Workforce and the IIoT

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The internet allows the global economy to run, and innovations like 5G cellular networks are fueling its growth. Virtually every company sends or collects information online or stores large amounts of data on cloud servers, and technology developed to help scientists share information now connects tens of billions of devices.

With the rise of new technology in the workforce, we are seeing a paradigm shift in how people work. Many industries find themselves embracing work-from-home models, but for some departments and for many employees’ positions, working from home is just not a feasible solution.

In answer, these industries are adopting new technologies that enable them to adapt to rapid change, including the use of the industrial internet of things or IIoT. This technology is bringing about a change in how businesses operate, and this article discusses some of the challenges that come with it.

What is the IIoT?

The internet of things (IoT) refers to the billions of connected devices worldwide. When the phrase is preceded by the word “industrial,” it refers to machinery and equipment used in manufacturing, power generation, and resource extraction.

This part of the economy focuses on gathering, processing, and adequately using vast amounts of data and developing machines that can communicate with each other to optimize processes and even “learn” while on the job.

The use of IIoT has had a transformative impact on the industrial sector by helping companies increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve safety.

Many modern workplaces are now “smart” workplaces, meaning that equipment is computerized and connected via Wi-Fi networks. Operations and productivity data are collected and analyzed to give better end-to-end visibility of the value chain. This allows workers, managers, and decision makers to optimize processes and machine parameters to reach goals and improve operations.

How is IIoT Transforming Industry?

Smart devices are revolutionizing manufacturing because they:

  • Collect and move data automatically and in real-time
  • Ensure that crucial information is submitted for analysis
  • Monitor the environment for changes in parameters such as temperature or volume
  • Automate production to improve safety and quality
  • Adjust output to maximize efficiency while preserving quality
  • Have safety features that are designed to prevent malfunctions and stoppages

For example, connected devices can control intelligent irrigation systems and help wind farms and solar power facilities to operate at optimum efficiency. They also keep production lines running smoothly all over the world by adjusting machine speeds and parameters on-the-fly based on real-time data.

IIoT Trends in the Digital Workplace

The migration to the digital workplace is an ongoing, dynamic shift that is driven by fixed (i.e. computers and workstations in a facility) and mobile (i.e. handheld, portable devices) connectivity. In addition, the pandemic has accelerated the plans of companies that were considering implementing IoT technologies.

Some of the emerging trends for the IIoT that are key to digital workplace development include the following:

  • Predictive maintenance: IIoT identifies connected machine problems before they fail or cause issues downstream. This functionality minimizes downtime through better maintenance planning and scheduling. This type of informed preventive maintenance can help manufacturers save significantly on repair and replacement costs.
  • Remote control: Connected devices allow for remote operations to so that companies can monitor production from a distance without having to send personnel into hazardous areas. It’s also possible to maintain operations with a limited workforce, especially when some or all processes are automated. 
  • Enhanced collaboration: Connectivity in the workplace enables remote collaboration. Technologies like video conferencing or screen sharing to enable employees from different locations to troubleshoot or observe operations without being physically present.

How IIoT is Transforming the Workforce

The number of IoT devices is expected reach 25.4 billion by 2030. As result, the world is becoming increasingly connected every day, and it is changing the way people work. 

For example, oil companies have been able to save millions of dollars by implementing remote monitoring that allows them full control over their assets and operations while on site.

In addition, IIoT is helping to reduce the need for manual labor in hazardous environments. For example, some types of machines can be operated remotely to avoid the dangers of working in close contact with harmful chemicals or radioactive materials.

IIoT is also changing the way companies operate by gathering and processing data automatically. This data is then used to improve performance, safety, and quality.

How IIoT is Impacting Industry

IIoT is having its transformational heyday in several industries and digital workplace functions. The implications are significant and the technology is growing in leaps and bounds.

Here are a few examples of ways in which the industrial internet of things is being used to its full potential:

  •  Inventory management: Many companies in the industrial sector have – or plan to implement – IIoT applications for their inventory management systems. This helps increase efficiency and reduce costs associated with manual inventory and ordering processes.
  •  Manufacturing lines automation: In manufacturing lines that utilize robotics, IIoT enables sensors that can provide alerts at any time they detect issues with the line, components, stoppages, or other problems.
  •  Building management: Many companies in the industrial sector are using IIoT to increase building efficiency and reduce costs. One example is intelligent lighting solutions that automatically turn lights off when rooms have been vacated.
  •  Engineering and design: Companies in the engineering and design sector are using IIoT to improve their product development process. Also, connectivity in utility infrastructure make it easier to monitor substations, towers, and tanks.
  •  Safety and security: IIoT is being used by many safety and security firms to increase safety, efficiency, and response times. And as far as cybersecurity is considered, industry giant IBM recommends firms and utilities develop new strategies using IIoT to mitigate and manage cyber risk and attacks. 
  •  AI and Machine Learning: IIoT is also making it possible for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to be applied in innovative ways through connected devices. For instance, factory administrators can manage inventory and distribution of the multitudes of bots that construct anything from cars to buildings to smart devices, all while reviewing real-time data.
  •  Remote monitoring: IIoT devices provide real-time data that help companies monitor the performance of their assets remotely and provide analytic solutions.

