For those who are new to the concept of IoT, let’s build your understanding ground-up. Let’s start by understanding what is ‘the Internet’.
We know that when someone says a ‘computer is online’, it is a way of saying that the ‘computer is connected to the Internet’.
Okay, so what is the Internet? It is a network of electronic devices. What kind of electronic devices? Well the one’s such as computers, mobile phones, tablets and so on.
Since, literally any of these devices can be connected to the internet (meaning – ‘the network’), from anywhere in the world (i.e., globally), we can call the Internet as a ‘global network’.
You (probably!) already know that with the internet, there’s so much that can be done, such as-
-access almost any information, from say Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, Youtube, etc.
-communicate with anyone across the world by way of E-mail, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, etc.
-have live interaction using Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft teams, etc.
-collaborate with people from different parts of the world for playing online games
Well, the list is short, very short, but you get the idea!
Ok, now that we are in the context of what the internet is, let’s now understand ‘working of the internet’. The following explanation (with a couple of examples), is tuned so that you can later find it easier to understand IoT.
Internet in simple terms, as we said earlier, is all about the communication between electronics devices. Yes, that’s not all there is about it. It goes further & deep. But, for the purpose of this article, that’s all we need to know.
Let’s take an example; When you get to Google Search, and type something that you want to know about (and hit ‘search’!), a lot of stuff happens in the background. To put it across in a highly simplified way, after you hit ‘search’, the text that you typed is matched with the data on the servers (data storage devices) of Google; This is more like when you find a text in an excel sheet or a word document. And then, the search results are displayed in the form of links (yes we’re referring to the ‘blue’ bold text, which gets underlined when you hover your cursor over!). These links, when clicked, lead you to the webpage where the text you searched was matched.
Who (or what) matched this? Search algorithms. What’s an algorithm? It is a step-by-step procedure. When this procedure (algorithm!), is written in a programming language (with its own grammar - called the syntax), it’s called a ‘program’. A bundle of programs (loads of those!) are referred to as ‘software’.
Okay, we drifted away a bit. Course correction, alright! You see, in the above example, it was the user (human!) who triggered the communication between his electronic device (a computer or a smart phone or such) and the servers of Google. All the actions of searching, matching & returning the results, were done by the software.
To say it another way - the human initiated the communication, and the software (like an obedient pet!) went on about its diligent duty of finding what its master wished for and returned the result.
Keep this in mind for now, whilst you peek (well, not literally!) into the next paragraph.
Let’s take the example of software updates of Windows or Mac or OTA (over-the-air) updates on smart-phone. When the device shows you a message that an update is available, it means that the device was communicating in the background with the server of the update-provider. How was this happening? Yes, by the update program. What is an update program? It is a set of instructions given to the device to periodically check for any update on the server (of the update-provider!), through the internet. The same is true for the updates of smart-phone apps (be it iOS or Android OS).
You see, the communication is happening between two devices here i.e., your computer or smartphone and the server of the update-provider. And this communication is automatic, without user (human) intervention.
[Yes, it is not just two devices, it is a series of devices such as LAN card, LAN cable, Router, Modem, Antenna, and so on. But, for the purpose of understanding, let’s keep it simple]
Okay, we asked you to keep the example before this example, in mind. Now when you think about these two (examples of course!), you see that the electronic devices can communicate with each other automatically, when taught (we mean ‘programmed’) to do so.
Okay, armed with the understanding of ’the Internet’ in this context, let’s get to IoT now, shall we? Here we go!
Internet of Things, like the internet, is a network of things. These ‘things’ aren’t just computers or smartphones or so, but beyond those, as we’ll see.
Okay, what are these ‘things’ then? Just simply, these are ‘physical objects’. Hold on! Not just any physical objects, but the ones that can communicate. You’ll later see that these ‘things’ could be something as small simple as a light bulb to something as complex as a driverless car or an aircraft. First, let’s get you familiarised with a few basics.
