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IIoT: From Catchphrase to Reality

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

The Industrial Internet of Things is enabling advanced manufacturing

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is connecting machines all over the factory floor, changing business models and boosting automation efforts.

There are plenty of manufacturing catchphrases: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 and the Digital Factory. “Sometimes it’s a lot of buzzwords. Sometimes there’s a lot of reality behind it,” said Roger Hart, research and development manager of Siemens (Berlin and Munich, Germany). “Digitalization is changing a lot of things. It’s really driving new business models in many cases,” Hart said. “People are finding that once they digitize more and more of their manufacturing, they are able to monetize more and more aspects of the data and the information they are able to collect.”

IIoT refers to “connected” industrial equipment capable of generating, collecting and transmitting data from machines. Maintenance can occur via devices such as tablet computers or smartphones. More data is generated and it’s shared more widely within a manufacturing operation.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey here’s how we should automate this,’” said Tim Wormus, a Siemens regional vice president. The IIoT, he said, enables manufacturers “to connect to all these different devices and then pull together for a cohesive whole.”

Big Names in the IIoT

Big names in manufacturing, such as Siemens and General Electric Co. (Boston), are among those working to turn the catchphrases into reality.

“The core of GE’s efforts in the area of the Industrial Internet of Things is around the convergence of our work in creating digital twins, or digital models of our industrial systems,” said Peter Koudal, GE senior research scientist, supply chain technologies.

“With the advances in computing power over the past decades, we now have the ability to not only collect and analyze the most important data,” he continued. “We can [also] create more powerful digital twins and build control systems into our machines to take full advantage of those twins. This is what the emergence of the IIoT is making possible.”

Siemens sees digital twins in three areas. “Digital twin of the product; the digital twin of production, which is enabling the planning out of your production processes; and the digital twin of performance,” said Bill Boswell, vice president of marketing for Siemens’ cloud applications solutions group. “If you have an IoT-enabled product, you have to engineer it into the product. We have the tools that enable that.”

Promotional image from DMG Mori visualizes how the company approaches using the IIoT in manufacturing.

Put another way, a digital twin “is a virtual model of a process or system, and serves as a bridge between the physical and digital world,” said J.J. Chuang, general manager, DMG Mori Software Technology Solutions USA, part of DMG Mori USA (Hoffman Estates, IL). “The virtual world requires data aggregation from the physical world for data analysis and system monitoring through an IIoT-based system to resolve problems before they even occur and prevent downtime using simulations.”

DMG Mori, in promotional materials, said it “has been making its machines fit for digitalization since 2013” with the CELOS app and user interface. The company said it’s expanding its range of CELOS services “with intelligent software and connective hardware.” DMG Mori said more than 10,000 CELOS machines have been installed.

According to executives, the IIoT is enabling even more automation than before.

“IIoT brings together a more robust sending, control and IT [information technology],” said John Younes, co-founder and COO of Litmus Automation (Toronto, ON and San Jose, CA). “IT will now have more oversight into all the devices on the factory floor across multiple plants.”

What’s more, Younes said, “IT will also have to collaborate with OT [operational technology} to provide a more robust automation strategy.”
One area where manufacturers expect the IIoT to come into play is the deployment of collaborative robots as well as improving the performance of conventional robots.

IIoT Promotes Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are capable of working in close proximity to humans. Until now, robots have performed tasks while separated from human operators and production employees.
The IIoT with “advanced sensors and the network of smart devices…promotes collaborative robots on the shop floor and allows human and robots to work together safely and efficiently in an uncaged environment,” DMG Mori’s Chaung said. With more cobots, “workers and robots would work together efficiently in an uncaged cell without the risk of damages and injuries.”

GE sounds a similar note.

The FANUC CR-35iA collaborative robot is designed to work in close proximity to humans.

“At this stage, we are entering a period where you will see robots and humans working more collaboratively,” Koudal said. “The key to making this collaboration stronger is enabling the robots to more instinctively relate to humans like two humans would relate to each other. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be keys to pushing us down this path.”

Robot maker FANUC Corp. (Oshino, Japan and Hoffmann Estates, IL) has been actively developing cobot models, such as the CR-35iA, which has a payload of 35 kg (77 lb). The robot stops when its sensors detect contact with an operator or objects within a work cell.

According to the company, IIoT will be a boost to robots generally.

