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Beyond automation: The Internet of Things

Oct. 28, 2017 - Whether you call it the Industrial Internet or Internet of Things, or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), this wave of technology could bring about major changes to the way companies manufacture items, ship products and manage their physical assets.

October 28, 2017  By Cindy Macdonald

How will the Industrial Internet of Things change the pulp and paper business?

The possibilities of the IIoT arise from the ability to electronically monitor and control things in the physical world. This ability is not new; pulp and paper plants have had plantwide monitoring and distributed control systems for years. But plant systems tend to operate in isolation.

So why the rise of the Industrial Internet now? Heikki Ailisto from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, in a presentation, explained that the Industrial Internet exists now because affordable technology enables it: computing power is growing, low-power communication exists between machines, and sensors can be both low-cost and connected. Ailisto predicted that the Industrial Internet will disrupt most businesses and public services during next three to 15 years. He suggests businesses start preparing an IoT/II strategy, and begin experimenting with the technology in order to build experience and learn from setbacks.

Data plus Internet equals optimization
The Industrial Internet is described by GE and Accenture in their Industrial Internet Insights Report for 2015 as the combination of Big Data analytics with the Internet of Things. “Take the exponential growth in data volumes – that is, “Big Data” – available to companies in almost every industrial sector, primarily the ability to add sensors and data collection mechanisms to industrial equipment. Add to that the Internet of Things, which provides even more data – in this case about equipment, products, factories, supply chains, hospital equipment and much more.


“The Industrial Internet enables companies to use sensors, software, machine-to-machine learning and other technologies to gather and analyze data from physical objects or other large data streams — and then use those analyses to manage operations and in some cases to offer new, value-added services.”

However, using the streams of data generated by equipment and supply chains is proving to be a challenge. When respondents to the GE/Accenture report were asked to name the top three challenges faced in implementing Big Data analytics initiatives, the answer most frequently appearing (36 per cent) was “System barriers between departments prevent collection and correlation of data for maximum impact.” In addition, for 29 per cent of executives, a top-three challenge was in the consolidation
of disparate data and being able to use the resulting data store.

All in all, only about one-third of companies (36 per cent) have adopted Big Data analytics across the enterprise, according to GE and Accenture.

Industry 4.0 already here
In the report, Industry 4.0, How to navigate digitization of the manufacturing sector, McKinsey & Company noted that the Internet of Things is already playing a critical role in the next phase of factory automation, which has been called Industry 4.0. This term describes the full digitization of production processes, marrying the digital and physical worlds within the factory. A defining aspect of Industry 4.0 is the ability to monitor and control all tools of production and use the data collected to improve productivity and quality in factory settings.

As a supplier of automation, ABB has been involved with the Industrial Internet for years via the company’s control systems, communication technology and industrial sensors. In 2015, the company joined the Industrial Internet Consortium to foster collaboration among technology companies as they seek to establish global standards for the Industrial Internet. “The Industrial Internet holds incredible promise to transform manufacturing, energy and resource industries,” said Claes Rytoft, ABB’s chief technology officer.

ABB will work with others to ensure that end users reap the benefits promised by IIoT: improved efficiency, reduced costs and higher revenue.

According to ABB, the industry trend is toward smarter devices with software-based services exploiting the increased connectivity, bandwidth, computational capabilities and power efficiency, combined with the scalability and cost advantages of cloud computing.

The company notes that there are similarities between IoT for general systems and industrial systems, but with respect to scalability, there are also significant differences, such as: constraints on low latencies, criticality of the systems, requirements for predictability, resilience to failures in the system and cyber security.

What’s the value?
A McKinsey Global Institute report, The Internet of Things: Mapping the value beyond the hype, attempts to determine exactly how IoT technology can create real economic value.

To get a broader view of the IoT’s potential benefits and challenges across the global economy, the authors analyzed more than 150 use cases, ranging from people whose devices monitor health and wellness to manufacturers that utilize sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment and protect the safety of workers.

The authors conclude interoperability between IoT systems is critical, and that most of the IoT data collected today is not fully exploited.

“And of the data that are actually used – for example, in manufacturing automation systems on factory floors – most are used only for real-time control or anomaly detection. A great deal of additional value remains to be captured, by using more data, as well as deploying more sophisticated IoT applications, such as using performance data for predictive maintenance or to analyze workflows to optimize operating efficiency,” the report states.

The authors also feel the Internet of Things enables new business models. They suggest the example of machinery manufacturers, who, with the ability to monitor machines that are in use at customer sites, could shift to selling their products as services and charging based on usage. Service and maintenance could be added to the hourly rate.

In almost all cases, IoT systems raise questions about data security. Organizations that gather data from thousands or millions of devices need to protect the data and devices from unauthorized access. The McKinsey report notes that this creates new categories of risk for businesses. “Furthermore, when IoT is used to control physical assets, whether water treatment plants or automobiles, the consequences associated with a breach in security extend beyond the unauthorized release of information – they could potentially cause physical harm.”

Next steps
At an individual level, the Internet of Things may already be operating in your life. Fitness bands that monitor your activity and send the data for analysis, or Internet-connected devices to manage HVAC systems, appliances, entertainment or security systems have connected consumers to the IoT.

But if the IoT is to deliver benefits in the industrial world, there will have to be a meeting of minds at a very high level to enable the necessary standardization and interoperability.

The Internet of Things report outlines a few next steps: “For IoT applications to be adopted in the factory setting, some machinery will need to be upgraded or replaced to accommodate IoT sensors and actuators. There also needs to be improvements in connectivity and interoperability in many factory settings (both for machine-to-machine communications and for relaying large streams of data from the production floor). Improvements are also needed in data analytics and in the cost of basic technology such as sensors, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs), as well as cloud data storage and computing. Finally, for the full benefit of IoT in factories to be realized, security and privacy issues need to be addressed.”

This article was originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of Pulp & Paper Canada.

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