We said these ‘things’ communicate. How do they do that? By using embedded sensors, transmitters, receivers and/or transceivers (transmitter + receiver combined into one unit).
Wait, what is embedded? To embed is to simply fix inside. Meaning, these sensors, receivers, transmitters, etc., are fixed inside these ‘things’ i.e., these ‘physical objects’.
-Sensors sense surroundings, be it temperature, pressure, intensity of light, vibration, speed, acceleration, force, ah well(!), so many parameters can be sensed or even measured. Examples of sensors are – a simple personal thermometer or an industrial thermo-couple for temperature, a pressure sensor for fluid pressure, pedometer (step-counter) on your smartphone (or fitness band), a location sensor for GPS and so on.
-Transmitters transmit (or send) the data. What data? Sensed or measured data, by sensors. How do these transmit? By say Bluetooth or Zigbee or (say) through wired connections using an ethernet port. There are a multitude of communication protocols and methods to communicate the data between the devices.
-Receivers? You got it, they receive the data transmitted (sent) by transmitters. And yes, a set of ‘transmitter + receiver’ uses same communication protocol to communicate with each other.
Alrighty! Now you know the building blocks of an IoT object (call it a thing or a device, as you wish, really!). Let’s understand further on.
Okay, so the communication between these ‘things’ is basically about sending & receiving useful data. What data? We already checked it out above, didn’t we?
Okay, this data can then be streamed (fancy word for ‘used in a controlled manner’) to execute actions like-
-when a person enters a room, a sensor senses the movement, then executes a switch & the light bulb glows!) or
-for real-time monitoring (of say pressure, flow, temperature) in a manufacturing process or
-for extracting performance data of a home appliance, a car, an aircraft, or
-just about any parameter in any ‘thing’, as long as it can be sensed or measured
Simply put, IoT is a network of physical objects (the ‘connected things’ or you can say ‘connected devices’) that share information (data) over the internet. We’ll repeat for you to recall, that these ‘things’ are embedded with sensors & software for the purpose of connecting and exchanging the data with other devices. The key idea of the Internet of Things is to embed short-range mobile or stationery transceivers in various things (such as gadgets, appliances, industrial machinery, cars and so on) to enable new forms of communication between people and things, and between the things themselves.
Connecting all these different objects (‘things’) and adding sensors to them, adds a certain level of intelligence to these objects (that would otherwise be dumb!), thereby enabling these objects to communicate real-time data without involvement of a human.
For example, when a human enters a room, a motion sensor senses the presence and communicates with a switch saying “Hey! I sense someone is in the room”, and the switch says “Okay! Here you go, let me switch the light bulb on”. And when the human exits the room, the motion sensor goes “Hey switch, I haven’t sensed any motion for sometime. It’s eerily quite here”, and switch goes “Alright motion-sensor(!), let me switch the light bulb off. Let’s save some energy!”.
Well they don’t really communicate in human language. They do this by sending and receiving electronic signals, digital (‘on or off’ kind) or analog (‘how much’ kind).
When a fitness tracker (like a band or a smart watch), senses, collects and sends the data, and say this data is then analysed by a software like a health app. This app can then give you insights into stuff like how much did you walk for the last week, how well have you been sleeping and what is the pattern of your lifestyle. You see, IoT isn’t just about connected things. It enables interpretation of data, both offline and real-time. With such insights, you can draw useful or even powerful conclusions and make informed decisions. These are not gut-feelings, these are data-backed and are therefore undeniable. For example, you cannot deny the data of how many steps have you walked and how many calories have you burnt, when it is tracked by a fitness tracker (of course, based on the accuracy & reliability of the tracker itself!).
Such insights give you a pretty decent picture of what changes should you bring into your life.
