This will be remembered as the year that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) grew up. After so many years of predictions, distractions and industry coaxing, IIoT arrived in 2017. As I look at developments across the industry I see more and more IIoT strategies in progress, with investments being made in infrastructure, technology and skills, and exciting returns being reported on initial projects.
Just as significantly, I see vendors and other industry experts coalescing to build end-to-end solutions that will make IIoT easier to deploy and quicker to yield a return. With so many positive developments, I’m confident IIoT will lie at the heart of every manufacturing facility in 10 years’ time.
My optimism is underscored by a recent survey of 200 manufacturing executives conducted by KRC Research for Honeywell in which nearly 70% of respondents said they plan to invest additional resources in IIoT and data analytics technology in 2017. What’s driving this desire is the cumulative strategic and financial value of their problems: downtime and related losses in efficiency, inadequate staffing, off-spec production and supply chain inefficiencies. They all add up.
IIoT now is acknowledged by industrial manufacturers as having the capability to resolve each of these challenges. So it’s not a question of will the Internet transform process manufacturing—it’s a question of when.
One reason for the growing enthusiasm in IIoT is the powerful data it brings together. The majority of survey respondents believe that data analytics will resolve age-old problems such as equipment breakdowns, unscheduled process disruption and supply chain management issues. These figures are telling in terms of where IIoT investments and deployments will be made in 2017 and beyond.
Taking the first steps
As a first step, many early adopters implemented digitization campaigns. Most are reporting excellent early results to the tune of multi-million dollars in savings. For example, mineral processing companies have centralized their process knowledge and provided collaborative support to remote locations; refineries have increased overall equipment effectiveness by up to two percent; chemical companies have reduced inventories and improved customer responsiveness; and paper companies have solved key knowledge retention issues.
However, for all the success of these pilot projects, there remains a significant number of manufacturers standing still. Indeed, the survey revealed that some respondents are pressing ahead without a data analytics-led IIoT strategy or are not planning to invest in data analytics in the next year.
Their reasons include a lack of understanding of the benefits of data analytics and inadequate resources—specifically, people with data analytics expertise. And disconcertingly, while these companies put off decisions about IIoT, many are working their plants harder than they should: the survey found many respondents feel pressured to continue working under the threat of unscheduled downtime and equipment breakdowns to maximize revenue.
These companies are fighting a battle against time and will start to lag as their competitors surge ahead. The fact that many remain unmoved by IIoT underscores the importance of continued industry education. Many still feel that IIoT requires a sudden and wholesale change in their business. It doesn’t; it can be phased and scaled to a company’s circumstances. IIoT should be viewed as an evolution, not a revolution.
One trend that I believe will have a positive influence over those still undecided is increased partnership among industry vendors, process licensors, equipment experts and consultants to provide joined-up technology solutions that will ease and speed adoption and provide innovative solutions to industrial problems previously thought to be unsolvable. Just imagine if you could collect, display, analyze and react to plant information by purchasing a solution virtually off the shelf? Or imagine benefitting from whatever data analytics expertise you need without having to hire a team of data scientists?
Cloud-based forums of experts have the potential to deliver advice and assistance, whenever or wherever it is needed. Innovative and flexible offerings such as these are becoming available now through closer industry cooperation. The reality is no one vendor can do everything, and some are better at some things than others, and therefore need one another to address remaining barriers and gaps, working together to make IIoT more accessible to the industry.
Despite the remaining skepticism, IIoT is in a very different place in 2017 than it was a year ago. Pilot projects are everywhere and are showing promising early results while momentum builds through industry partnerships. Our research shows that we’re at the tipping point toward mainstream adoption. IIoT has finally grown up.
Shree Dandekar is vice president and general manager for Honeywell Connected Plant.