The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is the use of smart sensors and actuators to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes.

Also known as the industrial internet or Industry 4.0, IIoT employs the power of smart machines and real-time analytics to take advantage of the data that”dumb machines” have produced in industrial settings for years.

The driving philosophy behind the industrial internet of things is that smart machines are not only better than humans at capturing and analyzing data in real time, but they’re also better at communicating important information that can be used to drive business decisions faster and more accurately.

Connected sensors and actuators enable companies to pick up on inefficiencies and problems sooner and save time and money, while supporting business intelligence efforts. In manufacturing, specifically, IIoT holds great potential for quality control, sustainable and green practices, supply chain traceability, and overall supply chain efficiency. 

In almost any industrial setting, the industrial internet of things is key to procedures such as predictive maintenance (PdM), enhanced field service, energy management and asset tracking.

How does the industrial internet of things work?

IIoT is a network of intelligent devices connected to form systems that track, collect, exchange and analyze data. Each industrial IoT ecosystem consists of:

Connected devices that can sense, communicate and store information about themselves; public and/or private data communications infrastructure;

analytics and applications that generate business information from raw data;

storage for the data that is generated by the IIoT devices; and People.

These edge devices and smart assets transmit information directly to the data communications infrastructure, where it’s converted into actionable information on how a certain piece of machinery is operating. This information can be used for predictive maintenance, as well as to optimize business processes.

Which Businesses are Utilizing IIoT?

There are countless industries that make use of IIoT. One example is the automotive industry, which utilizes IIoT devices in the manufacturing process. The automotive industry extensively uses industrial robots, and the industrial internet of things can help proactively maintain these systems and identify potential issues before they can disrupt production.

The agriculture industry makes extensive use of IIoT apparatus, also. Industrial sensors collect data about soil nutrients, moisture and much more, enabling farmers to create an optimal crop.

The oil and gas sector also uses industrial IoT devices. Some oil companies maintain a fleet of autonomous aircraft that can use visual and thermal imaging to detect potential problems in pipelines. This information is combined with data from other kinds of sensors to ensure safe operations.

What are the Benefits of IIoT?

One of the top touted benefits of IIoT devices used in the manufacturing business is that they enable predictive maintenance. Organizations can use real-time data generated from IIoT systems to predict when a machine will have to be serviced. That way, the necessary maintenance can be performed before a failure occurs.

This can be especially beneficial on a production line, where the failure of a machine might result in a work stoppage and huge expenses. By proactively addressing maintenance issues, an organization can achieve better operational efficiency.

Another benefit is more efficient field service. IIoT technologies help field service technicians identify potential issues in customer equipment before they become major issues, enabling techs to fix the problems before they inconvenience customers. 

These technologies might also provide field service technicians with information about which parts they will need to make a repair. That way, the technician has the necessary parts with them when making a service call.

Asset tracking is another IIoT perk. Suppliers, manufacturers and customers can utilize asset management systems to track the location, status and condition of products throughout the distribution chain.

The machine sends instant alerts to stakeholders if the goods are damaged or at risk of being damaged, giving them the chance to take immediate or preventive action to remedy the situation.

IIoT also allows for enhanced customer satisfaction. When products are connected to the internet of items, the manufacturer can capture and analyze data about how customers use their products, enabling manufacturers and product designers to build more customer-centric product roadmaps.

IIoT also improves facility management. Manufacturing equipment is vulnerable to wear and tear, which can be exacerbated by certain conditions in a factory. Sensors can monitor vibrations, temperature and other factors that may lead to suboptimal operating conditions.

Is the Industrial Internet of things Secure?

Early on, manufacturers created IoT devices with little regard for safety, leading to a perception that IoT devices are inherently insecure. Given the similarities between IoT and IIoT devices, it is worth considering whether it is safe to use IIoT devices.

As with any other connected device, IIoT devices have to be evaluated on a device-by-device basis. It is entirely possible that one manufacturer’s device is secure while another isn’t. Even so, security is a bigger priority among device manufacturers than ever before.