Handling Data Intelligently

Connecting manufacturing devices has allowed engineers and software developers to create machines that take automation to an entirely new level. Instead of simply gathering information, these devices use the data to update algorithms that control equipment and operations.  They then share what they have learned with machines that are integrated with them. This process is how a regular factory becomes a smart factory.

This transfer of information does more than help machines work more efficiently. For example, connected devices identify potential points of failure and warn organizations in real-time about inefficiencies or looming supply-chain issues. The information they provide could also save technicians valuable time. Some connected machines even trigger maintenance processes automatically.

Designing and Building Connected Manufacturing Machines

digital_integrated processes

Most manufacturers are willing to adopt proven innovations that make them more competitive in their primary markets. IIoT is an example. However, integrating connectivity comprehensively in  a production line is a major undertaking and requires careful planning.  

Organizations that help manufacturers create intelligent factories face many challenges, and they need to have experience in manufacturing, automation, and information technology to overcome them.

Here are a few specific challenge areas to consider.

Connected Devices

Machines must be robust enough to endure the stresses of a manufacturing setting. Even the latest smart technology is useless if it’s inside a machine that breaks down or cannot keep up with production line speeds. Connected devices made for use in industrial settings should be durable enough to provide years of reliable service in harsh environments. They must also comply with strict workplace safety regulations laid down by organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Automation Models

Automation uses machines instead of, or in conjunction with, human workers to handle tasks. There are many ways to plan for automation in manufacturing depending on production needs. These are:

  •  Fixed automation: This includes robots and automated equipment designed for a single task. It’s often the choice for high volume, low mix production. 
  •  Programmable automation: When production lines make several different products, or similar products within a part family, the ability to change out tooling or steps in an automated process  maintains efficiency. This type of automation allows for some adaptation as needs change over time.
  •  Flexible automation: Flexible automation makes changing the task, application, or physical location of the robotic equipment relatively quick and straightforward. This approach to automation allows manufacturers to use robotic arms when and where they are needed in the facility to ramp up production, fill in workforce gaps, or expand operations.

Information Technology

IIoT has helped manufacturers improve efficiency and product quality, but these advances have not come without cost. Using the internet to relay data saves organizations time and money. But it also opens the door to a host of new security threats. These new dangers include:

  • Malicious hackers: These are the most dangerous threats manufacturers face because they are generally driven by the desire to be destructive and cause chaos rather than for financial gain. Their attacks can cause widespread damage and shut down production for weeks or months when successful.
  • Ransomware attacks: A few lines of carefully placed malicious code are all it takes to make a connected system completely unusable. Even organizations that spend millions of dollars each year on cybersecurity have fallen prey to these scams.
  • Identity theft: Data protection laws require companies to secure any information that can be used to identify an individual and is not publicly available. The information that connected manufacturing machines store about their operators and repair technicians should be encrypted, and all personal identifiers should be removed.

Making it All Work

One of the most significant challenges engineers face when they automate production lines is getting all connected machines to communicate with each other and work together. This is a particularly thorny issue when these devices have been acquired over time and have different architectures, protocols, and standards.

Some organizations working on ways to untangle this Gordian Knot includes:

  • IBM: The business computing giant’s approach combines traditional internet architecture with contextual information, machine learning, and natural language processing. The company markets its solution to a wide variety of end users.
  • The Industry IoT Consortium: Set up by the Object Management Group in 2014, the IIC is building a defined standard for the IIoT. It takes input from manufacturers and technology companies, and it then uses the information to help standards development organizations draft best practices.
  • Representational State Transfer: REST is an architecture style designed with scalability in mind. This solution is popular because it builds on features already in place.
  • Open Platform Communications: This set of process control standards uses embedding and object linking and was developed in 1996. Since then, the project’s scope has widened to include building automation, alternative data transportation methods and discrete manufacturing.
  • MQTT: This lightweight network usually runs over TCP/IP communications protocols, but the push-subscribe architecture can also be used on other bi-directional, ordered, and lossless connections.
  • The XMPP Standards Foundation: Tasked with standardizing XMPP protocol extensions, the XMPP Standards Foundation is taking a collaborative approach to standardizing the industrial internet of things. The organization’s open framework is called Chatty Things, and it is designed to provide stable, safe and scalable IoT architecture.
  • Node RED: This flow-based visual programming tool was originally developed by IBM to connect devices on the internet of things. IBM has since decided to take a different path, but Node RED is still a popular solution for connecting machines with online services.

The bottom line is that IIoT is transforming the way we work by making it possible for companies to operate smarter and safer than ever before. As this technology continues to evolve and the tools to integrate IoT devices become more flexible, the digital workplace will only become more efficient and effective.

Experience Where it Matters

Choosing which automation integrator to work with is an important decision that will have lasting consequences for your operations and facility. At Force Design, we listen to our customers and care about their goals. Our aim is always to thoroughly understand the process being automated so we can guide customers to the right automation solution for their needs. If you would like to learn more about working with us, please call us at 937-473-3737 or contact our support team today.

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