Imagine when you’re driving a long distance, listening to music, enjoying the road-trip with your family & friends, all the while the pressure in one of the car’s tyres, has been dropping silently. You know, if the tyre-pressure drops too low, it runs the risk of sudden failure of the tyre. And if you’re driving at a 100km/hr or so, you can imagine the risk it can pose. Now if there’s a tyre pressure monitor (basically a sensor), which has been looking out for you by watching the tyre-pressure, the moment it senses that the pressure is dropping too soon, and it is also ‘aware’ that car is running, it’ll go “Hey dashboard, alert the driver on the pressure going too low. I’m worried about this thing.”. And the loyal dashboard (be it a red-blinking-lamp, or an alarm on the infotainment system), raises the flag, brings it to your notice and you can save yourself from getting stranded in the middle of nowhere or even worse - potentially facing an accident. It can then connect with a GPS app and show you the nearest garages to get this fixed. Based on the user ratings you choose one and the route map shows up.
It is in this way that the ‘Internet of Things’ is making the fabric of the world around us more smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.
Most of us were still using those hulk-sized CRT monitors & TVs, pretty much into late 1990s, although LCDs were developed decades before. But within the last couple of decades, advent of LED screens into consumer market, scale of production & innovation, has made a once ‘high-tech’ stuff very much affordable today. Cost of computer-chips (i.e., integrated circuits) has gone down by a great extent. Wireless networks are now available mostly everywhere, and where they aren’t, they are soon going to be. Lower cost of computer-chips & almost ubiquitous availability of wireless networks, has made it possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an aircraft, into an IoT device.
IoT has now become a part of our everyday life; Be it wearables (Fitness wrist bands, Smart watches, etc.), voice assistants (Google, Siri, Alexa, etc.), smart appliances (smart TVs, refrigerators, etc.) and the list goes on.
As we said earlier, an IoT device could be as simple as children’s toys or as complex as driverless cars or even much larger things like jet engines, working with thousands of sensors collecting & transmitting data. At an even bigger scale, smart-city-projects are loading up streets & roadways with sensors, to help us understand and control the environment around us. IoT is making the world smart & aware.
While IoT is transforming the world for good, data breaching, hacking and such threats, necessitate rock-solid framework of cyber-security. It is a subject in itself, perhaps at a later time. Now however, it’s time to hop onto the world of Industrial IoT, shortened as IIoT.
As the name says, the IIoT, refers to IoT used in an industrial context. Let’s set it straight alright! Okay, IIoT refers to ‘connected industrial things’. It does differ from it’s parent (IoT we mean), as you’ll see in the next heading. For now, let’s dive into IIoT.
Application of IIoT (in Industries of course!) is basically intended to gain & to accomplish improvements in operational efficiency (let’s call it ‘OpE’ for convenience).
What is ‘OpE’? In simple terms, efficiency is how close is the output to the input. Input could be money, number of machines, number of parts, number of people, volume of inventory, real-estate, or anything that is invested in the business.
If input is 100 & output is 90, efficiency is said to be 90%, as simple as that. If you have 100 machines, and (let’s say) utilization of the machines is 90%, guess what is 'Machine-OpE’? Yes 90%; This is also called asset utilization or OEE (overall equipment efficiency). 10% could have been lost due to unavailability of manpower (for certain % of time), continuous availability of input parts, skill-level of the operator, rejections of the parts being manufactured, maintenance break-downs, business continuity (customer’s orders may not be continuous) and so on.
Similarly, a business may have 100 people, but effective utilization could only be (say) 85%, meaning 15% of efficiency is lost, reasons of which could be yet skill-level, working-culture of the company, quality of assets that they work on (i.e., say if the machine on which a person works, is inefficient, his output goes down too), and also aspects like ergonomics, result orientation, or even the quality the leader of a team, and so on. The gamut of the subject is wide.
Expanding further on OpE, it is not just the assets and manpower, it is also about the business practices of the industry (the company), that influence the efficiency, such as-
-level & frequency of upgradation being done, be it technology or skill-levels
-degree of diligence in following best practices like Kaizen, KANBAN (Just-in-time), TPM, TQM, Six Sigma, VAVE and so forth
This is not all, areas such as efficiencies of SCM, logistics, level of market acquisition, value & quality of the products produced, etc., impact too. The subject of how an effective industrial-business is run, goes deep, ranging from right hiring strategy to right investment methodology to the cultural discipline and many other arenas. One of these days, we will write on this subject in detail.
