The idea of an industrial internet caused a lot of buzz when it came out in 2012. Back then, people were still daydreaming about construction drones and self-driving cars. So while the idea of bringing digital connectivity to industrial construction and maintenance was intriguing, it still felt like a long way off. But if you fast forwarded ahead just six years, innovative companies were already launching their first commercial applications for IIoT.
However, the recent arrival of splashier technologies seems to have dimmed the excitement about IIoT. In fact, some critics have declared that IIoT is DOA (dead on arrival) and that businesses can forget about it altogether. This is disconcerting to hear for the many businesses that have successfully deployed IIoT to make meaningful safety and productivity improvements.
However, there’s good news for all the proponents of industrial digitalization. IIoT is not dead, nor will it die anytime soon. It’s actually a very promising technology with more powerful applications being developed every day.
In this article, we’ll do our best to answer all of the many burning IIoT questions, including what what IIoT is, the benefits of using it, as well as some innovative applications that industrial businesses are already using.
What is IIoT?
Before jumping too far ahead into the ins and outs of Industrial Internet of Things, it’s important to first examine exactly what IIoT is. There’s a lot of different definitions of what IIoT encompasses, but here is our definition of IIoT for the purposes of this article:.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a network of physical objects that contain sensors, actuators and software used in the industrial process.
Examples of IIoT include:
- A Bluetooth-connected torque wrench that can automatically achieve the target torque value, and stores all manual work data to the cloud
- Sensors on the factory floor that track inventory levels and help predict when your next reorder will be needed
- RFID tags attached to tools, equipment, and infrastructure so their work history and location can be easily tracked from anywhere in the world
What are some benefits of using IIoT?
IIoT is not only alive—it’s thriving. With the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and other advanced technologies, the laundry list of applications for IIoT is only growing longer. These technologies enable companies to analyze the data gathered via IIoT in ways they never could before.
Some of the benefits of using IIoT include:
- Improved business intelligence. Connected tools, machines, apps, and workers can provide real-time insights into what’s happening at any given moment. This is invaluable for field work that has historically lacked transparency. When executed correctly, it can help to detect problems before they occur or even predict when they will happen based on historical data. This can lead to better decision-making and fewer surprises when something goes wrong.
- Cost reductions through automation. When manual work progress and quality is captured digitally, it can greatly streamline the QA/QC data review process. Quality personnel can quickly review digital work completion records from the comfort of their office, which saves over 60% of time for quality control and data review. This means less bottlenecks that cause downtime for maintenance teams who are “waiting on a QC.”
- Improved bandwidth through decreased location dependence. IIoT networks enable businesses to monitor work quality and progress from anywhere in the world. This is made possible through connected sensors, hardware, and software that can be incorporated into work processes and equipment throughout a facility. The possibilities are endless—think remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, and transparent communication. It means only great things for safety and productivity.
How is IIoT currently being used?
While it’s impossible to list all the great ways that industrial projects are currently using IIoT, here are just a few examples of creative ways that it can boost quality and productivity.
- Improving pressure testing accuracy. Another innovative way that IIoT is being used in industrial construction is for reducing pressure testing mistakes. Historically, leaving water in the system for too long or accidentally using the wrong governing code were actually fairly common mistakes. But IIoT in the form of a guided mobile workflow that connects to a digital pressure gauge is already resolving these long-standing problems.
- Tagging to reduce human error. When it comes to accurately tracking the status and location of many moving parts, QR codes and NFC tags are king. For example, GE Healthcare tracks the location of their medical products on a daily basis using NFC tags attached at every step along the way from production through delivery. This helps them track deliveries to ensure they are fast and safe, while reducing the impact of human error on manual processes.
- Proactively preventing accidents. While the industry has historically maintained a reactive approach to leaks and other disasters, IIoT opens the door to better monitor the quality of work to ensure that expensive rework and dangerous safety problems don’t happen down the road. For example, a connected torque wrench can validate that all bolted connections are properly tightened, reducing the risk of a dangerous chemical leak or unplanned downtime.
Is IIoT doomed?
Many have pondered whether IIoT is a “doomed” technology, with one of the most common complaints about how challenging it is to implement at scale. Many critics cite its lack of a “plug and play” nature as a notable obstacle for adoption in a technology-starved industry. Another common criticism is that IIoT solutions tend to be novel technologies looking for problems to solve. These “hammer-looking-for-a-nail” applications are ultimately abandoned because end users resist adoption and ROI is difficult to calculate.
However, we’re happy to report the industry seems all too eager to overcome these hurdles. As the industry continues to digitalize and technologies become more intuitive and user-friendly, IIoT pilots and deployments will become second nature. Further, while newer technologies may momentarily pull interest away, they will only serve to bolster IIoT’s applications and use cases.
As companies master the best ways to incorporate IIoT tailored to their work processes and priorities, the first mover advantage is already at play.
Will your company claim a distinct competitive advantage by being among the first to master IIoT?