Many manufacturers recognize the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things as a way to provide their businesses with a new and powerful competitive advantage. But how can manufacturers navigate from the automation infrastructures of today to the intelligent IIoT enterprises they envision?

Manufacturers stand to learn much from looking at other industries — from energy, finance, telecom and more — and how they have addressed the challenges of moving to the IIoT.

  1. Adopt a Standards-Based Approach – Replacing legacy, closed systems with standards-based platforms dramatically reduces hardware cost. But it also enables innovation. Telecom carriers once relied on costly, proprietary switch platforms to provide basic communications services. In the early 2000s, innovative carriers saw the advantages of a new approach: use low-cost, off-the-shelf computing platforms running industry-standard operating systems to deliver “enhanced services” applications. This drastically reduced the cost while igniting an explosion of innovation. Standards-based technologies allowed developers to create breakthrough communications applications, eventually leading to today’s innovative mobile apps. So, moving to standards-based infrastructures will free manufacturing enterprises to leverage a new generation of automation applications offering capabilities with the potential to dramatically increase productivity.
  2. Embrace Connectivity – The ability to bring together data from diverse systems and sensors across the manufacturing enterprise is key to realizing advanced IIoT automation capabilities. This requires increased connectivity, potentially including Internet or private-cloud-based technologies. In the financial services industry, an extremely risk-averse business, banks and credit companies once built impenetrable technological “walls” designed to isolate their mission-critical transaction systems. To compete in today’s mobile, digital consumer marketplace, financial service providers recognize that customers demand the ability to connect with their money from anywhere, anytime, which has only sharpened the industry’s focus on security and availability.
  3. Leverage Distributed Intelligence – One of the most exciting aspects of the IIoT is the notion of distributed intelligence. The IIoT-enabled enterprise gathers data generated by equipment, sensors and systems distributed throughout the plant and the supply chain. This data is aggregated and analyzed to help optimize production processes, identify potential problems earlier, and formulate new insights for business improvement. This approach to distributed intelligence is transforming a host of industries, including the oil & gas industry. Remote gas pipeline compression stations are instrumented with sensors that provide real-time data sent to centralized analytics platforms. These intelligent analytics engines can predict the early signs of failure, allowing for better maintenance scheduling.
  4. Protect the Data – No matter how a manufacturing enterprise decides to embrace the IIoT, one thing is certain: the volume and value of production data will increase dramatically. Ensuring the availability of automation systems and the data they generate and rely on is essential. Organizations must ensure that no data is lost at any point, from the data source on the production floor and the historian database where supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) data is stored to the analytics engines. The closer to the source the data loss is, the greater the impact. Protecting mission-critical automation control systems and data requires a high level of fault tolerance to avoid data loss and business disruption.  The building automation and security industry has prioritized fault tolerance. Lost or compromised building video monitoring and security system data stored on a single server magnifies the risks. To manage the risk, today’s intelligent, distributed building security infrastructures are designed to provide end-to-end fault tolerance at scale.

By embracing standards-based architectures, deploying distributed intelligence, expanding connectivity, and focusing on fault tolerance and availability, manufacturers can unlock new sources of business value, improving their ability to compete profitably in today’s global marketplace.

>> Read more by John Fryer, Manufacturing Business Technology, 1/25/17


The Road To IIoT: What Can We Learn From Other Industries?