Manufacturing’s new arrival: What to expect

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is poised to change manufacturing and there are several things manufacturers should expect to happen.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant Engineering August 18, 2015

When you first tell people you’re going to be a parent, everyone is immediately excited for you. The mere fact that you’ve decided to tell people means you’ve gotten over the initial shock yourself, and are now ready to share that excitement.

As you share the news, the first question people ask you is, "What are you having?" and the second question is, "What are you going to name it?"

Well, manufacturing is expecting a revolution. Our only problem now is what to name it. Seriously, that seems to be the biggest stumbling block to moving forward with what I will call the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Others like the term Industrie 4.0—most of those people are German. Still others prefer Smart Manufacturing or Digital Factory. It seems as if it has to be something catchy yet global while still fully conveying the idea of how we will connect and manage the flood of data pouring out of our plant floor machines. Some forward-thinking manufacturing experts are already considering industry standards for IIoT, even though we can’t even standardize the name.

As Greg Gorbach of ARC Advisory Group notes in this month’s issue, "These concepts are clearly moving past the hype stage to the point where real solutions are emerging backed by strong associated business cases. The other thing we notice is that none of these terms is particularly good."

The name is not the revolution, of course. The revolution is in how we think about what actually happens on our plant floor. Fueled by better data, and driven by better management of that data, the manufacturing revolution deserves your attention, your understanding, and your investment.

It’s not just an investment of dollars, although that will inevitably be a part of the process. We will have to invest time, and we will have to invest in our people. The biggest issue with IIoT is not our ability to capture data or synthesize data in new ways. It’s all really just slicing up a database in new ways. The real key to IIoT is what people will do with that synthesized data.

One question I’ve already received is whether IIoT is real, or just some marketing hype. They noted we’ve had Internet connectivity for a long time, and wireless connectivity followed. "What we’ve needed was already there," a reader said.

True enough. Think of all of that connectivity as a car. IIoT provides you with GPS for that car to give you a roadmap of where’s you’re going, and how to get precisely where you want to go faster and safer. It doesn’t build you a new road; it just makes the road you’re traveling easier to navigate.

Some of us are better drivers than others, but all of us can benefit from better information. We want to know when the car is overheating, when the tire pressure is low, and when we’re running low on fuel. We need to know this information before it becomes a problem. That’s what IIoT will deliver.

We have miles to go on this journey, though. Plant Engineering will spend the next 18 months building articles, videos, and multimedia content around IIoT—what it is, what it does, what it can do, and what the benefits can be. It begins with this issue and will continue throughout our coverage in the coming months. We’ve launched a series of webcasts to help explain IIoT and educate readers on its potential. It will be part of our presentations at Hannover Messe in April 2016 and at the Industrial Automation North America (IANA) event at IMTS in Chicago in September 2016.

We’ll be looking beyond the theory of IIoT to those manufacturers who are implementing IIoT in some way today. We’ll be on the front lines of IIoT implementations around the country and around the world to examine this revolution and how it can improve manufacturing.

That’s the goal, after all. What has people excited about the Industrial Internet of Things, and what is compelling about this Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just the change, but how that change will make manufacturing more productive, more efficient, and more responsive at a time when all parts of our world are accelerating. In an age of single-lot manufacturing and drone delivery, the pressure will grow on manufacturers to be not just better, but faster as well. IIoT is a wonderful thing, but it will complicate your life. Just like any new arrival, though, you don’t focus on the complications; you focus on the possibilities and the future.

When you first tell people that you’re expecting a baby, they ask you what you’re having and what the name will be. No one asks, "How will this make your life better?" They just know it will. But that’s an individual discovery.

– See additional stories about the IIoT and Industry 4.0 linked below.