Everything under control – wherever you are: that’s what companies expect to get in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). When combined with individual configurations, predictive maintenance and decentralised service, this results in an attractive package. But how to get aboard? Simple management solutions based on cloud technology make it possible.
The Industrial Internet of Things is the hottest trend in our connected world. Whereas the Internet of Things (IoT) connects everything that can be reasonably connected, the Industrial Internet of Things concentrates – as the name suggests – on an industrial environment.
Based on machine to machine technology (M2M), it mainly digitises manufacturing plants. The underlying technology enables individual machines to communicate with each other, for example, to prepare subsequent machines in a production chain for the next step. These connected machines provide even bigger benefits if they are networked with a central control platform.
And these benefits speak for themselves: a recent PwC studyfound out that companies anticipate an increase in annual income of 2.9% until 2020, as well as 3.6% less expenses and 4.1% more efficiency annually during the next five years due to connecting their manufacturing.
The reasons are plentiful: the introduction of smart production processes, predictive maintenance and, as mentioned above, the use of cloud-based planning platforms.
“Companies that fall back on systems like these are better connected with their partners within the horizontal value chain like suppliers or customers, and can increase their performance and reduce inventory levels,” the PwC study says.
Cloud technology: Opening up the IIoT
In general terms, businesses are increasingly seeing cloud technology as a blank canvas upon which to innovate freely. Research commissioned by Oraclefound out that 60% of companies see an integrated enterprise cloud platform as the route to unlocking the potential of disruptive technologies at the heart of the IIoT, including cloud based machine learning, robotics or artificial intelligence. This is due to the scale and the speed provided by cloud usage.
Other characteristics of cloud technology are huge drivers for the Industrial Internet of Things as well. For example, it enables predefined interfaces, which integrate sensors quickly and easily into a cloud platform to transmit data. This approach reduces the need for complicated integration, and comprehensive data analytics become possible, as well as scaling of the whole system.
Remote monitoring of machinery
Transmitting sensor data to a cloud platform, where it gets analysed and visualised, improves a production plant’s efficiency immeasurable. Real time data displays the current condition of the whole factory and when combined with historical data enables companies to develop conclusions regarding possible errors and risks.
The collection of this real time data happens through a network of sensors which are inside or next to the machines. With only marginal configuration effort they can be connected to a cloud platform and assigned with specific evaluations. So, for example, deviating power consumption can indicate a machine failure.
The cloud platform can relay this information to an employee or the company’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. If the energy characteristics of the error are already known, the system can even estimate a possible cause.
Pfannenberg, a medium-sized company from Hamburg, uses these possibilities. A specialist in climate solutions for switch cabinets and signalling technology, the company connected its eCool X air conditioning solutions to the Cloud of Things, a cloud platform for remote machine management provided by Deutsche Telekom.
That way, the company can not only guarantee its customers the highly important constant temperature of 35 degrees inside the switch cabinets, but it is also able to offer remote maintenance.
“Smart factory is the future. As an innovative company, we now prepare our climate solutions for the connected production our customers want to deploy,” says Andreas Pfannenberg, CEO of Pfannenberg. “Thanks to premium controllers and the Cloud of Things our products are able to support plant managers and service technicians at independent locations on maintenance and repairs.”
Predictive maintenance to cut costs
If cloud management platforms are able to gather this kind of information over a longer period, they can offer another great advantage. By means of in-depth data analysis, certain patterns can be extracted to help recognise malfunctions before they even happen.
That is the way CERTUSS, a leading manufacturer of industrial steam generators, uses the Cloud of Things. With the help of the values measured, the company’s service technicians can analyse when errors are prone to happen and service them accordingly.
Standardised maintenance intervals are now a thing of the past – with CERTUSS steam generators the technicians show up only when it’s really necessary.
“With Cloud of Things data analytics, CERTUSS uses interpreted data to maintain our machines proactively,” says Thomas Hamacher, chief technical officer at CERTUSS. “That’s the way we take a step into the Industrial Internet of Things and offer our customers a better, more modern service.”
This procedure provides companies with a huge competitive advantage, a recent Accenture study revealed. Predictive maintenance saves 12% on planned repairs and 30% on maintenance costs. Additionally, unscheduled downtimes are reduced by 70%.
Benefits for the logistics sector
For movable machinery or vehicles, cloud management platforms offer a special benefit. For example, sensors to track the location of assets give a better overview of where they are at any given moment. Apart from being an effective theft protection measure, this is a great tool for logistic companies such as Deutsche Afrika Linien (DAL), a Hamburg-based freight container service.
DAL simply mounts a smart container device to every fright container, which in turn connects with the Cloud of Things, so the company can track a cargo’s complete route, wherever it is.
Security and data protection challenge
Despite the many benefits, a lot of companies still hesitate to network their production facilities. Because the machines have to be able to communicate with each other, they are not as sealed off as they were before and so security issues arise.
A recent study by the Industry of Things Worldasked what the biggest challenge to implementing IoT initiatives was. 36% of the managers said security issues, 20% named network connectivity and 17% privacy concerns – after all, both sensitive company and customer data needs to be saved and processed in the cloud.
The Cloud of Things offers solutions to these challenges. Thanks to its wireless data transmission and software-as-a-service from the cloud, no access to a company’s IT systems is necessary.
Furthermore, Deutsche Telekom addresses the issue of security with encrypted communications technology, its reliable networks, and highly secure ISO-certified German data centres that offer IT availability of 99.999%. Strict German data protection laws safeguard the customer privacy.
Photographers: Christian Wyrwa and Eric Reeman