According to Accenture Consulting, 76 percent of manufacturers expect to launch Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications and begin using smart devices by the end of 2017. While we have clearly reached an inflection point in terms of the acceptance of the IIoT, we’re still at the beginning stages of its growth and evolution. The questions that many are asking include: What will the future of the IIoT look like? What are some of the key drivers of the potential for a widescale digital transformation of industrial automation? How will we secure billions of IIoT devices and ensure safety of mission-critical infrastructure?
As the concept of the smart factory and what has been dubbed “Industry 4.0” take form, the IIoT will be all about machine-to-machine (M2M) and device-to-cloud communications. Over the next decade, the IIoT will dramatically alter manufacturing, energy, agriculture, transportation, and other industrial sectors to transform human and machine integration. This is only possible by overcoming some fundamental hurdles. The following aspects show how many of those hurdles will be surmounted to open the inevitable future of the IIoT.
The Move to IPv6
The adoption of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) will be broadly adopted to accommodate the globally unique IP address needed by each device to go online. Whereas IPv4 permits four billion IP addresses, IPv6 creates a much, much larger address space of many billions, therefore allowing exponential growth.
Transporting sensor data online requires short-range solutions as well as long-range solutions. This will utilize the latest Bluetooth standards implemented on various IIoT devices and Bluetooth beacons to daisy-chain devices over vast areas and create mesh networks that link connected assets. This will also be supported by IPv6 and 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks).
Wireless, 5G, and the IIoT
The cloud and widespread wireless connectivity are key parts of the foundation of the IIoT. This is the structure upon which multiple factory locations, as well as the decentralized supply chain, can be connected. The goal is to seamlessly keep all points aware and responsive in real time to manufacturing needs, including acceleration, deceleration, monitoring, and other processes without substantial human interaction.
In order to overcome the issues of latency for real-time action on incoming sensor data and communication/control, 5G will be crucial, as the IIoT requires 5G’s sub-1ms latency for active data versus the 5ms or greater that is inherent to 4G. This will be adequate for batch data analysis of data at rest. With the need for channel widths of hundreds of megahertz, the Federal Communications Commission recently approved plans to open up nearly 11GHz of spectrum above the 24GHz band in support of mobile telecom services.
Collaborative robotics will play a big part in the future of Industry 4.0 where facility-wide wireless communication takes place between machinery, workers, and a central database. Major IIoT innovators like ABB and Huawei are already collaborating on these types of solutions. According to a recent Engineering.com article, the fruits of the collaboration will yield the ability to enable each aspect to connect on a different wireless spectrum to alleviate bandwidth issues on a single network.
According to the Engineering.com article:
“This network would allow for support of multiple services, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), automatic control, data transmission for smart meters and sensors, video surveillance, broadband access and voice communication.”
Fog computing is the bridge between the cloud and the sensor-connected devices on the edge of the network. It utilizes what is known as “smart gateways” (aka “fog nodes”) to link intelligent edge devices, such as machines, robots, and cloud services, to provide connectivity. More important is the fact that it eliminates the challenges with low latency, data management, autonomous operation, and other aspects that traditional cloud systems cannot eliminate.
Fog computing operates on the network edge to bring the access layer and its M2M data closer to the compute and applications layers for real-time actions and actionability. This is designed to work in tandem with the traditional cloud, where IIoT functionality does not require instantaneous action or control.
Overcoming IIoT Security Risks
The merging of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) will require solutions that enable automated and scalable security solutions that can overcome the cybersecurity risks of the melding of IT and OT. These resultant data security concerns are the top issue with manufacturers, according to the Morgan Stanley/Automation World survey.
IIoT-related cybersecurity will require custom solutions beyond firewalls to protect data. This is where IIoT platforms come into play as the means of managing a deployment from device management and data prediction to the all-important security.
Platforms will deliver an adaptable, scalable, and holistic solution that enables the management of thousands or millions of devices and gateways. Current and future platforms are designed to automatically take care of software updates and upgrades, patches, deployment of new features, and functionality. In terms of security that the platforms are capable of delivering, there are device-level authentication, application security, and system-wide management assurance, as well as incident-response protocols for ongoing process security.
The IIoT is a vast and complex endeavor with many moving parts, technology approaches, and potential solutions for numerous industries. That being said, the changes in the areas represented in this article point the way to a future of broad realization of the IIoT across its many possible uses.
With many sectors already beginning implementation of the IIoT in both big and small ways, the Industrial Internet Consortium has recently released the Business Strategy and Innovation Framework. This is one of many important developing tools that will enable your business and sector to reach the transformative future potential of the IIoT.