The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) a major element of Industry 4.0 has been gaining traction for some time now, driven by globalisation, shifting demand for commodities, and fluctuating trade flows, even before COVID-19.
Yet, in the past year, which has seen many manufacturers having to revamp their operating models to support fewer on-site personnel, IIoT has demonstrated significant value to these businesses.
In today’s fast-moving world, says Ian Waters, senior director of EMEA marketing, ThousandEyes, industrial equipment and heavy manufacturing are evolving rapidly along with the rate of development of remote operations in fact, according to recent research by Google, three-quarters of global manufacturers have already increased their use of digital technologies such as IoT since the beginning of the pandemic.
In the face of greater uncertainties, industrial manufacturers are investing in digitisation and technical innovation to achieve and pass on productivity gains to their customers, which presents exciting possibilities. We now live in a world in which we can leverage long distance networking to access and control machinery, no longer requiring workers to be in the same room alongside it.
However, this brave new world of remote manufacturing doesn’t come without its challenges particularly around network reliability and quality. Today’s IIoT involves a complex web of integrated systems that need to communicate in order to improve and automate a manufacturer’s workflows.
The challenges of the IIoT process
Within complex IIoT environments, the need for visibility into network performance is crucial for not only your own devices, but also those outside of your control. In addition to the internal systems working together, manufacturers are reliant on the Internet and cloud to power IoT devices, adding a further layer of complexity to the supply chain.
This chain, on which the digital experience hinges, becomes even more complex with each new IoT device that is added so with all these factors at play, it’s therefore imperative that manufacturers prepare for remote equipment deployments and ensure high quality networking across multiple networks, including the Internet.
Manufacturers deploying remote IIoT equipment face significant potential implications if things go wrong especially if this equipment powers mission-critical or latency-sensitive machinery and creating a reliable communications path for such mission-critical machinery can prove to be a challenge.
IoT devices must be able to communicate with one another through complex integrations in order for improvements and automations to be made. With systems constantly re-developing to stay relevant and provide as much intelligence as possible, manufacturers need to be able to translate the different languages that the many different parts of remote machines are speaking and this is where monitoring is imperative.
How end-to-end visibility can lead to assurance
For manufacturers deploying remote IIoT equipment, the need for end-to-end visibility is key to getting it right. Furthermore, before IoT technology can even be implemented, baseline network performance tests must be completed in advance in order to map out the network hop-by-hop and distinguish infrastructure capabilities.
Application owners need to be able to test external APIs at a granular level directly, from within the context of their core application (instead of only through a front-end interaction), as well as understand the impact of the underlying network transport.
API monitoring adds the real value to the IIoT by enabling multiple systems to work together in order to collect and analyse data to trigger a workflow. By testing each link in the chain and making sure that API is available and data is transferring properly, systems are able to communicate with one another to create workflows which can then fix a problem or solve a customer issue in its first stages.
Furthermore, adaptive API monitoring allows you to go beyond emulating user interactions via a customer-facing website to executing API calls directly on your API services. With this capability, application owners can dynamically measure performance, differentiating timings between each iterative function as well as validate the logic of complex workflows. This allows for quick confirmation of problems within a workflow, as well as providing insight for potential optimisation opportunities.
In a world where manufacturers are seeing more and more of their products connected, the quality of the network is becoming more essential than ever. With end-to-end visibility across public and private clouds, the internet and APIs, manufacturers can uncover today’s blind spots to ensure IIoT devices are performing with full availability and at capacity, and that the process is running as smoothly as possible.
The author is Ian Waters, senior director of EMEA marketing, ThousandEyes.