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IIoT is getting old

July 3, 2024
The shift from connectivity to software tools makes the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) invisible
I’m no expert, but I’ve learned plenty from the people I’ve interviewed and the stories I’ve put together. I remember a good deal, too, though it’s largely involuntary and mostly random-access. Think of it as a clunky, editorial data acquisition (DAQ) system and historian.
Now, what I’ve retained are bits and pieces leftover from the overly broad topics that Control covers. And, month after month, and year after year, some underlying threads emerge, and it’s possible to see how they influence and alter what’s happening to them.
For instance, Ethernet was an unproven novelty on the plant-floor just a few years ago, so we covered its nuts and bolts to help potential users get familiar with it. Now, Ethernet is everywhere, all the time, so there’s less need to cover it because almost everyone is well-aware of what it can do and how to use it. The exceptions are new wrinkles like Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (APL), which also need some explaining (see last month’s cover article “What can Ethernet-APL do for you?")
The same goes for wireless, OPC UA, and the older fieldbus protocols. Over time, users integrated what they needed, an left alone what they didn’t, so there’s less urgency to cover them further. They’re old news, taken for granted, and increasingly invisible, even as they continue to perform vital functions. As I’ve said before, what support technology or personnel don’t feel unseen until something breaks down, and the squeals of inconvenience go up from all sides?
I believe the Industrial Internet of Things (IioT) is entering this phase. It used to be all about connectivity hardware and Internet protocol (IP), but lately it seems to be shifting into software and programming, using tools like Docker containers, Java script object notation (JSON), Node-RED and others. No doubt because IIoT’s physical infrastructures is increasingly well-established, sources that used to mention these software tools only in passing or as aspirations can now make them the center of their focus, activities and input.
This underscores the snapshot character of most publications. We obviously can’t cover what’s unknown; we can cover what’s starting to be revealed, and hopefully help it along; but too much repetition and rehash is pointless.
Maybe the downside of the news-you-can-use ethos is it can’t easily identify and provide more subtle contexts about longer-term issues. However, more sophisticated interpretations of topics like IIoT, sustainability, data analytics and cybersecurity is just what they need to develop useful insights and lessons.
Because they’re so life-the-universe-and-everything to begin with, the tentacles of these topics already get into each other’s business. But, ever since software-driven digitalization broke through most of the remaining silos between them, the spaces where they overlap are starting to outnumber their dwindling distinctions. They’re like a batch of cinnamon rolls stuck together in one big pan. For example, I know when I ask someone about IIoT, they’re more than likely to start talking about data analytics.
At times of rapid technical change like this, when many of us don’t understand nearly as much as we should, it’s even more crucial to have clear, concise, specific and un-hyped explanations of what we need to learn. It could be just me, but I’ve found that I have to be very persistent to politely demand and obtain answers that are more likely to make a difference to someone else. However, I also believe it’s worth it because I get the details I need, but I’ve been told by some sources I’ve grilled that good questions help their understanding, too. You can tell the people you annoy, as I do, that I may be a pest, but at least I’m a professional pest.
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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