Putting Industrial IoT Data to Work

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and the IoT reaches from the factory floor where things are made all the way to an end-user’s on-site experience. New features in ThingWorx 8 Industrial IoT platform put more data to work, tapping into cloud sources such as Amazon Web Services and beta-testing access with Microsoft Azure.

Menu-driven programs simplify gathering information about devices and create a platform from a range of software and devices. The context of performance -- time, costs, error rates, service intervals – can be assigned or “subscribed to” pushing useful information to the people who need it at the time of greatest impact, said Mike Campbell, executive vice president for ThingWorx, recently at LiveWorx17.

“Advisor” software guides users at the individual machine level on a factory floor where things are made all the way to an end-user’s on-site experience. Some of the capabilities showcased at LiveWorx 17, reflect an IoT that is reaching plug-and-play simplicity even for non-technical users especially with ThingWorx Manufacturing Apps – Controls Advisor for engineers, Production Advisor for output, and Asset Advisor for preventive maintenance.

For manufacturers, ThingWorx data can show usage and performance of machinery to improve efficiency and manage output from multiple locations. High-level monitoring can show dashboards that guide compliance and production rates. Remote inspections based on real information – not scheduled maintenance or estimated service levels – improves knowledge for machines and humans.

At the shop floor level, augmented reality via headset, phone-based apps or tablet allow anyone to spot a machine part and virtually see tools, parts and process for minor maintenance with no language barrier. Or, alerts about machines can be sent to the specific people with the skills and parts for making repairs.

“Once you have that data, you need to be able to contextualize and organize it so it makes sense,” Campbell said, and that includes leveraging the data in all sorts of ways that maximize value. ThingWorx allows you to structure data and enrich it with IoT context – identify an asset, easily map it with other connected devices and monitor data flows about the tool, system or output.

Campbell demonstrated using a 3D printer that was running low on raw materials and sent an alert message to someone who could then “see” inside the device using an app on a tablet computer. It showed which container of plastic pellets needed replacing and each step from error code to reset.

“Instead of needing to put a sensor on every moving part, simulation technology enables more information,” said Dr. Peyman Davoudabadi, principal engineer at ANSYS, Inc. Analyzing a pump’s flow rate lets engineers calculate the motor’s performance and then calculate the temperature – rather than having a thermocouple measure the motor itself.

“Rules-based engineering” is how Davoudabadi describes it with connected products equipped with data about themselves, at-rest or in-use from sensors or estimates. That knowledge makes a manufacturing process more reliable and resilient, speeding ‘repair or replacing’ decisions thanks to predictive analytics.

Armed with historical data, ThingWorx 8 enables scenarios that include the likelihood of reportable incidents. Using a digital twin of a device or system data, companies allow scenario-planning comparisons of “What could happen?” vs. “What should happen?” vs. “What will happen?”

That is a hallmark of what MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson calls the Second Machine Age. In the first era of machines and computing, human knowledge was programmed in for repeated sales, as many times as possible to earn a profit. Think of movies, music, software programs, and games designed as mass-market products.

Now, services and processes are collaborative with machines and humans sharing knowledge and learning. Brynjolfsson directs the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-authored the new book “Machine Platform Crowd” with Andrew McAfee, so he has more than an educated guess on the future.