7 International trends in the Industrial Internet of Things in 2021


1) Increased adoption of collecting data for machine analytics

Machine monitoring has long been considered a crucial necessity for companies wanting to increase production, minimize downtime, and improve efficiency. Unfortunately, with a clear separation between OT and IT, this has been a challenge in the past that most small to medium size businesses have not been able to overcome. Fast forward to today’s market with the emergence of edge gateways and an abundance of cloud-based IIoT platform providers that make gathering and viewing machine data not only feasible but a reality for many companies. Instead of long drown out implementation periods, projects can go from the idea stage to a functioning platform in a matter of months or possibly weeks with very little risk. Once the data is accessible, companies can change direction or quickly scale as their requirements evolve.

The increase of available machine analytics will have measurable effects going forward. Machine analytics provide additional functionality to give a competitive advantage and the data can produce new opportunities for additional revenue streams. This can uncover reliable avenues to monetize data, which will likely come with its own set of challenges but the groundwork will have been laid and new opportunities will certainly arise.


2) Wireless will gain increased acceptance on the factory floor

Data has shown that wireless implementation in manufacturing has been growing consistently at 32% in the last few years while assuming roughly 6% of total manufacturing network installations (data from the Industrial Networks market shares 2018). This trend will accelerate in 2019 driven primarily by mobile machinery and the proliferation of mobile computing in manufacturing.

"Wireless Communications have been accepted as a core network technology."

In the past, wireless was often considered too unreliable for communications in manufacturing processes. With wireless-connected mobile machinery such as Automated Guided Vehicles being increasingly used and providing tremendous benefits to manufacturing, wireless communications have been accepted as a core network technology. Visualization of manufacturing processes is moving into the realm of mobile computing as machine stakeholders can now better understand the current performance of their equipment and collaborate on improving manufacturing, all using the devices in the palm of their hand.


3) Do you want a digital twin with that? Machine builders will be required to provide digital twins to go along with their physical machines

The concept of a digital twin is not new. The term has been around for years but until recently it has been stuck in theory-land. With the capabilities to send and receive a large amount of data in near real-time, a machine can be observed in a digital form from anywhere in the world. There are many reasons to do this, but they all come down to making more money. The IDC predicts that companies could see 30 percent improvements in cycle times of critical processes. GE is expecting to gain 20% more efficiency in their wind farms. This is because a Digital Twin is not just a picture you can watch from your smartphone, but it represents a full toolbox of machine monitoring methods. The constant stream of data can be analyzed continuously since AI does not need to sleep. Digital Twins can lead to Predictive Twins to give the user advanced notice of problems, so downtime can be more easily managed. KPIs can be constantly monitored with automatic machine adjustments to increase efficiency. The benefits and opportunities go on and on.

Machine owners are more and more aware of these possibilities and what they can mean to their bottom line. When they invest in their next generation of production, they will not want to be left out of the future. This will lead to a market where machine builders to be competitive will have to start asking the question: “Do you want a digital twin with that?” The scramble is already beginning from the key players to address this need, but the task is not simple because you are forced to merge two traditionally separate components. This means that success will require strong partnerships where machines are paired with remote devices to form a smart machine. Machine builders that do not move forward will be left behind.


4) Higher levels of data integration and autonomous decision making

PPL Electric Utilities automated power recovery system is an excellent example of an IoT sensor and control network being used to manage a power grid with autonomous decision making. PPL smart grid is comprised of ~5000 sensors and electronic relays. When a portion of the next work is damaging the smart grid autonomous evaluates the network and remotely opens and closes relays to isolate the area of damage and re-energize customers that can safely receive power. The system was installed incrementally over the last 5 years and operated as a prescriptive analytics system for over a year (i.e. humans double checked every decision before executing). Today the system operates autonomously, and the performance is dramatic. During a typical lightning strike event the autonomous system can maximize the number of customers with energized lines in less than 90 seconds orders of magnitudes faster than the legacy human operator system. This significantly reduces the number of customers forced to deal with prolonged power outages.

"In 2019 the trend of monitoring and controlling distributed systems using autonomous software algorithms will continue to accelerate."

Based on the above example it is clear complex distributed systems with a well-defined decision tree can be fully autonomous. In 2019 the trend of monitoring and controlling distributed systems using autonomous software algorithms will continue to accelerate. Companies that deploy this technology will be able to execute a decision-making process at speed much faster than companies that do not deploy this technology which will lead to a competitive advantage. The power generation and power distribution, as well as water and wastewater verticals, are the lead industries deploying this technology.


