Many valve, actuator and control manufacturers have jumped right in and taken advantage of the opportunities the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have brought to process control. By providing products that are capable of remote access, they are offering end users like refineries, petrochemical plants and power producers benefits like data analytics to lower costs and improve maintenance scheduling, lower emissions and lower total cost of ownership of flow control products.
But other CEOs and managers are taking a wait-and see attitude, or are in the early stages of making products capable of full connectivity. Part of the hesitation stems from cybersecurity concerns; other concerns include those from end users who may have trouble justifying the cost of installing new systems, implementing the protocols and training personnel.
What is the IIoT?
According to Inductive Automation, the IIoT is part of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is a network of intelligent computers, devices, and objects that collect and share huge amounts of data. Inductive Automation’s website states that “the collected data is sent to a central Cloud-based service where it is aggregated with other data and then shared with end users in a helpful way.” In manufacturing, this application of the IoT is referred to as the IIoT. It may also be called the Industrial Internet or Industry 4.0.
Ideally the IIoT will revolutionize manufacturing by enabling the efficient acquisition and analysis of huge amounts of data very quickly and efficiently. A number of innovative valve, actuator and control manufacturers have started to implement the IIoT not only in their own factories, but also in the products they are creating to enable connectivity by the end users of their products.
The IIoT and End Users
In a recent webinar by Industry Week and Auto Desk, the results of a survey of manufacturers who build connected products were shared. While many are in the very early stages of providing connected services, enough time has now passed for early manufacturing adopters to be able to quantify and assess the benefits of the IIoT.
Manufacturers are using the data from connected sensors to not only improve designs and develop products, they are using it to improve processes for the end users. A full 49% of the respondents in the survey said they are using IoT data to improve product quality and processes.
Many respondents reported they are experiencing cost savings by using the IoT to connect smart machines to improve service and repair operations. Having the data to analyze can reduce the numbers of field visits necessary to service customers and can reduce the number of hours required to fix problems. This can also help reduce warranty claims and increase first-time fix rates and help increase collaboration and information-sharing between the end users and manufacturers. By working together, users and manufacturers have also been able to improve the quality and reduce the time needed to create new products because the data is there to know what is working and what is not working in the users’ facilities.
Some manufacturers are going so far as to turn away from outright sales of products to leasing them to users. This way, they can tailor service to ensure end users are getting the best out of the products they are using while ensuring ongoing revenue streams. Both leasing and trade-in services are becoming more popular, as are pay-per-usage service models.
In the survey discussed by Industry Week during the aforementioned webinar, the priorities manufacturers listed for increasing value from IoT products were predicated largely on the premise that it’s not useful to just let the data sit there. It must be analyzed and actionable.
The most important use of the data was listed as proactive maintenance. By being connected and able to collect and analyze data from installed equipment, manufacturers no longer have to be in a reactive mode, responding only to problems. If equipment does fail, the ability to analyze sensor data can result in reduced response time for diagnosis and repairs.
The ability to feed the collected data into the design and product development side of business was also listed in the Industry Week survey as an important benefit of using the collected data. Production can be improved, and the competition thwarted even as companies increase revenue or develop a new market.
For those manufacturers who have a smart connected strategy, 24% of the respondents said they have already realized incremental revenue and 27% say the IoT has helped their company create competitive differentiation. While those numbers do not seem large, presenter Matt LaWell from Industry Week said it is still very early in the development of the IIoT to be able to understand the benefits for those manufacturers who are selling connected products.
Benefits in Manufacturing Facilities
Beyond the services to end users, there are also benefits for manufacturers in their own plants. In an article in Global Manufacturing, the author pointed out that, beyond providing benefits to customers, manufacturers can themselves take advantage of more intelligent machinery by implementing the IoT within their own production facilities. They can gain greater visibility of production performance and use that to detect problems early, thereby minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity.
With better collection and analysis of productivity and waste performance data, manufacturers are also able to make more informed decisions to improve their company’s overall performance and improve resource management. Not only can manufacturers understand what is happening with a machine’s performance and how it is being used, the data collected from connected equipment can be used to safeguard workers, boost productivity and reduce associated operating costs.
LaWell noted that computer technology is changing fast. Computer processing speed generally doubles every two years, perhaps even as fast as every 18 months. What does this mean for manufacturers and end users in the next two years?
This increased processing power and speed mean that manufacturers can increase product design capabilities and functionality while providing data as a service. End users can subscribe to this service and in turn, the manufacturers can better understand how end users use the product. This will help reduce product development costs and lead times.
LaWell expects that these benefits will increase relatively quickly in the next two years, as more manufacturers develop and install more products with connected capability.
While the numbers vary widely, there is speculation that, by the end of 2017, there will be 8.4 billion connected things. By 2020, that figure could more than double to 20.4 billion. Even if those numbers are not precise, there is no doubt that the Internet of Things is here to stay. Developing a strategy to integrate into the Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionise manufacturing.