Four Industrial Revolutions and an Internet of Things – is industry IoT ready?

Grant Caley, principal technology officer UK&I, NetApp

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution – the first being manufacturing and mechanisation, the second mass production and the third the digital revolution.

The next iteration will be the computerisation of machinery and automation using robotics, as well as the intelligent measurement and analysis of data to improve efficiency, profitability and safety. It will be shaped by innovation in areas such as driverless cars, smart robotics and manufacturing processes built around 3D printing and lighter, tougher materials, says Grant Caley, principal technology officer UK&I, NetApp.

In this revolution, data is the lifeblood, dictating the balance between supply and demand, and subsequently production, distribution and stocking decisions. It’s about placing technology at the heart of business strategy to give an edge over the competition.

Before we get there, we need to think about the input and output of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). What is it? What holds it together? Why and how can it improve the world?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The first area to consider is the devices that make it up. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. The explosion of devices is not solely due to the smartphones, tablets and wearables, which we usually think of. The dramatic growth of connected devices is due to previously ‘dumb’ devices becoming ‘smart’. From light bulbs to industrial machinery – the number of devices that communicate with other connected systems over the Internet is staggering.

20150211_04386-medWith smart devices and a heavier reliance on automated systems, there are a number of considerations for device designers and manufacturers. For example, smart devices are essentially “always-on” systems – they are constantly collecting data and communicating. This requires the evolution of low-power systems to reduce the running costs of smart ecosystems. Furthermore, when traditionally “dumb” objects are replaced with “smart” equivalents, there are potential issues with security.

Input – output / thing to thing

The key capability that allows the IIoT to function as an internet is machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. This is the process of objects communicating with each other via the internet. M2M communications rely on sensors within the device itself, and the networks that connect devices together. These networks must be highly resilient, flexible and intelligent, and they must be future-proofed and adaptable.

Data security is a major challenge that is not set to go away any time soon. Network security is a huge bone of contention when it comes to data security and data protection within the IIoT conversation. For example, one of the advantages of the IoT for healthcare is the ability to collect medical data in real-time from devices such as wearables, to monitor patients’ health – particularly those with ongoing conditions such as diabetes. This medical data is therefore extremely sensitive, security needs to be at a level where external threats are not able to access and steal data records within the network.

What is the output of the IIoT?

Ultimately, the output of the IIoT has to be that businesses can increase their profits. The key to deriving strategic value from the IIoT is data. In the IIoT environment, data from the billions of devices will be collected in real-time, transported across networks to IT and storage systems.

Managing this data is a monumental challenge, for the vast majority of it will be neither valuable nor insightful. So, complex analytics and algorithms will be required to decide whether specific data sets are worth storing or whether they should be discarded. Furthermore, questions need to be asked of data to contextualise it against other data sets. We also need to understand what data needs to be prioritised or treated with extreme caution in terms of privacy and security, based on its importance and sensitivity.

20150211_04623-medThe businesses that are able to harness the power of IoT data will be able to work in a way that is more customer curious: using data to inform the whole business strategy. Data management solutions such as NetApp’s data fabric, which enables data collected from IoT devices to be moved between different storage environments with far more agility, can assist businesses in achieving this. The control it gives over huge data sets, to store, manage, organise and analyse data more efficiently, assists decision makers looking to extract insight and value from multiple data sets, maximising the potential of the IIoT.

Data is one of the most valuable assets businesses have at their disposal. With data being collected in real-time on such a vast scale, the value of data will increase exponentially as we see IIoT rollouts begin to take shape.

The author of this blog is Grant Caley, principal technology officer UK&I, NetApp.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_ OR @jcIoTnow

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