The building blocks of IIoT

Clicking components together like Legos is one vision for how smarter factories will evolve.


German-American Chamber of Commerce.Manufacturing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is being envisioned in many ways. One way to look at it, both for today and into the future, is exactly as a manufacturing project, complete with the simplest building block ever created.

A Lego.

At the Oct. 8 Smart Factory Industry Forum in Chicago, Detlaf Zuhlke, chairman of the executive board of the German-based SmartFactoryKL Technology Initiative, said IIoT concept is still a long way from full implementation. When it does come to pass, Zuhlke said it will take a series of standards and principles that will allow IIoT to be effective in any plant, anywhere.

"Our components will look like standardized building blocks, and you can arrange them as you need to like Lego blocks," Zuhlke told more than 100 industry leaders at the event sponsored by the German-American Chamber of Commerce and held at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). "So you will need fundamental principles."

Getting to those fundamentals will take more time, Zuhlke said. "Today we have to first demonstrate the potential use," Zuhlke said. "We need worldwide standards, and there are different approaches to that. We need solutions for safety and security. Industry wants to have a high level of security. We surely will need training, and we surely will need new business models.

"Digitalization of all of these things will bring us completely new solutions," he added. "It will change our automation world."

Before that change comes, Zuhlke said the manufacturing world needs to continue to evolve from a centralized view of information to a distributed view. I In Manufacturing 2.5, there was one computer behind a glass wall. They were big machines with people wearing white coveralls changing the tapes. In Manufacturing 3.0 there were hundreds of computers, most of them visible. In Manufacturing 4.0, there will be hundreds of thousands of computers. But the most important part is not technological improvement itself; it's the networking of these computers."

The reality of the 'Smart Factory'

The Smart Factory Industry Forum focused on the still-evolving Industrial Internet of Things concept, and brought together industry leaders to talk about how that evolution may turn out. Holding the event at DMDII, a manufacturing lab focused on developing new concepts for manufacturing in the digital age, highlighted the efforts of government, academic and technology leaders to forge a vision for IIoT.

That vision may mean different things for different companies today, but most leaders see much more common ground. "It's changing industry from CAD centric to a data-based industry. It's providing the right tool for companies to design their machines," said Sean Mulherrin, global product manager, EPlan, at an IIoT panel discussion at the symposium. "You now can easily predict the outcome of the design, visualize the design and validate the design. The machine's already been proven in a digital environment."

"We're data rich but information poor," added Mark Beckman, senior business development manager at Microsoft. "We can talk about all things can do with data, but if can't use it, doesn't do any good. We've got to get data down to the workers. The first step is, how do I collect data? The second step is, how do I start to make it actionable? The third step is, how do I predict things that will happen?"

Many of the challenges around IIoT focus not on the technology, but on the culture change in organizations looking to implement the technology. For global companies such as Bosch Rexroth, it's a culture change from region to region as well. "As a German-based company, in Germany it's very systematic and process driven. Bosch doesn't like anything out the door unless it's 100%. In the U.S., it's 80% and we'll figure out the rest later," said Robert Magnetti, sales director manufacturing solutions, Bosch Software Innovation. "What we see happening in own industry is that in the IIoT world, things change fast. Without suffering on quality, we've got to get to market faster."

- Bob Vavra is Plant Engineering content manager,

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me