IIoT / Smart Manufacturing

Is it sorcery or the IIoT?

Thomas Wilk says move beyond the buzz and improve life on your "island."

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

When it comes to the digital transformation of the modern factory, about the only thing exceeding people’s interest is the level of buzz surrounding it. For many, the boldness of the promise offered by the IIoT can seem a bit overblown, with the technology often appearing as much a matter of sorcery as engineering.

Once upon a time in the far-off kingdom of Columbus, OH, I taught a class that blended both of these areas. The Ohio State English department figured out pretty fast that science and literature were areas of equal interest for me, so they asked me to teach a writing class titled “Values, Science, Technology” that led off with the one-two punch of Arthur C. Clarke and William Shakespeare.

Clarke was up to bat first, as we all digested the three laws that he set out in the 1973 edition of “Profiles of the Future”:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

We then moved directly into Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” in which the powerful sorcerer Prospero has been deposed by his brother and then shipwrecked on an island with his daughter Miranda. Prospero uses his powers to build a new kingdom on the island and submit other island spirits to his control, and later he engineers a second shipwreck that enables their escape.

The interesting thing, though, is that Prospero performs only one act of magic on stage; the rest of his powers can be explained away through savvy use of technology as well as a strong ability to manage people.

In this spirit, to cut through some of the hype surrounding digital manufacturing, our cover story this month showcases six real-world applications of the industrial internet of things in the area of maintenance and reliability. Six different “magicians” share their stories of IIoT success, from a beer brewer to an offshore driller and from a steel manufacturer to an electric utility. The one thing these plant teams have in common  is the drive to explore the benefits that the IIoT can offer them in the form of facility-specific applications.

Also in this issue, ARC Advisory Group’s Ralph Rio lays out the ways in which dealers, rental companies, and OEM suppliers are engaging with IIoT technologies in order to help plants achieve performance improvements. Even if you’re not ready to engage tomorrow with the internet of things, it may be worth starting a conversation or two with these partners to get a sense of what is possible.

After all, anyone who says that it’s impossible to add a little IIoT magic to your job is very probably wrong.