IIoT helps work wonders in today's world. Source: Shutterstock

IIoT is changing today’s workplaces, which are getting more rugged. Source: Shutterstock

What can IIoT, the birthchild of the 4th Industrial Revolution, do for you?

DIGITALIZATION has drastically transformed nearly all industries, including manufacturing. The transformation is so compelling that it has led to a new era known as “Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0)“.

It builds upon the foundations laid by the 3rd industrial revolution, IR 4.0 layers-in smart and autonomous systems that are driven by data and machine learning (ML), and relies heavily on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

For most manufacturers, the successful integration of IIoT into manufacturing processes is like having a superpower.

The seemingly endless benefits and capabilities that IIoT can provide, to control and automate applications, is clear. However, most manufacturers don’t know where or how to begin this journey.

The first step is always crucial, as it can determine the success of IIoT implementation. Cutaway the technical jargon of the benefits surrounding IIoT, and it is easy to see what IIoT offers is simply a way to solve age-old industrial automation problems, and to address new ones like cybersecurity.

To start right, manufacturers must begin by transforming digitally. This includes updating existing systems that are built for specific processes to those that are can support various kinds of processes.  Most importantly, they must have the capability of dealing with data at the scale that IIoT requires.

With the right mindset and system in place, here are the next steps that should follow:

# 1 | Flattening the architecture

Manufacturers must rethink their IT architecture. The usual way of implementing IIoT is to first stitch together various things such as controls, PCs, firewalls, gateways, servers, and now cloud services, to accomplish a given task.

However, getting all these to work together is challenging, as there are multiple technical domains with their own operating costs, and increased security vulnerabilities. This makes IIoT complex.

Therefore, processes applications and networks should be simplified using industrial PCs (IPC) or programmable automation controllers (PAC), which can combine formerly separate functions.

# 2 | Uncoupling for flexibility and security

With traditional control systems, devices are tightly coupled to specific pieces of software, and come with a host of problems.

First, it weakens existing architectures, inhibiting the connectivity and scalability that IIoT applications require. Further, IT teams need to carry a heavier burden as they maintain infrastructure of unfamiliar operating technology (OT) systems.

Using networks like MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) for decoupling can drastically improve performance through bidirectional communications which only transmit data when changes occur.

With only one secure open port, security can also be improved. Further, with no re-entry of tags and a single source of truth on tags, management and maintenance is simplified.

# 3 | Edge computing to optimize functions across facilities

With edge computing, users can keep the legacy equipment and applications in place whilst adding on the computing and networking capabilities that are required for integration into the IIoT.

Take monitoring Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) equipment performance as an example.

Instead of having a client open a tunnel through their firewall, which poses security issues, suppliers can monitor OEM equipment through an edge-programmable controller that can transfer data to a secure MQTT broker outside the firewall.

Another example of how edge computing can be leveraged is in the collection of Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) data.

Instead of having to navigate various firewalls, VLANs, and other segmented network configuration, edge devices can deliver information effectively to a central, on-premise MQTT server to its subscribers.

IIoT is undeniably the future of the manufacturing industry. Having the intention to leverage it is always good.

However, just having the right intentions will not make the cut, businesses must also have the right implementation to ensure a smooth and successful transition into the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.