“IIoT will enable greater use of ALL robots, not just collaborative robots,” Amanda Nixon, a FANUC engineer for collaborative robots, and Greg Buell, senior engineer for collaborative robots, wrote in response to questions from Manufacturing Engineering. “IIoT could help detect changes in various safety settings of any robot system and notify the plant if there are unplanned changes occurring in order to ensure the system remains safe as it was designed.”

In addition, they wrote, “In the long term, IIoT for traditional robots means detecting inefficiencies and problems sooner in order to save time and money, while also improving quality. This will be the same for collaborative robot systems that are deployed into plants utilizing IIoT.”

Cybersecurity Need

Newton’s Third Law is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. With the IIoT, the equivalent is for every advancement in technology, the greater the need for cybersecurity.
“Most industrial devices were never intended to be exposed over an open network link to the Internet,” said Younes of Litmus Automation. “As a consequence, they do not have the proper security in place to protect data from being stolen or being hacked.

“Many systems are also not able to talk to the cloud or support bidirectional communications,” he continued. “Data should be secured using standardized, enterprise-class security protocols and mechanisms. OEMs and manufacturers should authenticate devices and encrypt data transport from end to end.”

“It’s critical that security is addressed at every level when building an IIoT solution,” said Joe Gazzarato, FANUC director Zero Down Time Cloud System and application development. “There needs to be more partnerships between solution providers and information technology companies.”

In FANUC’s case, it joined with Cisco for cybersecurity for Zero Down Time, its IIoT application, also known as ZDT. “Partners like Cisco can help solution providers with best practices for in-plant network architectures, firewall configurations, protecting IIoT data in transmission and at rest, etc.,” Gazzarato said.

Koudal at GE takes a similar view.

“Put simply, cybersecurity must become even more vigilant,” he said. “And it can’t be a one-dimensional strategy where you just build a better firewall. For example, we believe the use of digital twins and controls can allow you to have a system that not only acts as a shield, but also takes action to fight off or neutralize a given cyber threat, just like our human immune system.”

GE is developing a cybersecurity technology called Digital Ghost, which Koudal said “would be the world’s first industrial immune system.”

At Siemens, “We have a group of over 1000 people who work on cybersecurity at plants,” Boswell said. “The data is the customer’s. You have to keep up with the people who are trying to outsmart you.”

Place for the Little Guy?

One question that remains is whether IIoT can extend beyond its big manufacturing advocates such as GE and Siemens. Much manufacturing continues to be performed at medium- to small-sized job shops, which produce parts and assemblies.

According to GE, the IIoT is a natural for the smaller manufacturers.

“In some cases it may be the small- and mid-size shops that develop new solutions first,” GE’s Koudal said. “As physical and digital technologies have converged and the IIoT space has emerged, we have seen an increasing democratization of manufacturing. This is allowing more companies and entrepreneurs, big and small, to be part of the manufacturing ecosystem.”
FANUC also is keeping smaller customers in mind for the IIoT.

“‘Easy to deploy’ and ‘easy to secure’ are two essential characteristics for any IIoT application to successfully scale down for use in smaller operations, especially at job shops,” Gazzarato said. “We focused on this need as we prepared to introduce ZDT to our smaller customers earlier this year. We partnered with Cisco and leveraged their IR809 industrial router with compute capability as the platform for our easy to deploy and secure ZDT Data Collector.”

Siemens also works with smaller users. The technology is such that “it makes it easy for a small company to get started, maybe even without a person coming on site,” Boswell said. “We have an industrialized PC…it’s an easy device to plug into your network. You can be up and running in 15 minutes to a couple of hours.”
IIoT advocates say the technology has momentum on the factory floor.

“What you get are controls and optimization systems with much bigger brains to see, think and act on insights on their own, whether they are running to control and optimize specific products and sub-components or entire supply chain systems, manufacturing systems or sub-systems,” said GE’s Koudal. “Because the digital twins can continuously learn and adapt, the controls and optimization technologies behind an automation strategy become more and more valuable over time.”

Still, even the advocates acknowledge some manufacturers are hesitant.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know how to get started with IoT,” said Boswell of Siemens. “I think from small companies, to very large companies, that’s a true statement.” His advice? “Do a bite-sized project to get started. Get in and try it. If you’re not doing it, you can be your competitors are.”


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