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The Industrial Internet of Things movement takes shape

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By Norman Rozenberg, Contributor

The Industrial Revolution brought about an entirely new economy based on machines that skyrocketed productivity and transformed our world. These machines have been improving ever since and are now being equipped with data-gathering sensors and joining a network of connected devices in a movement known as the Industrial Internet of Things.

The Industrial Internet of Things is transforming the manufacturing, energy and oil and gas industries. It has the potential to add $15 trillion to the global economy in 2030, according to Accenture.

This revolution was built on machine-to-machine (M2M) technology that has been around for a decade. M2M technology allows machines to communicate with one another wirelessly.

“If you include M2M as part of the Industrial Internet of Things, then the movement has already taken off through industrial asset monitoring, fleet management, energy management and even connected cars,” said Brian Partridge, vice president of mobility research at 451 Research.

Benefits of Industrial IoT

“The biggest benefit to Industrial IoT systems is operational savings — energy utilization, route management and manufacturing precision,” Partridge said.

M2M communication streamlines the manufacturing timeline because it facilitates the sharing of data across processes that were previously siloed. A design team, for example, will be able to create a sketch, send it to a 3-D printer for a prototype, and if approved, send the blueprint to industrial-size machines for mass production.

Airbus, an aircraft manufacturer, has implemented this kind of systems management using an Industrial IoT method. Design teams working on different aspects of the airplane building and management process ran into issues where their codes and styles did not match. To correct this problem, Airbus designed an intersystem communication and standardized code network that allowed not only the designers to communicate but also the different automated assembly lines for planes to understand and receive the same information.

Airbus is also applying the Industrial IoT method to its “Open Robot Interface,” a platform for industrial robots to integrate with their existing network and run on the same algorithms and codes as the rest of Airbus’ factory line.

Another advantage of Industrial IoT is that it allows businesses to monitor the health of machines and predict when they will need repairs before a breakdown occurs. In the aviation sector, planes with sensors can “deliver reduced air travel delays by pre-empting maintenance issues through the real-time monitoring of engine performance in flight,” wrote Bruno Berthon, managing director of digital strategy at Accenture.

We can credit these features to GE, according to Partridge. GE teamed up with Italian airline Alitalia in 2011, using big data and improved communication between sensors and ground control, to identify and analyze fuel efficiencies. Industrial IoT has saved the airline $46 million to date, according to Forbes. Since then, GE has partnered with other airlines such as AirAsia with the same cost-saving results thanks to better communication and data analysis.

Demand for a new type of work?

In recent months, the manufacturing sector has produced lackluster economic growth, due to falling oil prices, a rising dollar, winter storms and a since-resolved shutdown of West Coast ports that has created a backlog of shipments, according to the Los Angeles Times. As the weather gets warmer and the effects of the port shutdown fades, it will rebound to some extent. However, there is a falling demand for long-lasting goods, commercial aircraft, autos and machinery, which could signify that the sector is in trouble.

The Industrial IoT movement, however, is a powerful job creator. There’s a need for data scientists to analyze and make business decisions based on the expansive data that is being collected.

Large companies and venture capitalists are interested in Industrial IoT, funding startups in the space and ultimately creating new jobs. Siemens, for example, has created a $100 million startup fund called the “Industry of the Future Fund.”

One issue, however, is that better management of the manufacturing process could mean there’s less of a need for assembly line workers. If these processes are automated because of Industrial IoT, the number of jobs that require less formal education may substantially decrease. The demand will shift to technologically savvy, highly skilled employees.

So when will all of this change take effect?

“The system of systems aspect of the Industrial IoT is in the early days,” Partridge explained. The next step is to start standardization processes across different platforms and machines.

A survey conducted by the World Economic Forum as part of a larger report on Industrial IoT resulted in a majority of industry leaders surveyed citing a lack of standards, security concerns and an uncertain return on investment as reasons for why Industrial IoT hasn’t taken off just yet.

Some researchers are already diving in to the security dilemmas; new studies out of the University of Rome and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are finding new solutions to create a safer system of systems for IoT. If these concerns are addressed, Industrial IoT will become more widely adopted.

So is Industrial IoT our modern day Industrial Revolution? Only time will tell.

“Where the Industrial IoT is going now is toward new business models, new service models and new ways to sell and create value,” Partridge said.

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