The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a collection of sensors, communication channels and computer controllers that can collect, analyse and make decisions at a pace not yet seen within a factory.
It combines Operational Technology (OT) such as PLC’s, CNC’s, SCADA and industrial messaging systems with Information Technology (IT) systems including high speed data transport networks, large dataset analysis and complex decision making systems. The ability to combine OT and IT into one system is being facilitated by the minimisation of electronics, new messaging protocols blended with the instant information revolution seen in the social media and virtual/ augmented reality applications that mesmerise today’s consumer. Think of a Facebook or LinkedIn for your factories temperature/ volume or energy gauges!
The good thing about IIoT as a collection of systems is that it can accommodate the deployment in both a new purpose built production line or factory and its adoption into existing factory floors or process lines.
For new factories, we are seeing the adoption of the Forth Industrial Revolution with state of the art manufacturing cells handling all aspects of production such as materials movement (via unmanned transport), set-up/ teardowns (via robotics), and production (via additive or subtractive machining). These will be monitored by staff using either augmented or virtual reality systems to check quality, production volumes and conformity.
For existing factories, it will be the move away from basic Program Logic Controllers (PLC) and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems managed by trained staff, to the deployment of IIoT based systems that will provide localised decision making systems that can communicate across an entire production or supply chain without human intervention.
For this to happen new technologies need to be deployed into a factory. The first is the deployment of mass data collection sensors. They will collect a vast range of data like production variables including quantities, velocities, composition and quality; non-production metrics including location, time, and temperature/ humidity; and capital equipment data such as energy usage, equipment condition and operating hours.
This data will be transmitted via non-wired communication networks in factories or across whole supply chains. Examples of these include LiFi (using light as a source of data transport at gigabit speeds), LPWANs (low power, wide area networks such as Sigfox or LoRa) that can communicate between factories, or RFID/ Bluetooth/ NFC coupled with GPS or Indoor tracking such as iBeacon or Eddystone protocols.
Lastly, once the data is received by either localised or cloud based computers it will be analysed and, if there are changes detected, a decision based on expert rules will be implemented. These decisions can either be communicated back to the production process or visually communicated to production staff.
An example of where IIoT can be very valuable is in a production process that requires a temperature and humidity window to successfully operate – such as in an automotive paint process, a silk weaving operation or a bakery. Basic sensors can control the temperature and humidity by standard PLC systems that control dehumidifiers and Air Handling Units. This will ensure a localised level of temperature and humidity. However, when a step change in the external environment changes, such as a summer thunderstorm, the system may be slow to react. Therefore, by using IIoT in a wider context, weather sensors may collect data on outside atmospheric pressure, humidity and temperature and based on this data pre-adjust the levels required before the sudden change. Another example is constant raw-material tracking across a supply chain (both in the outside transport modes and the internal factory transport modes) that will allow a production process to adjust its takt time according to stock availability. This can only be achieved with mass deployment of sensors that can track product in real-time.
From a practical point of view, we encourage our clients to begin to deploy IIoT based systems on their capital assets to ensure maximum up-time. These can be as basic as energy and temperature monitors that wirelessly communicate back to a central hub. When the hub detects a change in energy usage or temperature of a motor it can visually alert maintenance staff through visual signals such as changing the colour of a light above the motor. This provides localised feedback without the need of deploying screens in a central control room.
In summary, IIoT is being deployed in new factory installations that allow control of motors, pumps, CNC machines or process lines at both an operational and an informational level. Existing factories should be evaluating IIoT systems such as energy or condition monitoring to help improve capital asset reliability whilst at the same time reviewing future expansion plans or factory improvements with the view that data collection, analysis and decision making processes will be managed by IIoT based systems rather than traditional PLC or CNC based systems.
Craig Astfalck, Ecopare managing director, will be presenting a seminar at Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2017 on Wednesday 22 March at 10.10am entitled:
Demystifying the Internet of Things for energy data collection in an industrial environment