Much of the buzz surrounding the internet these days has been more focused on the Internet of Things (IoT), and how these connections will help society achieve greater efficiency and productivity.
We’ve already talked extensively about some of the most exciting IoT applications in development for consumers and municipalities in a previous blog post, so this blog focuses on how internet connectivity is effecting change in the industrial sector.
This technology, known as the Industrial IoT, is helping businesses optimize performance and prevent mechanical breakdowns, all while keeping employees safe and productive.
IIoT vs IoT: What’s the Difference?
Like the IoT, the IIoT refers to a series of interconnected physical entities (i.e., manufacturing equipment, sensors, devices, etc.) sending and receiving data over a network.
However, while IoT and IIoT devices share many similarities, there are some important differences between them.
In short, IoT devices are meant for everyday consumers, whereas IIoT devices are designed and built strictly for business and industrial applications.
This means that IIoT devices are intrinsically more robust, more autonomous, and more capable of being deployed in a wider variety of harsh environments.
Industrial IoT Applications
Because of the ubiquitous nature of the internet, there are no limits as to the kinds of devices that can be modified to support network data transfers. So when it comes to the IoT business ideas, the only limit is our imagination.
Indeed, many businesses in a variety of industries are already putting their imaginations to good use, which can be seen in the examples below:
Safety & Health
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety IIoT devices are beginning to make waves in a number of industries, such as mining, trucking, and shipping.
Take, for instance, the “Life” device by Smart Cap: this system uses state of the art brainwave technology to provide real-time monitoring of the wearer’s fatigue risk to help prevent dangerous microsleeps.
Consisting of a simple wearable strap that conveniently integrates into a hard hat or beanie, the Life product measures the wearer’s level of fatigue and then relays that information via Bluetooth to a dedicated smartphone app that can alert users when they’re at risk of falling asleep while operating heavy machinery or driving home from work.[i]
Industries like mining also stand to benefit from industrial IoT solutions, as everything from autonomous or remote controlled-vehicles and smart gas monitoring devices will increasingly become the norm.
With a local network in place, gas monitoring devices can relay important information about air quality to workers via wireless communication, and with predictive modeling, can alert workers of dangers when the slightest imbalance occurs.
Finally, shipping warehouses across the U.S are currently using a variety of IIoT devices to ensure worker safety, such as freight carts that use GPS and onboard sensors to autonomously transport materials from one end of a hub to another without the risk of harming workers.
Optimizing the performance of a manufacturing plant goes deeper than just replacing human labor with a bunch of robots; in fact, the effectiveness of an industrial robotics system is heavily dependent on how fast it can communicate with a local network.
Robots, like humans, complete tasks by following a specific set of instructions that are processed at very high speeds; however, when you have an entire assembly line comprised of robots building, say, a car, an expected communication delay could result in severe damage to both the car and the robotic system itself.
To prevent these breakdowns, companies like Intel are developing highly advanced, time-sensitive networking (TSN) chips which are pre-programmed to adjust to delays caused by sub-par network performance.[ii]
With this kind of technology in place, industrial IoT automation can become exponentially more reliable, which will allow new use-case scenarios to be developed.
Predictive & Remote Maintenance
Maintaining the performance of a mechanical system is tricky: while you can schedule maintenance at specific intervals, like changing your car’s oil every 6,000 miles, there’s always the possibility that something could break before this mileage is reached.
And for industries that rely on mechanical systems to carry out highly specialized tasks, a breakdown of any sort could end up costing a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted resources.
For example, a single faulty steam trap used in a corn milling plant can waste $30,000 worth of steam in a single year; however, with real-time performance monitoring provided by wireless acoustic sensors, some corn milling plants in the U.S have reported an annual savings of $301,108, and saw a return on their investment in just a few months after deployment was complete.
How does this work?
These IIoT sensors wirelessly communicate with specialized computer software to detect and alert maintenance crews of potential problems before they manifest. Additionally, these sensors are equipped with batteries that can last up to 10 years and require very little setup and maintenance, which adds to the overall cost savings.[iii]
Freight, Goods and Transportation Monitoring
We’ve already covered how the IoT is helping bring about the age of self-driving cars, but autonomous vehicles are only a part of the equation when it comes to the industrial internet of things.
For example, take maritime shipping: cargo ships carrying temperature sensitive items overseas can’t afford to have malfunctioning refrigeration units, as this is not only a waste of product but also a waste of fuel.
With IIoT sensors, the crew can be wirelessly notified when units start to fail and conduct repairs before the cargo is compromised.
This same principle can be applied to semi-trailer trucks and trains carrying similar kinds of products: with IIoT devices deployed, temperature sensitive cargo can be monitored in real-time to ensure that the product remains within a certain temperature threshold.
What Does the Future Hold for Industrial IoT Devices?
While the IIoT may seem impressive in its current state, the future holds even greater promise.
IIoT devices can only work as fast as their networks allow, which means that most IIoT devices can only achieve data transfer speeds of up to one gigabit per second (4G LTE) under the most ideal conditions. While nothing to scoff at, there’s another network technology coming to market soon known as 5G, and it’s going to change how we use wireless technology forever.
So, how fast is 5G? Networks powered with 5G technology will be able to achieve data transfers of up to 10 gigabits per second, but that’s only the beginning.[iv]
In theory, 5G can reach transfer speeds up to 1,000 times faster than 4G, which could very easily eliminate or minimize connectivity issues like latency, lag, and internet service interruptions.[v]
With a fast and reliable 5G network in place, creators of IIoT devices will be able to innovate faster than ever before, bringing about a new era of connected devices performing countless automated tasks.
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