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The Internet of Things (IoT) – the embedding of physical devices with sensors, network connectivity, and other components so they can collect and exchange data – is often presented as a revolution, but it is actually an evolution of technologies developed more than two decades ago. During the last decade, sensor costs declined twofold, bandwidth costs have fallen and processing costs have also dropped drastically. The plummeting costs of sensing technologies, enhanced edge computing solutions and cloud computing power, advances in data connectivity in the cloud, and M2M communication are combining to drive the convergence of previously separate production technologies – Information Technology (IT), Operations Technology (OT) and Automation Technology (AT) – to create the future of production, expanded from the factory floor to connected assets, products, services, and supply chains – combined together under Industry 4.0 through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). 

Information Handling Services (IHS) predicts that by 2025, the number of these devices will be 17 billion from today. Direct opportunities for manufacturers lie in intelligent enterprise control, real-time asset performance management, and intelligent interconnected products and services. Cybersecurity and interoperability challenges prevent manufacturers from adopting IoT on the factory floor and supply chain, and 85% of assets are predicted to have to remain unconnected.

The figure below illustrates how this process has been carried out for decades and is now accelerating due to the rapid development of capabilities. The IoT platform is still evolving, and there is no clear winner in this field as of now. Rival technology companies that create competitive platforms are targeting many industrial sectors. Proponents of IoT emphasized its potential to innovate production, not only by changing workshop operations, but also by achieving end-to-end real-time visibility throughout the supply chain, all the way to the end-user, and developing new products and services for customers. By 2023, investment in IoT production is expected to quadruple from US$35 billion to US$140 billion, with three key functions driving the investment: asset tracking, condition-based maintenance, and robotics processing. North American market will lead the adoption of today’s IoT with the Asia Pacific market not much behind.

IoT has three different uses in today’s production systems:

Intelligent Enterprise Control

IoT technology enables smart connected machines and smart connected manufacturing assets to be tightly integrated with a wider range of enterprises. This promotes more flexible, more efficient, and thus profitable production. Intelligent enterprise management and control can be regarded as a medium to the long-term trend. Implementation is very complicated, and new standards need to be created to achieve the integration of IT and OT systems efficiently and effectively.

Enhanced Operators

Future employees will use mobile devices, data analysis, augmented, virtual or mixed reality, and transparent connections to increase productivity. With the rapid increase in the number of baby boomers retiring and fewer skilled workers left for core businesses, young replacement factory workers will need information at their fingertips. This will be provided in a real-time format that they are familiar with. Therefore, the factory will evolve to be more user-centric rather than machine-centric.

Asset Performance Management

The deployment of cost-effective wireless sensors, easy cloud connectivity, and data analysis can improve asset performance. These tools allow data to be easily collected from the field and converted into actionable information in real-time. The expected result will be a better business decision and a forward-looking decision-making process.

IoT is not just a collection of technologies added to the current automation system. This is also a concept that requires a radical change in the way of thinking. Its potential lies in the ability to link automation systems with enterprise planning, scheduling, and product life cycle systems. IoT is at the core of a powerful technological revolution. In fact, the maturity of IoT is faster than expected, which indicates that a wider implementation is coming. The absolute availability of real-time information throughout the production value chain will redefine the way companies produce goods, provide services, and conduct business.

Obstacles to Further Adoption

The application of IoT is still in its infancy and has not taken place widely anywhere in the world even with the pandemic. Currently, 85% of potential assets are still unconnected, and governments and industrial IoT companies need to overcome several obstacles to be widely adopted, the most notable being the establishment of industry standards around IoT and cybersecurity protection. Standards are needed to allow intelligently connected products, machines, and assets to interact in a transparent manner. This goes beyond simple communication protocols and involves the creation of standard semantics and mechanisms that allow smart devices to discover and interoperate with each other. Security needs to be built in the industrial control system and designed into the components that make up the automation system, rather than being added later. The adoption of certified industrial security standards is critical to IoT product development, because it can not only ensure the safety of individual assets but also ensure the safety of larger systems as well as systems of systems. The government will also face new challenges. The ubiquitous deployment of IoT and the sunk costs of infrastructure that inevitably accompany it, may create barriers to entry and widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Monopolies may emerge, especially in the commodity industry, and the regulation of distributed production may be very complicated and difficult to regulate.

Looking ahead, the rise of artificial intelligence-as-a-service platforms with low barriers to entry will enable companies to expand cognitive solutions and reshape industry dynamics in a zero marginal cost environment. IoT represents the next step in the digitization of our society and economy, in which objects and people are connected to each other through a communication network and report the state of their surrounding environment.

Simply put, almost everything will be connected and soon by expert IoT solution providers! What impact will this have on your business? At a basic level, connecting items in the office means that they can be ordered automatically when the supply is low, or your watch can pinpoint your time and location with the highest efficiency. Data and metrics mean improved efficiency and productivity, and automating trivial tasks means that valuable time can be spent on important projects. Have you started to look at the bigger picture? Not just for your components and assets but also your processes? Are you open to digitizing and automating your core processes and hop on the IoT bandwagon? Get in touch with the leading digital product development company to know more on how we can transform your business and processes.

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Nitin Tappe

After successful stint in a corporate role, Nitin is back to what he enjoys most – conceptualizing new software solutions to solve business problems. Nitin is a postgraduate from IIT, Mumbai, India and in his 24 years of career, has played key roles in building a desktop as well as enterprise solutions right from idealization to launch which are adopted by many Fortune 500 companies. As a Founder member of Pratiti Technologies, he is committed to applying his management learning as well as the passion for building new solutions to realize your innovation with certainty.

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