What is the future of the IIoT?

26th January 2018
Alice Matthews

The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of many industrial transformation strategies – streamlining production, improving efficiencies, and providing a basis for innovative new internal processes. And yet simply tearing out outdated systems and replacing them with new connected processes isn’t nearly enough. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite of what businesses need to do.

Author: Frank Jones, CEO at IMS Evolve, and Tom Canning, Vice President of Devices and IoT at Canonical

By attempting to rebuild entirely from the ground up, businesses are not only generating unnecessary costs, they are also removing infrastructure which already exists - infrastructure that may hold a mountain of data which could have been put to work improving business processes.

Making the best of what you have
As one industrial example, consider ‘cold chain’ supply chain management within the food retail industry. Given the significant costs involved, it seems unlikely that replacing every single fridge, freezer or delivery van within the estate of a food retail business would be very appealing for a large retailer. The sheer expense involved in such a drastic transformation of the supply chain will outweigh the immediate business benefits.

Instead, for businesses looking to undertake such an industrial transformation, rather than investing in brand new equipment, true transformation lies in updating existing infrastructure and incorporating new connected technologies into an already functioning industrial ecosystem. For many businesses, the vital data needed to inform their supply chain strategies already exists, it is simply not being captured or extracted in a way that can unleash its true value. What businesses need is a way to collect this data, in real time, at the location where it is being produced. It is here that the combined use of IoT and edge-computing technologies can provide the most value.

Incorporating an IoT layer, businesses can tap into the available data locked within their legacy machines. Returning to the example of refrigeration and so called ‘cold chain’ suppliers, by integrating IoT technologies across both merchandising systems and fridge monitoring systems, the temperature of each fridge can be controlled in real time, allowing fridges and freezers to be adjusted automatically depending on the specific contents. This will not only help suppliers to reduce their energy consumption and associated costs, but also help to ensure that a longer-lasting, higher quality product is delivered – ultimately improving the end customer experience.

The benefits of IIoT in supply chains today
While such complex IoT integrations may sound a long way off, they are in fact already being used across many supply chain ecosystems. Machine management brands such as IMS Evolve are already finding innovative solutions to incorporate IoT and edge technologies throughout the supply chain.

And it’s not just refrigeration that’s benefiting from such advancements. Within the food manufacturing industry, IIoT technologies are being used to supervise each stage of batch food production. By monitoring the consistency of both ingredient quantities and potential environmental factors in the food preparation environment, large-scale food manufacturers can ensure that they are improving productivity and cutting waste at all stages of production. This will not only help to produce a higher quality product, but will also allow businesses to improve profitability at every level of the supply chain – from production right through to distribution.

Accelerating IIoT adoption through a more unified approach
Despite these advancements, as well as the on-going opportunities for industrial internet of things technologies to be incorporated within the supply chain, many believe that the IIoT still has a long way to go. According to research from Ubuntu, 32% of IoT professionals believe it will take more than five years for IoT technology to receive widespread adoption throughout the industrial space. By contrast, 62% expect to see mass consumer adoption of IoT in under five years.

For many, the reason behind this slow adoption rate is a lack of interoperability across different industrial sectors and stages in the supply chain. In order for the industrial internet of things to be truly effective, IoT devices must be capable of collecting and analysing data in a consistent way regardless of where they are being utilised in the supply chain. In order to achieve this, IoT providers need to work together to establish cross-industry standards and means of cross-device collaboration throughout the IoT.

Already we are seeing significant movement towards this goal, with many IoT device manufacturers choosing to develop and run their industrial IoT products to a consistent set of standards. This has also been helped by the development of IoT-specific operating systems such as Ubuntu Core, which allow industrial device manufacturers to build all of their devices on a single platform – further improving collaboration and communication throughout the supply chain.

Out with the old, in with the... old
While there’s no denying that the industrial internet of things is gaining momentum, businesses must be careful not to assume that their existing infrastructure is worthless in the age of the IIoT. Legacy equipment and infrastructure is not necessarily a bad thing – often it can be at the heart of an effective data-led efficiency programme.

Rather than tearing out old systems, businesses and industry leaders should focus on supporting IIoT projects that help us to join up existing assets and systems within the supply chain. In order to build an effective IoT supply chain, we must first build IIoT technologies that can work together across any setting and any stage of industry.

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