Small is beautiful with IIoT

It appears, many companies are still daunted by IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) when in fact simple, small steps can lead to success, as Alan Johnson reports.

IIoT’s potential lies in using the correct solutions to link automation systems with enterprise planning, scheduling and product lifecycle systems.

The first thing people need to realise is that IIoT is not a thing you can buy, but a methodology.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is often described as a revolution that is changing the face of manufacturing industry in a profound manner.

However, in reality it is more of an evolution that has its origins in technologies and functionalities developed by visionary automation suppliers more than 15 years ago.

As the industry and necessary global standards further mature, experts believe it may well take another 15 years to realise its full potential.

According to Brad Yager, who has been implementing industrial automation solutions for close to 20 years, the key to successfully implementing IIoT is to start small and build from there.

Yager, who is now Director of Offer Management and Business Development for the Pacific region with Schneider Electric Australia, says that with over two billion connected users today and an expected 507.5ZB of information produced by IoT devices by 2019, changes to the industry will certainly be far-reaching.

“The potential lies in using the correct solutions to link automation systems with enterprise planning, scheduling and product lifecycle systems.”

While that might sound daunting, he says in reality it’s not that difficult to achieve at all.

“The first thing people need to realise is that IIoT is not a thing you can buy, but a methodology. “It’s about starting small looking at an actual project, maybe narrowing it down to just motor control to start with, as an example,”

Yager told PACE magazine. The first step, he advises, is to pick a small part of a plant, do a pilot project, and “stay focused”.

Once that is completed, he says companies should evaluate their ROI and if positive, roll it out to other parts of the plant.

“We at Schneider look at it in three different ways; asset performance, enterprise control and lifecycle costs.

“Companies should look at what they can do to reduce their lifecycle costs, as they can be 10 to 15 times more than the initial purchasing cost; and look at it an augmented operator way to get that actual timely insight information.

“For example, on our latest motor control drives, if there is an error or malfunction it will put forward a dynamic QR code so an engineer can snap that with his phone which will take him to exactly where he needs to go.

“We can do that today, just by upgrading a drive for example; a very small incremental improvement delivering actionable insights and improving performance.”

“The final pillar, a smarter enterprise control, is just about getting the transparency required within a plant,” Yager explained.

Different layers

According to Yager there are four key levels of IIoT, with the first layer being the things that need to be connected. “We see this as a general evolution of the industrial automation phase.

Schneider first adopted what it calls the transparent-ready control layer back in 1997 where it took the step of saying any control product it produces should have Internet-level connectivity.

“The next layer is the control of these things, and being mission-critical for our applications, it’s important that we prioritise the operation over the information.

“He says this is the key difference between the IIot (Industrial Internet of Things) and the generic Iot (Internet of Things) where it’s just about the information.

“Back in 1997 these things were connected within their local environment. What we now see happening, with the benefits of greater transparency and information can provide, we are getting that Internet-level of connectivity.

“With these connected things we are now able to extract that data, which can be in the Cloud or on-premise.

Once companies do that, that’s when they can add a layer of analytics to take that data and turn it into information.”

Yager says a key point is taking that information and turning it into an actionable insight.

“In a manufacturing plant, for example, this might be a precise preventative maintenance action on an electric motor.

“Saying exactly what and when the maintenance is needed is powerful message, especially when you look at the generational change that’s happening in the workplace.”

Yager points out that the average length of people staying with an employer is now just over two years.

“Meaning in an automation or manufacturing operation today, employers can’t rely on employees knowing how a process has been done in previous years. If that person doesn’t get that information in a timely and actionable way he or she can’t be effective,” Yager said.

Present technology

Many companies might not realise that they often don’t need any new technology or software to take advantage of IIoT initially.

According to Yager, they can use the technologies of today, rather than waiting for the technologies of tomorrow. He pointed to the IEA (International Energy Authority) who recently stated that by just using today’s technology companies can improve their energy efficiencies by 58% in industrial applications.

“As long as the ‘things’ they are using have non-proprietary protocols, it does not matter who the manufacturer of the ‘thing’ is.

“If you take that approach, and have systems that use open-standard products, as Schneider has, then it is very easy.“

He says other benefits of IIoT include adaptable supply chains and the ability to adapt to a changing workforce environment.

“To bring in new people with innovative ideas so that the systems will allow them to focus on improving the product processes and forming a better end customer experience.”

According to Yager, it doesn’t really matter which industry companies are in to make savings, and says IIoT is not just for large companies.

“In fact the opposite. SMEs have a far higher level of flexibility to roll out these type of improvements and can be big differentiators against the bigger players.

“As I said it can be as simple as a small motor. If someone has a motor driving something in their plant, they can implement an IIoT solution.”

To prepare for generational shifts, he says savvy organisations are adopting Operational Intelligence (OI), a data-driven, real-time analytics that provide visibility and insight into business operations.

“But OI is not essential, that’s not the starting point, companies can introduce that level over time.” It’s a similar story with SCADA, he says a SCADA system is great way of accessing the information, but it’s not essential.

“What we are seeing in these architectures now, with our latest PLCs for example, is information being able to flow through the processor onto the backplane without having to interact with the control philosophy at all.

“Which means operators can have any type of device plugged into that same network, assuming they have the correct security protocols in place, and gain access via that PLC directly down to the process layer and send information to other intelligent devices connected by the Internet.

“And that doesn’t have to be SCADA, it could be an asset management system or a web page on a hand-held HMI that is getting data out of an intelligent device,” Yager said.

Before starting the IIoT journey

While it’s relatively easy to get started on the IIoT journey, Yager warns that it is vitally important to make sure the data is secure before starting to connect things.

He believes we don’t give enough credit to cyber security. “Information is important, but in critical applications or in plant-based applications often it’s the operation that is more important than the information.”

He says there’s not enough focus on people prioritising their operations.

“I would advocate people, when they start doing these IIoT designs, to make sure they approach it in a cyber secure way and carry out a cyber security audit with an operational focus, which is probably step number one.

“By conducting a cyber security audit with operation as a priority, instead of information, the audit can uncover several potential problems.

Could be something as simple as an old switch in the network, which if it was to fail could bring the whole system down. “It’s all about risk mitigation, and process improvement after that,” Yager said.

IoT survey

Late last year Schneider conducted an IoT survey on close to 3000 companies worldwide, including Australia, and found a big change since the last time they ran the survey, a few years ago.

Instead of 50% of respondents thinking IoT will make a difference to their business, that figure had risen substantially to 80%.

“More people are wanting to adopt it, but still not understanding the how. I think that’s where we are at the moment and is very indicative of what we have here in Australia.”

The survey’s findings revealed that 75% of businesses are optimistic about the opportunities the IoT presents this year, including improved customer experience and cost savings in automation.

Regarding improved customer experience 63% of respondents plan to use the IoT to analyse customer behaviour in 2016, with faster problem resolution, better customer service and customer satisfaction ranking among the top five potential business benefits. Industrial automation represented one of the highest potential annual cost savings, 62%, with results showing automation technologies will be the future of the IoT.

Schneider Electric

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