Prioritize the IoT tsunami

Aug. 19, 2015
How can you stem the IoT tidal wave, or at least find the few useful nuggets in it? Employ the traditional engineering skills of organization, prioritization and project management.
About the author
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.Whether it's due to thunderstorms, flashfloods or rising rivers, water runs downhill more at some times than others. At present, references to the "Internet of Things" (IoT) are flowing in faster than presidential candidates or Midwestern mosquitoes. Where's my sump pump, flyswatter and high-percentage diethyltoluamide (Deet) spray?

I was content with "machine-to-machine" (M2M) communications. Just because devices get web pages and portals is no reason to rename everything. IoT and now Industrial IoT (IIoT) are structurally and functionally the same old Internet—just more of it.

Remember when the Internet was a cute add-on that let users check on plant-floor processes from home or the beach? Well, fast-forward to today, and IIoT has morphed into an indispensable tool for linking, optimizing and speeding up manufacturing at all levels, including sourcing and procurement, operations and production, process control and automation, supply chain and distribution, and troubleshooting and long-term maintenance.

So don't get me wrong. Equipment and processes that can work more cooperatively and report to users faster have big potential efficiency and productivity gains. I just object to adding unnecessary words to describe the same thing because someone is bored and wants a new buzzword so they can look fashionable and appear to be working when they're not.

See also: This is the dawning of the 'Age of IIoT'

And that's the source of the real problem. Talk is eternally cheap, and blathering and repurposing on the Internet is even cheaper. It beats working, especially if you can get paid for it. So just as everyone stuck a green or sustainable tag on every kind of basic efficiency effort a few years ago, it now appears that IoT is the latest decorative sticker or sparkly eye shadow being applied to every garden-variety product or service under the sun. These days, I can't turn around without running into another IoT-enabled whatever. Not surprisingly, there are a multitude of these solutions rising around our knees, and they all claim to have IoT capabilities and benefits. I suspect that everyone is doing what they've always done, but just doing it under an IoT label.

So how can you stem the IoT tidal wave, or at least find the few useful nuggets in it? Well, you can jump in, thrash around and try to digitally grab onto something substantive. It also helps to employ the traditional engineering skills of organization, prioritization and project management. However, rather than using these tools on individual technical problems, they can also be used to research and identify a few trusted IoT sources and best practices for extending the Internet to your equipment and process applications—and then filter out all the useless, deafening background noise.

In some ways, we must mentally strive to become like managed Ethernet switches that only accept specific and useful data, and disallow all other extraneous chatter. Not to plug our horn too loudly, but another possible IoT remedy might be attending Smart Industry 2015 on Oct. 5-7 in Chicago, or at least pay close attention to our coverage.

I hadn't checked on our website much in recent weeks, but when I wrote a story on the event for this issue's In Process news section, I was impressed by how many end users and experts will be attending and presenting their IoT experiences and advice. They include BASF, Lyondell Basell, Duke Energy, Boeing, Honda North America, ThyssenKrupp Elevator, Sugar Creek, Cisco, Microsoft, GE Aviation, GE Software, Emerson Process Management, Rockwell Automation, Beckhoff Automation, Hilscher North America, Kepware Technologies, Moxa, PrismTech and others. Admittedly, no one has all the answers on IoT, but this group can keep many heads above the present deluge and get us further along the road to practical, Internet-aided efficiency and productivity.

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.