Perspectives: Automation Strategies
Connected Plant: Get Ready for The Internet of Things
Industry has an opportunity to lead the revolution.
Even before the ARC Advisory Group 2014 Industry Forum, there was a buzz in the air about connected devices and the implications of the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) on industrial plants and enterprises.
In his leadoff presentation, Andy Chatha, ARC’s president, dove right into the “connected devices” theme by referring to Amazon's recent announcement that the company is looking into using drones to deliver packages right to its customers' doorsteps. "What is the role of all these connected, intelligent devices in all this, and what does it mean to us in industry and infrastructure?" Chatha asked.
He elaborated on the main components of the Industrial IoT as ARC sees it. These include intelligent devices, products, machines and other assets; a cloud-based infrastructure for data communications and “big data” storage capable of addressing a complex value chain; a combination of descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics and software to support asset and system optimization; and, of course, people, processes and systems. According to Chatha, our consumer smartphones represent the ultimate connected devices and now is the time to bring this type of technology to the industrial world. He also made it clear that most of the building blocks for the Industrial IoT are already in place.
One potential enabling technology for industrial applications is the Intel Edison IoT Device Development Platform, which was recently introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Intel Edison development board is a tiny, SD-card size, ultra-power-efficient development platform. It can be designed to work with almost any device and will even have its own app store.
Chatha noted that every field device could soon incorporate the Edison board and called the audience’s attention to two other interesting announcements that Intel made at CES. First: The company will provide McAfee cyber security software for all mobile devices at no charge. Second: It will offer 3-D software that could use a tablet computer to scan a product to create a 3-D virtual model that could be used to print the product on a 3-D printer. While compelling, this clearly will introduce a whole new set of ramifications for patent protection that will need to be addressed.
Chatha highlighted that there are significant challenges to overcome before the IoT will become widely employed on the plant or factory floor or in other industrial applications.
Cyber security is the biggest of these challenges, because the Industrial IoT is so dependent on both the public Internet and private intranets. Lack of technology standardization is another hurdle that must be overcome, as is intellectual property ownership. Social and political concerns abound, including privacy issues, such as those related to connected cars that know where the owners are at any time. And complexity-related issues will expand exponentially as the number of devices connected to a system increase over time.
“It is going to take a long time to figure the right level of use for this technology,” said Chatha. “I think that we have found the challenge of the century and the puzzle will be how to connect everything together without destroying the planet. It will be interesting to watch how we take the first steps over the next few years.”
Chatha discussed existing and potential new applications in which smart connects products — such as the Fibit Wireless Activity Tracker that tracks steps, distance and calories burned and interfaces with iOS and Android portable devices — could be used to help us all improve our health. “I think we’re going to see a floodgate of wearable devices such as these,” he said, and then added, “But how can connected devices provide the most benefits in the plant?”
He then addressed the IoT value propositions for industrial asset owner-operators and technology asset suppliers, stressing that because most industrial companies are both asset owners and either asset or product suppliers, they stand to benefit both ways.
Asset Owner Value Proposition
For asset owners, the IoT value proposition falls under three general categories: improved asset performance, lower asset lifecycle costs and a new platform for innovation.
Smart devices connected through the IoT can help improve plant performance by reducing downtime by helping predict, diagnose, analyze and remediate failures before they can interrupt production or com-promise product quality.
Organizations can both share relevant information internally and use it collaborate with suppliers to help solve problems.
The Industrial IoT also will enable technology suppliers to collaborate more effectively with technology users to develop better solutions, and help product suppliers collaborate with customers to improve products and do a better job of meeting the customers’ needs. Ultimately, users will pay for actual value received, rather than just paying for products.
Lower Asset Lifecycle Costs
Because connected devices can support remote configuration, remote monitoring, remote fixes and remote updates, asset owners can use the technology to reduce their engineering, maintenance and repair costs over the entire lifecycle of an asset. And unlike typical IT assets, industrial assets remain in service for 10, 20 or 30 years, or more, so these savings can really add up.
A New Platform for Innovation
Through data collection, increased interactivity and collaboration, connected products can provide a platform for product innovation. According to Chatha, “Just as many companies run business software in the Cloud and pay for the software on a monthly subscription basis, you can do the same with products; pay for the value derived from the product, not the product itself. Many companies already run IT applications in the Cloud, why not for software at the plant level as well, at least for larger assets?”
Asset Supplier Value Proposition
Chatha also believes that there’s a parallel value proposition for asset suppliers that can help them justify “jumping on the bandwagon.” For asset and technology suppliers, this involves better productivity, improved service business profitability and (as for asset owners) a platform for innovation.
Connected devices can improve field service workforce productivity by enabling service personnel to diagnose and fix customer problems remotely, without having to travel to the customer’s site. They can help bolster the profitability of a supplier’s service business by helping customers solve business problems, lowering warranty costs and improving overall customer satisfaction. And the IoT can provide a platform for innovation by enabling suppliers to move from supplying products, to supplying products-as-a-service. Here, there’s ample opportunity to work with customers to achieve incremental product innovations.
IoT Architecture Reference Model
Chatha made it a point to mention that, while the IoT may have been a relatively new notion for many in the audience, an organization in Europe – the IoT Architecture Consortium (http://www.iot-a.eu/public) – has been in place for several years. This public/private consortium has created an architectural reference model for companies to use.
The Connected Plant
To start discussion of the connected plant, Chatha presented several assumptions:
1. Most industrial asset owners/technology users have already installed and use both control systems and plant management applications.
2. Most business applications are already in private clouds, and some asset owners/technology users already take advantage of advanced analytics to analyze the data.
3. It’s likely that as asset owners move more of their data to the Cloud, they will share appropriate data with their asset and service suppliers, and in this manner, can help asset owners enhance the reliability of their plant or other industrial assets.
Based on the above assumptions, Chatha proposed an interesting option: connecting big assets directly to private clouds using a secure plant network. What’s the benefit? First, it can save asset owners a lot of money, because connecting a device to the control system is usually very expensive. By buying a field device with a dual interface (WirelessHART and Wi-Fi), asset owners could make use of either or both interfaces to inexpensively connect to the Cloud and add many more sensors to the big assets, enabling them to predict failures before they happen to improve plant reliability.
The Connected Plant
Chatha believes that with this approach, there’s no need to change systems; asset owners can just add incremental sensing points and smart devices using the dual interface approach for applications such as asset monitoring.
“This is not for every plant, but for some it can make sense by helping eliminate downtime, particularly for remote industrial assets such as oil & gas production fields and mines.” Chatha added, “Clearly, the connected asset value chain becomes much more complex, but failures in plants can be big things, particularly if you don’t have a good grasp on what happened.”
“We in the industry have an opportunity to lead this revolution since we’re already using many connected devices.”
NOTE TO READERS: See a YouTube video on the complete presentation on which this column is based.
Paul Miller is Senior Editor/Analyst at ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass., a firm that evaluates technology, analyzes trends and conducts market research. Miller has been a “student of the automation industry” for 30 years, closely following the evolution from yesterday's proprietary, purpose-built control systems to today's more open automation systems, based largely on commercial technologies. At ARC, in addition to his own research, Miller serves as both senior editor and content director for all Advisory Service reports. You can e-mail him at PMiller@arcweb.com
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