; and the technology is still in the experimentation stage in many industries.

In March 2014, AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel joined together to form the Industrial Internet Consortium, an open, neutral “sandbox” where industry, academia, and government can collaborate, innovate, and enable Industrial Internet technologies. The Industrial Internet Consortium’s mission is to accelerate the growth of the Industrial Internet by coordinating ecosystem initiatives to connect and integrate objects with people, processes, and data using common architectures, interoperability, and open standards that lead to transformational business outcomes.

Since its founding, the Industrial Internet Consortium has grown to include more than 220 members from 27 countries. Members hail from large corporations, small startups, government agencies, academia, and not-for-profits.

Core activities fall into three main areas that drive new opportunities for Industrial Internet Consortium members: 1) the Industrial Internet Consortium ecosystem, 2) technology and security, and 3) test beds. The ecosystem reflects companies joining together to advance innovation, ideas, best practices, thought leadership, and insights.

Technology and security includes architectural frameworks, including the group’s recently released Industrial Internet Reference Architecture, as well as standards requirements, interoperability, use cases, and Big Data privacy and security. Test beds are the innovations that drive new products, processes, and services.

To date, the Industrial Internet Consortium has launched nine test beds:

  • Track & Trace is reinventing manufacturing by bringing the Industrial Internet to manufacturing devices on the factory floor, making them more efficient and safer
  • Communications & Control for Microgrid Applications is bringing the Industrial Internet to energy grids, integrating new energy sources as well as online energy storage
  • INFINITE is connecting ambulances that are en route to a hospital with hospital personnel
  • Condition Monitoring & Predictive Maintenance is improving machine uptime by detecting issues before they become full-blown problems
  • The High-Speed Network Infrastructure is installing high-speed fiber-optic lines to enable faster, seamless data transfer
  • Asset Efficiency collects asset information in real-time and runs analytics to increase ROI on those assets
  • Factory Operations Visibility & Intelligence allows for factory environment simulation to improve operations
  • Edge Intelligence will accelerate the development of future test beds and Industrial Internet applications
  • Industrial Digital Thread assigns a digital “birth certificate” to individual machine parts to track them throughout their lifetime

What about standards, though? They are clearly going to be critical in enabling the widespread adoption of the Industrial Internet. Plenty of standards focused on the communications level already exist; among these are the Object Management Group’s Data Distribution Services (DDS) standard. What is going to be critical for adopting the Industrial Internet in all industries are semantic standards. Through the innovation coming out of its test beds and reference architecture documents, the Industrial Internet Consortium will become a source for standards requirements and priorities for its liaison standard organizations (including OMG, GS1, the Open Interconnect Consortium, Oasis, Eclipse, SGIP, DIN, UPnP, and The Open Group).

Thanks to the Industrial Internet, we can now ask new questions: How can we save lives through better patient care? How will we reduce passenger fatalities? How will we reduce waste of natural resources? You can bet that the Industrial Internet will provide answers to all of these questions in the future.