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?”

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