Connectivity is the cornerstone of the internet of things (IoT) and can provide major benefits to businesses when carried out correctly. Too many manufacturers are implementing their early stage industrial internet of things projects on a case-by-case basis, making them difficult to integrate with future systems. As their use cases mature, greater levels of industrial connectivity in IoT will be required to unleash the technology’s maximum benefit.
While a longer-term perspective is more resource and capital-intensive up-front when deploying an industrial internet of things (IIoT) implementation, there are many advantages to greater industrial connectivity. Preparing for greater integration in the future is essential for keeping up with IoT-enabled competitors. We’ll explore why connectivity in IoT is critical to achieving the maximum benefits from your IIoT program.
To gain a better understanding of connectivity in IoT, let’s take a step back and examine what the internet of things really is. The IoT enables everyday objects to the internet through embedded devices. Companies have largely focused on leveraging connectivity in IoT to better manage their assets. Manufacturers do so by connecting machines, devices, workers, facilities, and systems to the industrial internet of things (IIoT) to share data between their physical machines and digital devices.
In the early stages, some manufacturers tend toward implementing these technologies on an ad-hoc basis. They have done so by investing in new industrial internet of things (IIoT) platforms, IoT-enabled machinery, or by retrofitting legacy equipment. While asset optimization programs like this are an excellent starting point, organizations often are not using the industrial IoT to its full potential.
Application of the industrial IoT is still in its infancy, but many companies are already scaling up from simple asset optimization to whole-plant optimization. For many people—especially those on the plant floor—the IIoT is the use of sensors to monitor asset health in real-time; and the use of that data to for example, fine-tune lean manufacturing processes, optimize asset utilization, and increase workforce productivity.
When it comes to implementing the IIoT, the best approach is to start small and allow room to scale up. As use cases for the IIoT mature, their architectures will require connections that cross departments, silos and entire systems. The steady influx of metrics collected by the IoT sensors will enable manufacturers to view their entire plant floor as a single system, encompassing every detail of the factory; from machines to workers.
This shift represents a move from the kind of productivity focused initiatives most commonly seen today, to a full-scale transformation of how entire companies work. Manufacturers can provide better products and services to customers at a lower cost.
In short, the greater the level of connectivity in IoT, the greater the potential gains and opportunities. LNS Research recently conducted a survey of manufacturing companies utilizing the IIoT, and the business impact of greater connectivity.
What they found was that the early use cases of the IIoT—where one or two things were connected on an ad-hoc basis—tended to yield significant gains in productivity or operational efficiency, for example, but that they were only incremental. Ad-hoc connections tended to create more silos, creating more significant challenges for businesses that wanted to scale up to wider transformation programs in the future.
The IIoT deployments made as part of broader transformation initiatives—that connected multiple systems—tended to produce step-change improvements. Wider, more connected initiatives, were better integrated into future programs, creating a virtuous circle of connectivity that will yield even greater improvements over time.
Connectivity lays the foundations for the industrial IoT. While allowing for greater connectivity may require more work up-front than on a case-by-case basis, businesses are better served by placing connectivity at the forefront of each of their IIoT deployments.
To read the full LNS Research report—and learn more about the importance of connectivity in the industrial IoT—download the whitepaper, "Plant Data and Connectivity."