In 2014, several technology companies such as AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM and Intel came together to form the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). Although this group’s primary aim is to accelerate the adoption of IIoT and related technologies, it is making security a priority, even going so far as to form a security working group. The IIC’s other working groups include Technology, Liaison, Marketing, Industry and Digital Transformation.

What are the Risks and Challenges?

The biggest risks associated with IIoT use pertain to security. It is relatively common for IIoT devices to continue using default passwords, even after they have been placed into production. 

Similarly, many IIoT devices transmit data as clear text. These conditions would make it relatively easy for an attacker to intercept the data coming from an IIoT device. Similarly, an attacker could take over an insecure IIoT apparatus and use it as a platform for launching an attack against other network resources.

Security is a huge challenge for people who are accountable for an organization’s IIoT devices, but so, too, is device management. As an organization adopts more and more IIoT apparatus, it is going to become increasingly important to adopt an effective device management strategy.

More specifically, organizations must be able to positively identify IIoT devices to stop the use of rogue devices. Establishing a means of identifying each individual device is also crucial for tasks such as replacing a failed device or performing a device refresh.

Patch management presents another huge challenge regarding IIoT apparatus. It’s becoming increasingly common for device manufacturers to issue regular firmware updates. 

Organizations must have an efficient means of assessing devices to see if they have the latest firmware installed and deploying new firmware if necessary. Additionally, such a tool must adhere to the organization’s established maintenance schedule so as to not disrupt operations.

What is the difference between IoT and IIoT?

Although IoT and IIoT have many technologies in common, such as cloud platforms, sensors, connectivity, machine-to-machine communications and data analytics, they are used for different functions.

IoT applications connect devices across multiple verticals, including agriculture, healthcare, enterprise, consumer and utilities, as well as authorities and cities. IoT devices include smart appliances, fitness bands and other applications that generally don’t create emergency situations if something goes amiss.

IIoT applications, on the other hand, connect machines and devices in such sectors as oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing. System failures and downtime in IIoT deployments can lead to high-risk situations, or even life-threatening ones. IIoT applications are also more concerned with enhancing efficiency and enhancing health or safety, versus the user-centric nature of IoT applications.

What are IIoT Applications and Examples?

In a real-world IIoT installation of smart robotics, ABB, a power and robotics firm, uses connected sensors to monitor the maintenance needs of its own robots to prompt repairs before parts break.

Likewise, commercial jetliner maker Airbus has launched what it calls the factory of the future, a digital manufacturing initiative to streamline operations and boost production. Airbus has integrated sensors into machines and machines on the shop floor and outfitted employees with wearable technology — e.g., industrial smart glasses — aimed at cutting down on mistakes and enhancing workplace safety.

The industrial Internet of things is used in many industries and sectors, including robotics, manufacturing and smart cities.

Another robotics manufacturer, Fanuc, is using sensors in its robotics, along with cloud-based data analytics, to forecast the impending failure of elements in its robots.

Doing so enables the plant manager to schedule maintenance at convenient times, reducing costs and averting potential downtime.

What is the future of the industrial Internet of things?

The future of IIoT is closely coupled with a trend referred to as Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is, essentially, the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Industry 1.0 was the first Industrial Revolution and happened from the late 1700s as companies began to use water-powered or steam-powered machines in manufacturing. Industry 2.0 started at the start of the 20th century and was brought about by the introduction of electricity and assembly lines. Industry 3.0 occurred in the latter part of the 20th century and was tied to the use of computers in the manufacturing procedure.

Industry 4.0 is where we are today. Industry 4.0 is based on the use of connected electronic devices — particularly, IIoT devices.

Moving forward, IIoT devices will play a major role in digital transformations, especially as organizations attempt to digitize their manufacturing lines and supply chains. Additionally, large data analytics will evolve to incorporate IIoT data. This can make it possible for organizations to detect changing conditions in real time and respond accordingly.

Although IIoT devices have been around for several years, real-world adoption is still in its infancy. This is sure to change as 5G becomes increasingly prevalent and more and more organizations begin to realize what IIoT can do for them. There are a lot of resources available on the internet for organizations that want to get up to speed on IoT and IIoT.

About the Author

Cesar Agostino

Hardware and Software Design Leader in 4i Platform.

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