The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), like winter, is coming. “If you listen to the media, the world is changing, and IIoT will change everything,” said Dennis Brandl, chief consultant and founder of BR&L Consulting, who spoke this week about IIoT innovation and trends in industry at the 2018 Foxboro User Group conference this week in San Antonio.
“Changes are gathering momentum in our industries,” he explained. He cited the lily-pad example of exponential growth. If a single lily pad doubles in size each day and takes 50 days to cover the surface of a pond, the pond is only half-covered on the 49th day. “We are in the 49th day of IIoT,” he said, noting a variety of telltale signs, such as the unprecedented processing power and functionality of smart phones. Not long ago 1 MB of memory cost a million dollars, while today it costs less than $100 for 10,000 MB. “We can do more today than we’ve ever been able to do.”
Brandl also remembered when he started his career in controls and having to beg management for 32K of memory. How times have changed. “Now, ‘smart’ is cheap. ‘Networked’ is cheap. And memory is cheap,” he noted. “Power requirements and size are rapidly decreasing. Markets will change. Companies will die, and new ones will rise. We will all change jobs.”
Finally, the promise of the IIoT is being delivered. “We know this is real because people are starting to see benefits,” said Brandl. “Countries believe in IIoT. Industry consortiums are on board as well.”
The Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute in the United States, La France en 2025, Made in China 2015, the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, the Future of Manufacturing & Remanufacturing in Singapore and Industrie 4.0 in Germany are just a few examples of countries’ initiatives. The Industrial Internet Consortium, Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, European Factories of the Future Research Association, OPC Foundation and VDMA are some of the industry consortiums that are committed to IIoT advancement. And new standards are being developed, including IEC SC65E Smart Manufacturing Information Models, AutomationML IEC 62714 and updates of numerous ISA standards.
However, despite the dedication of countries, consortiums and standards bodies to IIoT, many end users are still confused. “Isn’t this just the latest information-technology thingy and buzzword?” they ask.
“We don’t even know what our capabilities are yet,” explained Brandl. “We’re at the crawling stage. We’re very bad at predicting the future and what we find essential once it is available. How did we live without Google Maps and Waze? Who knew we needed a camera on our phones? We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Like the lily-pad pond, our expectations will grow exponentially. “We will see an explosion in what our expectations are,” predicted Brandl. “We expect we’ll make better decisions, and the system will become our digital assistant all of the time.”
Brandl has been working in standards efforts for quite a few years, and he is part of the group that is looking at all of these international models depicting the growth of IIoT and understanding how they will integrate.
“There are lots of dimensions, views and aspects,” he explained. “It’s very difficult to visualize the relationships. We’ve got a complex task to make sense of all of the work being done. There are dozens of models, hundreds of experts, continual physical and Web meetings, multiple viewpoints and multiple time scales.”
The transition will be complex. Changing out systems and components becomes a challenge when they are integral parts of the equipment responsible for profitability. “How do I change the equipment when it’s pervasive?” asked Brandl. “If you want to change that system, you have to shut everything down, so no one wants to change the system.”
In addition to product and system lifecycles, the lifecycle of employees must also be considered. How do you keep someone trained in a job that won’t exist in two years? And how do you prepare that employee for the future and the job that will exist when the current one is obsolete?
The questions are still many, and answers are still being developed. But one thing is certain. “IIoT is coming. Smart manufacturing is coming. Everything is going to be smart. It could be chaos, or it could be great,” said Brandl. “End users, vendors and integrators are all working together, developing best practices for how to configure, manage, maintain and effectively use hundreds of thousands of smart devices in a smart manufacturing facility. It’s not just Schneider Electric. Everyone out there in the world is looking at this.”