What will the Industrial Internet of Things mean to manufacturers?

by LESLIE LANGNAU, Managing Editor

How will the IIoT affect manufacturing operations and processes? Experts weigh in.

The words—the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are new. But the goal is not new—use data from machinery and equipment to improve overall manufacturing performance, efficiency, more uptime and lower costs.

“A lot of us have noted that IIoT is something we could do a decade or more ago,” said John Kowal, director, business development at B&R Automation.

Yet, a number of manufacturing facilities either have not taken advantage of connecting their enterprises or they lag way behind. “Despite more than 30 years of industrial device level buses, increased computer capability and control, a number of manufacturing facilities and businesses are not as connected and automated as they could be,” said Jeremy King, product marketing manager, Bimba Manufacturing.

Agreed Mike Hannah, market development for The Connected Enterprise, Rockwell Automation, “The proliferation of these smarter end points, big data, analytics, virtualization and mobility are the evolutionary steps to harness the most powerful element that too few manufacturers today are fully capitalizing on: their own data.”

“IIoT’s newfound celebrity, though, elevates automation to a C-suite topic where it always should have been, so future projects might get funded when the next machine is specified,” added Kowal.

The advances in microprocessors used in field devices are key to IIoT. “These developments allow us as manufacturers to take advantage of the onboard computing power to provide more data to operators/customers,” said Randy Durick, VP, Network and Interface Div., TURCK. As the marketplace becomes more sophisticated about using the supplied data, the more efficient and connected the industrial workplace becomes.

But others see different possibilities with the IIoT. “The ‘Internet of Things’ disruption will alter the ways our machines interact,” said Armin Pühringer, business development manager, Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation. “The automation pyramid will change from being a vertical structure to a more horizontal one. Machines, systems and even production lines and businesses will become so highly de-centralized and yet inter-connected that our network architectures will morph more and more into mesh systems. Machines and systems will become autonomous and have far greater flexibility. Some experts are even predicting that IIoT could usher in an era of mass-produced one-offs, among other developments.”

Clearly, the IIoT means different things to different organizations depending on their needs and their openness to the technology. In general, though, the IIoT is believed to be able to deliver the following benefits:

Connectivity: The demand for connectivity may be “as simple as an email generated by a PLC/HMI sent to a maintenance technician, or an HMI screen capture showing production data sent to a plant manager, up to a complete FTP file transfer of real-time production data sent to corporate management across the world,” said Gary Marchuk, director of business development, AutomationDirect.


If the IIoT comes to fruition, HMI devices and controls, like these from Red Lion, will be key to transmitting data for analysis.

“Manufacturers will be able to connect many different devices, including older equipment, and get them to ‘talk’ with each other in a way that they could not before, and use that data to improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage,” added Colin Geis, product marketing manager, Red Lion Controls. “This connectivity is one of the key building blocks for the IIoT.”

Visibility: “The IIoT means unprecedented visibility for all levels into the manufacturing process and enables a dramatic rise in the amount of flexibility in production,” said Will Healy III, strategic marketing manager, Balluff.

The IIoT, however, will require manufacturers to adopt new ways of thinking. IT and operational groups will need closer working relationships. New and more resources will be needed to manage the influx of data. A more thorough understanding of manufacturing that can be used to form analytical algorithms will be needed to derive actionable insights from that data.

“Ultimately, the IIoT is going to open the door to greater efficiency, better performance and more uptime,” added King.

Efficiency: “The increasingly global nature of manufacturing means we need to find ways to optimize processes and cut out inefficiencies for the long-term viability of many enterprises,” said Daymon Thompson, TwinCAT product specialist, Beckhoff Automation.

Improved maintenance: “IIoT can give manufacturers better ways to monitor equipment for Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) scoring, detect trends in production and equipment behavior, while evolving predictive maintenance systems to further reduce unscheduled downtime for equipment service and replacements,” Thompson added. Because the IIoT is about data, predictive maintenance will be one of the first applications to take advantage.

Increased automation: “Instead of the factory being a building of individual machines and processes that must be manually integrated and controlled,” said Allen Tubbs, product manager, Electric Drives and Controls at Bosch Rexroth, “the factory will become an intelligent organism of sorts, able to detect and react to its own environment.”


In some cases, the IIoT will eliminate machine cabinets for drives, such as this configuration from Bosch Rexroth for its IndraDrive Mi systems.

Improved remote diagnostics: For those who provide remote diagnostic services, the IIoT should help service providers deliver better service and reduce or eliminate backlogs, and ultimately build customer loyalty, noted Bob Gates, global marketing director, GE Intelligent Platforms.

Adaptive processes: Most manufacturing is still at the stage where changes in product offerings or unexpected orders require production line modifications, which usually require line shutdown to handle. “If the IIoT succeeds, then production lines will adapt automatically to product modifications,” said Nuzha Yakoob, product manager, Positioning, at Festo.

Connected supply chain: Many challenges related to logistics, such as material shortages and inventory costs, could be minimized or eliminated if manufacturers were more connected and automated. IIoT systems can feed data to an ERP system providing real-time information to accounting functions.

“The underlying concept is an outgrowth of a variety of production processes made possible by new technologies,” said Anthony Varga, president, Canada, SVP, North America Strategic Sales, Rittal. The focus is no longer simply on optimizing individual engineering, production or logistics stages separately, but on addressing their interrelation in value chains and value adding networks to establish efficient, cost-effective processes with maximum flexibility and high customer benefit.”

With the IIoT, manufacturers will have the capability to track every aspect of a business, from managing manufacturing processes, suppliers and inventory, all the way down to field service staff. “When fully leveraged, IIoT can mean better inventory management, pulled production instead of pushed production, accurate activity-based costing, automatic adjusted logistics that adapt to changes in the manufacturing layer and productivity increases,” said Matt O’Kane, VP of the Industry Business, Schneider Electric.

The IIoT reflects the growing number of smart, connected products and highlights new opportunities they can represent. Yet it’s not helpful in understanding the phenomenon or its implications.

“What makes smart, connected products fundamentally different is not the Internet, but the changing nature of the ‘things,’” said Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC. “It is the expanded capabilities of smart, connected products and the data they generate that are ushering in a new era of competition.”

Added Suzanne Lee, director of marketing, Siemens Digital Factory, “The Internet of Things Digitalization acts as an accelerator for business processes and is revolutionizing global business. Companies can work together more closely and faster with partners, communicate directly with end customers, and deal effectively with their specific changing requirements.”




Beckhoff Automation

B&R Automation

Bimba Manufacturing Co.

Bosch Rexroth


GE Intelligent Platforms

Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation


Red Lion Controls


Rockwell Automation

Schneider Electric

Siemens Digital Factory


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