3 Opportunities and Challenges of the IIoT

Industrial Internet of ThingsThe Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) presents many opportunities for companies across the manufacturing and process industries. It also comes with its fair share of challenges. In this article, we’ll explore a few of both, with an eye toward how companies can overcome the challenges to take advantage of the opportunities.

Opportunity: Improved efficiency, productivity, and quality through data

Challenge: Turning data into actionable insights
Solution: The right tools, the right talent

The IIoT offers manufacturers and industrial processors an unprecedented opportunity to improve their efficiency, productivity, and quality by collecting massive amounts of data and using that data to optimize operations. This is accomplished by sensors on machines and devices that take a large number of readings and then send them to a central database where the numbers are constantly crunched.

As an example, according to Blue Hill Research, an oil and gas company put sensors on 21,000 oil injector wells to monitor 10 different activities, including oil extraction rates, temperature, and well pressure. At each well, each activity was monitored 90 times a day, resulting in nearly 19 million readings every day. The company used the data to optimize its maintenance and repair activities, an initiative that saves them roughly $145,000 per oil field per month.

The trick, of course, is how you get from 19 million readings to a more efficient maintenance program. For most companies the answer will be twofold: technology and people.

In terms of technology, the basic requirements are the sensors (something to collect the data), a database (something to aggregate the data), and an algorithm (something to analyze the data). In the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of several different platforms. Some are for general industry, like GE’s Predix. Others are industry-specific, like CSB-Systems’ ERP for smart food factories. Our software, Engineering Base, is a plant design software platform that allows you to manage the entire lifecycle of a project, from the requirements through commissioning, and even to service and maintenance.

The second requirement is often the sticking point because any technology is only as good as the people using it. Check out our article “How to Prepare Today for the Plant of Tomorrow” for some ideas on getting your workforce ready for the Industrial Internet of Things.

Opportunity: Remote monitoring, connected systems

Challenge: Security
Solution: Best practices, trusted partners

As we detailed in a previous article and illustrated in the previous section, the IIoT lets companies monitor their processes remotely and use this data to improve operations, such as moving to a predictive maintenance schedule.

In a smaller factory, it’s certainly possible to connect machines using Ethernet and route them to an in-house database on a proprietary network. But, in most instances, like the oil fields in the example, that’s not the case. The machines are connected to the internet and may be sending data not only to the company’s centralized database, but also to an OEM. (Many OEMs that make IIoT-enabled machines also offer remote monitoring and service packages so they can alert you if anything goes wrong.)

This internet connection gives rise to the number one concern regarding the IIoT — security. Industrial processors and other manufacturers are, understandably, concerned about the security of their data. With all of the hacking we read about in the news, the idea of putting your data online can sound like a recipe for disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be, as long as you put the proper safeguards in place and follow the best practices for network security. Dan Stammer of Product Handling Concepts put it well when he told Food Industry Executive:

“Reluctance to implement the IoT boils down to perceived vulnerability. Manufacturers fear unauthorized parties will be able to access internal systems and retrieve data. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are large, established companies designing IoT software. They test, verify, and stand behind the technology along with the OEM providing the implementation. IoT does not need to be viewed as a risk, but rather an opportunity with enormous potential to increase productivity.”

In other words, implement best security practices, choose your partners wisely, and trust that the systems they use will provide the necessary protection for your data.

Opportunity: Faster and better innovation

Challenge: Resistance to change, organizational silos
Solution: Focus on relationships, provide collaboration tools

Finally, by using the IIoT to gain better visibility into their operations as a whole, companies will be able to innovate faster and better. They’ll be able to move at an accelerated pace, allowing them to iterate more quickly and gain an advantage over the competition.

But…that’s only if the movers and shakers are willing to move and shake. Manufacturing and industrial processing don’t have the reputation of being fast-moving. Especially at companies that have been in the game for a long time, it’s easy for people to cling to old ways of doing things and be hesitant to move in new directions. This problem is compounded in cases when the different departments are stuck in silos, as realizing the advantages of digital transformation often requires people from across an organization to work together.

A classic 1969 Harvard Business Review article on resistance to change provides some good insight into how to overcome this challenge. In it, Paul R. Lawrence suggests that we need to consider both the technical and the social aspect of change:

“The technical aspect of the change is the making of a measurable modification in the physical routines of the job. The social aspect of the change refers to the way those affected by it think it will alter their established relationships in the organization.”

It’s easy to blame resistance to technology on discomfort with the technology itself. But, more often than not, the problem has more to do with the social context surrounding the change. People may feel that their relationships and their place in the organization is being threatened.

You can combat these feelings by spending time educating your employees and getting their buy-in for the IIoT initiatives, by making sure they understand the reasons for and advantages of the new technologies, and by providing the tools they need to participate and collaborate effectively.

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These are certainly not all of the opportunities and challenges presented by the IIoT. We’d love to hear some of the ones you’ve encountered and how you’re dealing with them. Let us know in the comments!

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