For now, moving on, operational efficiency of any industrial business varies from as low as 30% to as high as 70%. This is not about what we feel the efficiency is. This is about what is the potential of achievable-efficiency versus what it is currently.
Okay, you’ve got an overall picture of what is operational efficiency. As we said earlier, purpose of IIoT is to gain improvements in OpE. In its simplest form, and the very first area of business that IIoT improves is QCD (quality-cost delivery).
IIoT begins as a framework of connecting machines, capturing, monitoring & interpreting the data. It can be implemented locally, like for certain manufacturing processes or certain cells/lines or even a specific machine or equipment. When done holistically, it can be a full-fledged application to the whole factory with the aim of building a truly holistic ‘smart factory’.
Time to get you familiarized with core technical understanding of IIoT.
In the beginning, we said IIoT is ‘connecting industrial things’, more appropriately speaking it is ‘the network of connected industrial things’. Let’s understand what these ‘things’ are now.
In an industrial setting, these ‘things’ refer to interconnected Sensors, Instruments, Controllers (PLCs, CNCs, Microcontrollers, SCADA, DCS, etc), Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), Actuators (motors, cylinders, etc.), and other devices (AGVs, Storage systems, etc.).
All these ‘things’ that control industrial processes like production, quality, material movement, and so forth, collectively make-up what-is-called a set of ICSs (Industrial Control Systems).
Let’s say that again - Industrial control system (ICS) is a collective term that describes different types of ‘control systems and related instrumentation’, used to operate industrial processes.
Like say a PLC could be operating a set of instructions in a simple machine-
-when push-button is pressed, operate a certain solenoid-valve-1 to move pneumatic-cylinder-1 forward, then check whether pneumatic-cylinder-1 has reached forward by checking status of a reed-switch-1, and on it goes - the list of operations.
When these sets of instructions are written in a PLC, they are called PLC’s ladder logic (like you’re logically going up or coming down a ladder, one step at a time).
And on a slightly higher scale, a SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) could control a number of PLC-based machines and/or some stations (such as gauging/inspection systems, part-transfer, etc.), and may be some automation like pick & place, or a Robot.
Okay, we have now got an idea of what ‘industrial things’ are. Let’s build an understanding of basic building blocks of IIoT now.
Networking of operational processes (such as SPC, SQC, Safety, and so on) with the aforementioned ICSs, is referred to as ‘Operational Technology’, or OT. In simple terms, OT is connecting production processes through ICSs.
And, the technology of sharing information with the use of computers, is referred to as ‘Information Technology’, or IT. Yes, we’re introducing IT here. After all IIoT ultimately culminates in information processing. Hence, IT is an integral part of IIoT.
Well, so the OT devices (i.e., ICSs) control the physical word (machines & all), and IT systems manage the data (i.e., information from OT devices).
When OT & IT converge, communication, information-sharing & data collection become possible between machines and other industrial equipment. This convergence (of OT & IT), provides a unified platform of control & information capturing, which in-turn enables ‘end-to-end system integration’, in turn establishing a platform for process optimization & automation.
Alright! Having now understood OT & IT, let’s connect the dots, shall we? Here it goes!
IIoT bridges OT & IT. This bridge is the connected network (i.e., IoT) of industrial things. In mathematical form, IIoT = (OT + IT) + IoT.
Sink this in. Take your time in recollecting all that you’ve learnt so far, and try to put things together. It really is simple you know!
Okay, when you reflect on this, it becomes quite clear that ‘OT + IT’, form the foundation on which IIoT is built. Hence, IIoT is the connectivity of elements of OT (ICSs) & elements of IT (information processing systems).
