Implementing the IIOT requires specialized, real-time data management skills

Sept. 18, 2018
IIOT is not just about getting things to talk with each other, but encompasses the full cradle-to-grave lifecycle of the product and associated components

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is all about enterprise integration, but on a massive scale. How else could you describe the desire to integrate “everything” to “everything else,” and without human intervention? IIOT is not just about getting things to talk with each other, but encompasses the full cradle-to-grave lifecycle of the product and associated components. Being able to do it will certainly improve product quality, since it will be possible to trace the raw materials from sources to final products.

RFID was the initial start of IIOT approximately 20 years ago, enabling tracking of smaller assets at reasonable cost, especially as sensors reduced cost for near-field communications (NFC) for logistics supply chain management. With the increase of digital networks and intelligent sensors, the ability to capture more data at low cost continues to expand closer to the “edge,” meaning the process being monitored. The ubiquitous of Ethernet (wired and wireless) as the universal backbone allows the transfer of massive amounts of data anywhere, anytime.

There are three different IIOT initiatives underway, all working to align themselves. Two of these are most likely to potentially impact western markets—Industrie 4.0, launched at 2011 Hannover Messe and originally focused on manufacturing, is being predominantly pushed by the EU (IEC) and in particular Germany; and the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) is based in the U.S. Industrie 4.0 and IIC have been collaborating since 2016. The third initiative, Made in China 2025, as the name implies, is part of the Chinese five-year plan released in 2015 with the goal of improving China’s position as a global player in the high-tech industrial sector.

ABI Research estimates that in 2017, there were 66 million mostly fixed-line IIOT connections in place around the globe, with 13 million of those connections added that year, of which a quarter were wireless. This growth accelerates to 18 million new connections per year by 2021. It is expected that low-power, wide-area (LPWA) wireless will grow more rapidly than wired connections as the shift to 4G LTE, and soon 5G, continues.

The Industrie 4.0 design principles are: interoperability (interconnection and connectivity); information transparency (virtualization or virtual entities); decentralization (autonomy); real-time capability; technical assistance and service orientation; and modularity.

Interoperability is also about collaboration—the ability to have many standards talk to each other to use data from various sources without human intervention. Information transparency requires development of models to represent the physical world in the virtual data world. The Reference Architectural Model Industrie (RAMI 4.0,, developed in 2015 by the German Electrical and Electronics Manufacturers’ Assn. (ZVEI), describes the Industry 4.0 principles using three dimensions: hierarchy levels, lifecycle and value stream, and architecture layers:

The hierarchy dimension consists of seven aggregation levels:

  1. The connected world,
  2. The enterprise,
  3. Work centers,
  4. Stations (or machines),
  5. Control devices,
  6. Field devices (sensor and actuators), and
  7. Process and products.

The second, lifecycle and value stream, dimension covers the various data-mapping stages across relevant lifecycles in RAMI 4.0, across the entire value chain, the various processes, and stakeholders.

The third dimension, the architecture layer, is about:

  1. The enterprise and its business processes,
  2. The functions of assets,
  3. The required data,
  4. Communication as access to information,
  5. Integration addressing the transition from the real to the digital world, and
  6. Assets as physical things in the real world.

Moving and managing all these bits and bytes while ensuring that they are unaltered during the journey requires an end-to-end, security-by-design approach, therefore, IEC 62443 (cybersecurity) standards will be the cornerstone of any IIOT implementation.

You may not think that enterprise integration, presently considered part of the IT realm, is a component of your scope as an automation engineer, however, as you can see, increased integration means more than data integration, it also means integration of the specialized, real-time data management skills with which we are the knowledge experts.

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