The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Are We There Yet?

The cat is no longer in the bag. In fact, she’s already rummaging through businesses and homes in your hometown – maybe in your neighborhood. Before our eyes, the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved from a nice idea to a measured experiment with tangible results. As expected, early adopters are primarily large enterprises with significant resources to dedicate to new technology, but the IoT does not always require a substantial investment. Sometimes, it is as simple as finding a better way to use your current technology and associated data. Some industrial enterprises have already seen the benefits of machine intelligence and the marriage of people and processes. Other organizations are using the IoT to provide better customer service and more targeted marketing. Is it safe to say the experiment is over? Have we burst through the hype bubble to arrive at a practical understanding of what’s at stake?

The Industrial IoT promises more efficient production processes, reduced resource consumption and waste, safer workplaces, and more empowered employees. There are many success stories already, and more are sure to come.

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama

Honda’s largest light truck production facility in the world – a 3.7 million square foot plant – was faced with a problem all too common to large manufacturing facilities. Over the years, a number of different automation systems were introduced to help streamline production. With operations including blanking, stamping, welding, painting, injection molding, and many other processes involved in producing up to 360,000 vehicles and engines per year, it is not surprising that they found themselves struggling to integrate PLCs from multiple manufacturers, multiple MES systems, analytic systems, and database software from different vendors.

Of course, on top of these legacy systems, Honda continued to layer an array of smart devices on the plant floor and embed IT devices in plant equipment. The complexity introduced by this array of automation systems turned out to be slowing down the operations they were intended to streamline.

After reorganizing their business structure to merge IT and plant floor operations into a single department, Honda proceeded to deploy a new automation software platform that enabled them to bring together PLC data with the data coming from MES and ERP systems into a common interface that allowed the entire enterprise to be managed through a single system. This also allowed Honda to manage and analyze much larger data sets that revealed new opportunities for further optimization. While this reorganization required a significant investment of resources, they were able realize benefits immediately, and ultimately positioned themselves to maintain a competitive edge through the next decade or more.

ABB

As one the world’s foremost suppliers of industrial robots and modular manufacturing systems, ABB has had their finger on the pulse of industrial technology for years. As the IIoT emerged, ABB was quick to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented. The company has installed more than 250,000 robots in numerous industries worldwide: plastics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and many more.

Before the IIoT, in order to provide service ABB needed to dispatch technicians to remote sites to perform diagnosis. Today, a small operations team in a centralized Control Center are able to monitor in real-time precise and reliable information about each robot’s current status and activity. This has not only enabled ABB to substantially reduce the cost of their maintenance and operations, but the data collected has allowed them to develop a set of predictive KPIs to anticipate problems before they occur, helping their customers benefit from less downtime and increased productivity.

Kennametal

Kennametal was able to increase the productivity of their discrete manufacturing operations by using machine tool data and complex event processing. Whereas the traditional approach to increasing productivity was to reduce downtime, Kennametal focused on improving productivity by reducing cycle time. The solution employs complex event processing software that gathers and analyzes production data in real-time. Kennametal was able to understand which operators out-perform the production plan and guide less-experienced operators toward improvement. As an example: in one machining operation it was determined that taking a fast, shallow cut reduced cycle time by 16% over the slower, deeper cut the production plan called for. Best practices of this sort have been shown to reduce Kennametal’s cycle time by 20-40%.

The examples provided by Honda, ABB, and Kennametal are just a few of the hundreds of different IIoT success stories that can be found on the internet. Companies like GE, Ford, Intel, and dozens more are pouring literally billions of dollars into IIoT technologies this year alone. This is not an investment in possibility and hope. The IIoT is very real and it is happening right now. Of course, as with anything new there will be plenty of hurdles and blind alleyways, but many of the initial obstacles have been discovered and overcome. The foundation is in place and the arrow is pointing up. Companies are no longer asking: Should we? They are asking: How can we and how quickly?
**B-Scada has provided best-of-breed data visualization solutions since 2003, providing industrial and commercial customers the tools they need to transform their processes and empower their personnel to maximize efficiency, productivity, and safety. Learn more at http://scada.com.

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