And this connectivity (i.e., IIoT) is the platform on which the data (monitored or captured or sensed or measured) is passed-on from those ‘connected things’ using transmitters & receivers, and is collected by the information processing systems.
Data Analytics (analysis of the collected data), is then used to come up with actionable information.
What kind of actionable information? Well you see, over time, engineers can use this collected data, to find patterns which can help identify larger issues and their root causes (i.e., actionable information). And not only so, such patterns also allow engineers to gain powerful insights into the operations (of the machines or equipment or the factory itself as a whole), thereby potentially facilitating improvements in Operational Efficiency (the OpE).
It is in this way that the IIoT paves the way for a number of tangible & intangible benefits through ‘useful insights’ that help in business decisions & process improvements, be it economics of business, agility, efficiency, operational reliability, scalability, safety and so on.
A case in point. Let’s say a machine has an electric actuator (say a motor), which exhibits a certain temperature characteristic of say it’s temperature increases when it starts running from (say) ambient of 25ºC to 45ºC (i.e., temperature rise or ΔT of 20ºC) , over certain umber of cycles or certain amount of running-time. Over time, as the winding begins degrading, ΔT goes from 20ºC to 30ºC. If say, this machine in on IIoT wherein data of Temperature is being collected using a sensor, over time it starts displaying a pattern of increase. You would know from recommended performance characteristics of the motor that when the temperature reaches a certain upper limit (say 70ºC i.e., ambient+ ΔT), motor would have high chances of failure, effectively endangering continuity of production. Armed with this data, remaining life of the motor can in fact be predicted and a replacement can be arranged.
Going beyond this, data can also be collected from the operation that the motor is doing, like say it is rotating a cutting tool, say a Reamer. Data such as how dull the tool has become (how worn out it is), can be identified from the hole diameter it is making on the work-piece. If the work-piece is showing a pattern of reduction is size of the hole being drilled (meaning Drill-bit is wearing out), it can be concluded that the Drill-bit is nearing the end of it’s life.
When such data from different aspects of a process, is collected and analysed, the engineer can conclude that it is not only the motor that is losing it’s winding strength, it is also the increased cutting force that the drill-bit is facing, due to it being worn-out.
You see, with collection of right data, followed by data analytics, an engineer gets empowered to take right decisions, based on actual on-goings. It is not what ’one-thinks’, but what is ‘actually happening’, that decides the course of further action.
When data is collected intelligently from a number of sensors across the production line (or even a whole factory), and then advanced data analytics is done (i.e., filtering raw data, generating patterns, benchmarking, evolving trouble-shooting guide-lines, and so on), possible outcomes in OpE are truly transformational. And while we’re on this topic, you should know that ‘advanced data analytics’ is also referred to as ‘Big Data Analytics’, when the volume of data processed is quite huge.
Okay now, think about this. Take your time (again!) to figure out where all such data can be captured to evolve an ecosystem of correctly understanding the causes and effects.
A world of possibilities opens up, doesn’t it?
Great! You’ve now developed pretty good understanding of what can IIoT do. We’ll notch-it-up further. Time to climb. Go on!
A holistic IIoT application goes beyond human interpretation / analysis of data, and lays down the platform to progressively go from effective ‘machine-to-machine (M2M) communication’ to ‘big data analytics’ to ‘machine learning’ and finally ‘artificial intelligence’.
Yes, the progression can be step-by-step and evolutionary. And, when this is executed with a clear vision, IIoT can comprehensively transform a traditional factory into a smart factory by implementing powerful technologies such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning & Artificial Intelligence, in succession.
Alright, armed with this background, let’s now define IIoT in a comprehensive manner.. Here it is -“IIoT is a framework of machines, computers and people enabling intelligent industrial operations using advanced data analytics for transformational business outcomes”.
