Of the many Next Big Things out there, one of the most exciting is the industrial Internet of things (IIoT). The ability to connect devices, machines and even factories to each other, and to machine learning and analytics capabilities, doesn’t just have the potential to change how business is done -- it’s already changing it.
There are three common questions I hear when talking IIoT with customers
1. What is the IIoT, and when will it “arrive”?
It seems like many people still think the IIoT is a far off technology. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Allied Market Research estimates that the global IIoT market was $115 billion in 2016, and will reach $179 billion by 2023. While these studies can differ in their estimates, the consensus is that the IIoT is already a $100 billion industry. To expand the scope a bit, by 2020, the discrete manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and utilities industries are likely to spend $40 billion each on IoT platforms, systems, and services, according to Statista.
By 2030? Accenture projects that the IIoT could account for more than $14.2 trillion in economic activity around the globe.
If you’re in manufacturing, energy or other industries, you’re likely already investigating how the IIoT can make your company more efficient. If you’re not, it’s time to get on board.
2. How is the IIoT used now?
The industrial Internet of things is so vast and all-encompassing that it’s difficult to break down into a single definition. At its most basic is applying the Internet of things technology and concepts to manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, retail and energy -- the applications are staggering.
For example, these applications include factory robots that call for repairs before breaking down, electric cars that manage their own batteries and everything in between. The classic example is driverless cars. Sensors in the cars pick up data, quickly analyze it and make split-second decisions to keep cars on the road, going where they need to go.
The automobile use cases don’t end with drivers, though. Many electric cars already have sensors and software that can measure battery health and performance. This data can be stored in the car, then brought to the IIoT to be analyzed when the car is connected to the Internet. If the battery or other systems need work, this information can be discovered long before a problem occurs.
The use cases beyond cars are what get most in the industry excited, however. On many factory floors, for example, machines and robots are connected to the IIoT and are constantly sending sensor data and other information to be analyzed. With the help of machine learning and analytics, companies can predict when any machine will need service, so it can be tuned up before it breaks down.
3. What makes the IIoT possible?
The scenarios above highlight some strict requirements for the IIoT to work efficiently and safely.
First, downtime is simply not an option. For applications that involve vehicles, equipment that can’t go down -- like in hospitals -- or other mission-critical applications, virtually 100 percent uptime is a requirement, not a luxury. This largely means that on-premise hardware can’t get the job done.
The second major requirement involves latency. For real-time applications in manufacturing and shipping, and, yes, automated vehicles, even milliseconds make a difference. This means that uploading data to a far off cloud to be analyzed, then downloading instructions back just won’t cut it -- the travel time is too great.
The combination of these requirements, and others, means that neither on-premises nor traditional cloud are great options -- we need data to be analyzed close to where it’s being generated to avoid latency, but also need the reliability and uptime the cloud can provide.
The IIoT, therefore, will largely be powered at the edge of the cloud. By locating points of presence near cities and activity centers, the edge offers the scalability, performance, security and uptime of a cloud data center, while still providing some of the cost savings of the cloud, while eliminating the latency. Once data is no longer critical -- say, manufacturing information that you’re not acting on -- it can be moved to the cloud for archiving, regaining the true cloud savings.
It’s no exaggeration to say the IIoT is changing how manufacturing and other industries do business. How it evolves over the next few years, and how the edge evolves to meet the IIoT’s unique needs, is something I’ll be watching with interest.
To learn more about how the edge can support your IIoT needs, contact us.