A central and oft-repeated value proposition of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is delivering the right information to the right decision-maker at the right time to facilitate better business outcomes. Indeed, informed decision-making that improves overall performance (such as lower energy usage) or heads off an incident that can interrupt production (such as mechanical failure) are essential deliverables for solutions enabled by the IIoT.
But perhaps even more compelling are those solutions that allow the execution of never-before-possible business processes that bring entirely new value to industrial organizations. Enabled by the smarter devices, converged networks and scalable services platforms of the IIoT, solution providers are delivering tangible benefits in all three categories of business across the industrial landscape.
What’s the score?
The value that comes from improved visibility into the actual performance of production assets is in some ways the low hanging fruit of the IIoT. For example, it’s long been known that when process plant operators have simple visibility into how the plant is performing in real-time against desired business objectives (i.e., profitability) they can make a marked contribution toward that goal, just by knowing what the score is.
This sort of visibility has always been possible, but like with many other projects that involve systems integration, data collection and analytics, it was difficult to do and even harder to maintain. The IIoT makes it far easier to pull data and visualize it in meaningful ways—across multiple production lines in multiple facilities around the world.
RtTech, for example, provides analytics based on real-time data to improve the energy efficiency, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and other key performance indicators (KPIs) for its customers in a range of industrial verticals, says Pablo Asiron, CEO. “We provide 450 different interfaces to programmable logic controllers, distributed control systems and human machine interface platforms, connecting automatically and in real-time,” Asiron explains.
The company started out providing on-premise software, but has progressively moved to a cloud-based software-as-a-service model. “Today, cloud technology is much more broadly accepted than just three years ago,” Asiron says. “With our cloud solution, we can easily serve hundreds of clients—limiting costs for them and for us, too. It validates what we are doing.” And validates the value proposition of the IIoT, too.
Benchmarking for all
Meridium is another applications software company that has carved out a leadership position in the umbrella category of asset performance monitoring (APM). The company provides both on-premise software as well as a cloud-based solution called Asset Answers.
“For us, IIoT means bringing together disparate pieces of information from various siloed plant systems and feeding it back to the operators and maintenance staff—it’s information that was never available before,” explains Roy White, senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Asset Answers offering. Importantly, the Assets Answers engine allows companies with similar production assets to compare their performance against that of other companies with similar equipment. The aggregated data is anonymized to ensure privacy across its client base.
“Individual companies own their own data, but we own the aggregation,” explains Jason Cline, director of architecture and user experience for the Asset Answers platform. “It’s a technical and functional challenge to compare data across companies,” he says. “But we work with a council of clients to map their data to a standardized rubric and make sure we’re treating the data correctly.”
As more companies embrace these sorts of models facilitated by the IIoT, “the costs go down and the opportunities go up,” adds John Slovensky, Asset Answers product manager. “We’re focused on making possible for small companies what normally might have been available only to large companies. How can they benchmark against their peers? How can they improve?”
Wireless boosts efficiency, safety
Cloud-based applications aren’t the only way in which the IIoT is enabling improved plant performance in the process industries. On the “bottom” side of the IIoT paradigm, low-power wireless sensors are allowing process manufacturers to easily add new monitoring points where running new conduit and wiring was cost-prohibitive in the past. Once proven, the scope of this wireless mesh infrastructure often expands to include new, non-process information, such as acoustic steam trap monitors that help reduce energy usage and safety shower switches that help to boost safety.
“When we implement our OneWireless solution for a particular application at a customer site, we typically see five more applications added within the first year,” says Diederik Mols, business manager, industrial wireless solutions, Honeywell Process Solutions. Among the recent applications cited by Mols are personal hydrogen sulfide detectors at a plant in the United Arab Emirates that communicate wirelessly and alert safety personnel management to the potential exposure of workers in the field.
Remote monitoring and diagnostics
If there’s one killer app for the IIoT, then remote monitoring and diagnostics would likely be it. For end-user companies, remote monitoring allows production personnel to keep tabs on distant or unmanned units, alerting them to conditions that indicate problems to come down the road. For example, an increased vibration level that indicates imminent bearing failure, or a narrowing temperature differential that indicates fouling of a heat exchanger.
Remote monitoring and diagnostics also opens a whole new world of possibilities to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who can now keep tabs on global fleets of machines, and explore new revenue opportunities for ongoing services related to the care and feeding of those machines.
“As the enabling compute, network and storage solutions have become sophisticated, we’ve also seen industry shift its focus in time,” says Spencer Cramer, CEO of Ei3 Technologies, a provider of cloud-based remote monitoring services for OEMs. “First the data went into historians, and we analyzed what happened in the past. Then we moved to real-time analytics to know what was happening now. But today, the focus in on the future, on predictive analytics. That’s the value proposition of the IIoT,” Cramer says.
When fighter jets return from battle, the technicians responsible for the assessing aircraft damage and directing the repair of these critical assets don’t take their jobs lightly. But at Lockheed Martin, technicians assessing F22 and F35 fighter jets on behalf of its air force customers have reduced the time needed for battle damage assessment from several days to several hours, allowing planes to get back up and flying far more quickly than in the past, according to Barry Po, director of product management for NGRAIN, the provider of augmented and virtual reality technology that worked with Lockheed to develop the solution.
Traditionally, maintenance technicians had manually assessed and tracked damaged areas by placing a transparent film over these areas and tracing reference points (such as fasteners and seams) with a marker. They would then cross-reference this information with repair data history captured in a spreadsheet. Now, technicians use interactive 3D technology to integrate damage assessment information into a virtual model of the specific aircraft under examination.
Maintainers, in turn, can use the solution to identify location of damage, insert photos and notes into the 3D model, as well as visually locate parts for ordering. Virtual damage assessment software—delivered on portable, ruggedized computers—works with other software applications to help maintainers quickly assess whether or not damages adversely impact aircraft mission capability. It also helps maintainers determine which damages need to be repaired to restore the aircraft to mission capability.
“Data is no longer the realm of the analyst or data scientist,” says NGRAIN’s Po. “In the past, this might’ve sort’ve worked, but now it’s available for companies of any size to try out without a major capital outlay. We’re moving data to the front so that workers can make decisions and move the business forward.”