What are possible business outcomes? Beyond bringing in insightful information through data-patterns at factory level, IIoT can be expanded to include ‘supply chain’, ‘logistics’ and integration of ‘sales & marketing’. This integration of business processes, aligns ‘whole business’ to growth vectors. What are growth vectors (GVs)? Well GVs are the pathways to achieve sustainability and continuous evolutionary transformation; and provide business-agility in a business being able to ‘respond’ & ‘adapt’ to ever changing market dynamics. With an end-to-end data-driven integration of business processes (from customer to factory to supply-chain), ‘analysis & resolution of issues’ and ‘identification & implementation of opportunities’, happen dynamically and coherently.
That’s not all, it goes beyond. Comprehensive integration of business processes, can include man-management (HR), economics of business (Finance), EHS, Administration, and so on. All the business functions can be oriented to the core objectives of the business. This would then be called as ‘Smart Industry’ - an evolution over ‘Smart Factory’.
In summary, consistent capturing, transmitting & analysis of data from & among the smart devices and machines, provides industries and enterprises with a multitude of growth opportunities. The data allows industries and enterprises to nail-down errors or issues or inefficiencies in the operations (be it a machine, or a process, or supply chain as a whole), and then immediately address them, thus pushing for day-to-day operational efficiency. Proper & holistic integration of the IIoT can optimize the use of assets, predict points of failure, and even trigger maintenance processes autonomously.
By adopting IIoT (connected industrial objects and computing systems), businesses are enabled to gather and analyse greater amounts of data at greater speeds. Not only will this enhance sustainability, scalability and performance, but it can also bridge the gap between the production floors and general offices. Integration of the IIoT can give industrial entities a comprehensive idea of how their operations are moving along and help them make informed business decisions.
Here we come to an end of what’s IIoT. Let’s conclude this discussion with a clear understanding of key differences between IoT & IIoT. And, here it follows.
Key difference lies in applications and the level of robustness connected devices used. Broadly speaking, the term ‘IoT’ implies ‘Consumer IoT’, and ‘IIoT’ is specific to industrial applications.
IoT applications, tend to be consumer-centric and are used in lower-risk situations, often as consumer products. Their benefits usually result in consumer convenience, and the consequences of a piece of equipment malfunctioning are less severe.
Let’s say in case one of the sensors in your smart watch or your smartphone stops working. You would probably get it repaired at your earliest convenience, and it would probably not affect your overall efficiency as much, be it how effective you are on your job, or how well you attend to family matters or so. This is not to say that it is not-concerning for malfunctioning GPS on your phone, taking you to an unknown area in the middle of nowhere! It is certainly not ok. But, generally any malfunction or break-down in consumer-IoT-devices (say a smart light bulb or a smart TV or wearables or so) might not have a very severe impact (as-in breakdowns may not immediately cause emergency situations), though such situations do cause inconvenience.
As we studied earlier, IIoT applications are focused on enhancing operational efficiencies of the industries, be it manufacturing, logistics, supply-chain or so.
In industrial environments - production continuity, quality consistency & safety are critical. The equipment that IIoT handles in an industrial setting, are critical machines and devices, that directly impact QCD & safety. Moreover, in high-stakes industries such as aerospace, defence, healthcare, energy and so, any device malfunction or failure can often result in life-threatening or other serious situations. To handle such critical equipment effectively, IIoT requires the use of sophisticated, robust & highly reliable devices. Sensors must be sensitive enough to provide the precision of data as-required to enable seamless production, consistent quality, predictive maintenance, automation, safety and so forth.
You see, it is therefore an important necessity to exercise comprehensive care in ensuring 24/7 connectivity and reliable performance of the devices & sensors across an IIoT framework. And, a clean system of data-filtering must be in place, to avoid overwhelming the users and/or applications with too much of raw data. Data & network security need to be sound and solid as well, which otherwise could lead to leak of sensitive business information, or unwarranted tampering with critical production or control processes.
These specific challenges require IIoT to possess a higher degree of robustness than regular (consumer) IoT.
Okay then, here we wind this discussion up. Watch out for a follow-up of this, detailing the transformational outcomes of implementing IIoT, in a nuanced way. Until next time then!