5) Remote Monitoring will accelerate transparency, optimize uptime and create a proactive maintenance strategy will overcome security concerns

The current shift to implement remote monitoring and access to industrial equipment will accelerate as the desire for transparency, uptime optimization, and proactive maintenance strategies will overcome security concerns. We may also see the initial stages of northbound communications shift from the machine control level to the device/component level as end users allow OEM manufacturers to serve them better with connected devices. Security concerns continue to be the largest obstacle end users face when considering an IIoT initiative. Organizations are still concerned about machines on the plant floor with a connection to the outside world. However, we’re seeing a gradual decrease in this concern as OT professionals work closer to IT professionals and suppliers to understand and implement a secure data solution.

There is also a good amount of evidence that indicates data acquisition and storage on cloud platforms is driving value both for end users and OEM’s that strive to diversify their product offering and add value. Device manufacturers are responding by developing products that communicate to both the southbound machines and devices with the capability to do on-premise decision making and Cloud-based data storage and analytics. With the cost of cellular data uplink and cloud services continuing a downward trend, the cost to connect devices is no longer a major obstacle.

So how will this affect our industry? Organizations in high-tech industry sectors will be more progressive with an IIoT approach while companies in traditionally conservative industries will lag until the trend becomes a ubiquitous framework. Device manufacturers will need to respond to competition that offers a remote access/data acquisition and service feature. These same manufacturers may find their revenue streams shift towards selling services, consumables, or even product lease models.


6) OPC UA will become the dominant IIoT standard of the future

As the industrial space continues to modernize and streamline operations in 2019, more and more companies are seeking to implement IIoT or Industry 4.0 initiatives on the factory floor to provide more timely and actionable data to upper management. Digitizing a factory floor can increase efficiency and improve uptime, providing a competitive advantage; however, challenges arise when companies try to implement IIoT or Industry 4.0 initiatives in the real world. Often a factory floor is comprised of various legacy systems, as well as more modern systems that may utilize differing PLC platforms for control. Furthermore, companies must select a format for the data they gather, so it can be easily integrated into a SCADA or MES system.

"...over 47 million automation products installed globally employ OPC client technology in some capacity."

OPC UA is a secure, interoperable communication standard designed for secure and reliable data exchange in industrial applications. Once data is in the OPC UA format, it can be easily consumed by most major IIoT applications. According to the ARC advisory group, over 47 million automation products installed globally employ OPC client technology in some capacity (data from arcweb). Furthermore, over 4,200 automation suppliers make over 35,000 different stand-alone OPC UA ready products, according to International Society of Automation (ISA). This number will continue to grow as the demand for smart, connected factories increases, and a standard data platform emerges. Any business owner seeking to implement an IIoT strategy would be well served to select OPC UA as their data format of choice.

Once a data format has been selected, a decision must be made about how to aggregate that data and send it to the desired IIoT application. A business owner must balance the cost of implementation with ease of use, and the eWON Flexy is a perfect choice. The Flexy is OPC UA compatible, with both client and server capabilities. Moreover, the Flexy has most major PLC protocols built in, so it’s extremely easy to log data from a machine with a Rockwell PLC, for example, and send that data to a MES system as OPC UA data. The Flexy also supports data-logging from legacy serial devices via an optional serial extension card and data from sensors using the optional I/O extension card. Data export is easy as well. Whether you need data locally or in the cloud, the Flexy can securely transmit that information at scheduled intervals or upon an alarm condition. Couple all these features with an intuitive GUI, and the Flexy is the clear choice for any factory modernization effort.


7) New business models emerging – based on remote management

As an example, in the market of Power Generation, remote management of microgrids enables the concept of “Energy as a Service”. This EaaS business model can be applied to both grid-tied and off-grid power plants, basically converting capital investments into operating costs. For smaller, remote off-grid sites, especially in developing countries, this also allows for new “pay-as-you-go” business models. Furthermore, remote connectivity facilitates the federation of multiple microgrids to balance changes in power requirements and optimize the use of renewable energy.

Typically, with microgrids, we see a huge diversity in connected equipment with many vendors on the market. Some of them may provide proprietary remote monitoring capabilities but to connect multiple types of equipment, you need a vendor-independent solution, like the Argos Remote Management solution from HMS Industrial Networks.