The IIoT: Instigator of teamwork
The Industrial Internet of Things not only helps machines ‘talk’ to one another, but fosters collaboration and co-innovation among human beings.
In this new digital age, at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we live in a time of great disruption and change — most of it positive. One of the major innovations reshaping our world is the Internet of Things, or IoT. Put simply, this is a system connecting ‘smart’ devices, computers, machines, objects, humans and other living things, allowing the networked transfer of data without the need for person-to-person or human-to-computer interaction.
When asked to explain in the most basic terms IoT’s commercial application, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), expert in the field Alasdair Gilchrist describes it as a means of connecting “all the things in a business — people, processes, machines, vehicle and sensors — with each other wherever they may be, so that they can talk to one another and pass information which will improve the way the business works.” With 25 years’ experience as a technician, support and project manager, network and security architect, and company director in IT, data communications, mobile telecoms and cloud technologies, Gilchrist is the author of a key text on the subject of IIoT, ‘Industry 4.0: The Industrial Internet of Things’. He believes IIoT possesses enormous potential to improve the efficiency of a broad range of industries.
Gilchrist says tracking machine ‘health’ through real-time component monitoring or by utilising a ‘digital twin’ (a ‘virtual’ replica of physical equipment), will not only make breakdowns less likely, but will eliminate unnecessary scheduled maintenance and allow businesses to accurately ascertain or predict when it is necessary to replace machinery or components. “This ability for machines to work together and relay information on their status reduces downtime, redundant work and operational costs, yet increases the efficiency of the operational process overall,” he says.
Facilitating this sort of tracking and measurement, Yokogawa is a leader in advanced industrial instruments, automatic control technology, and digital control and data analysis solutions, helping clients in sectors including oil and gas, power, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, to maximise production and energy efficiency.
"IIoT will be the biggest contributor to the next generation of sustainable and eco-friendly industrial energy efficient environments."
Christopher R. Wilder, the IoT lead at international technology analyst and advisory, Moor Insights & Strategy, highlights this last area as an important element in IIoT’s contribution to productivity and sustainability. “Energy companies are leveraging IIoT to drive efficiencies in power usage, consumption, and customer interactions,” Wilder says. According to Wilder, an expert in cybersecurity, networking and telecommunications, with decades’ experience applying IoT solutions across a diverse range of industries (including transportation, aviation, supply chain, manufacturing, and data centres), it’s not solely utility providers that can and will harness IIoT to improve energy efficiency.
“IIoT is the lynchpin for the next generation of energy solutions,” he says. “Many organisations are considering creating their own energy by deploying both micro- and nano-grids to offset energy costs and have less dependency on their utility providers. Micro-grids are localised power units that use multiple sources of generation such as solar, wind, combined heat and power (CHP), and battery storage to optimise and blend energy generation. IIoT allows these organisations to ramp up and down energy generation sources to gain maximum efficiency based on time of day or which energy sources are most effective. IIoT will be the biggest contributor to the next generation of sustainable and eco-friendly industrial energy efficient environments.”
Thanks to the IIoT, says Gilchrist, power companies will be “better able to monitor usage in real-time and to control their supply to handle demand surges by designing more responsive energy grids. This is because sensors in the grids intelligently manage energy usage and sway the consumption towards cheaper renewable sources.” An excellent example of this type of IIoT-driven innovation in energy is the ‘F-Grid’ smart community project in Japan’s Miyagi prefecture, created for a partnership of 12 companies led by Toyota Motor Corporation. Thanks to its community energy management system, built by Yokogawa Solution Service Corporation, the F-Grid optimises electricity use by predicting energy demand and balancing the supply drawn from the local electrical power facility with that created by the partner companies’ own solar and natural gas sources, while also providing a back-up energy source for the community at large. Testing indicates energy cost savings of 20% to partner companies as a result of the F-Grid.
Savings go beyond the merely financial, though. “The IIoT has real potential to create sustainable and eco-friendly business models that conserve energy and reduce harmful emissions,” Gilchrist points out. In his opinion, “The obvious example is through smart cars and cities where it is envisaged that these will require infrastructure that will be designed to be smart, secure and energy efficient. However, it’s not just cars that will get smart — there will also be smart ships, trucks, airplanes and trains, which will also become more energy efficient as they too become autonomous. An example of this is the vast savings that airlines are making in fuel costs since adopting IIoT-style data analytics to control the jet engines fuel consumption on long haul travel but without affecting their performance.” He says smart offices and homes will also result in enormous energy savings — naturally, leading to a great reduction in environmental impact.
"One of the major benefits of the IIoT is that through sensors we can get insight into the entire operational process, which in factories and plants is critical to safety."
The workplace environment will equally benefit from IIoT, becoming cleaner and safer, equipping employees to work more efficiently, with less error. “One of the major benefits of the IIoT is that through sensors we can get insight into the entire operational process, which in factories and plants is critical to safety,” says Gilchrist. “With IIoT, machines and industrial processes can be monitored continuously and analysed in real time for any deviations from acceptable operational conditions. This automation of the control and management process identifies faults quicker and applies remediation more effectively, which results in more reliable but crucially safer operational processes. In a similar way, the introduction of intelligent machines and processes through automation has also removed the requirement for much of the human interaction into the process, which removes people from potentially hazardous situations. By reducing human interaction it also reduces one of the major causes of error and inconsistency and this increases quality control, which in turn delivers more efficient operations.”
Wilder concurs. “Obviously, one of the byproducts of IIoT is the reduction of human error and improved safety in plants and factories,” he remarks. “That said, there will always be a human factor within manufacturing environments. I believe IIoT will help employees work more efficiently alongside machines — however, IIoT cannot replace or exchange the human factor.”
Gilchrist points out that in industry experimentation with ‘smart factories’, it has often been production line workers, rather than data scientists or management, who’ve provided the most beneficial, cost effective and long term suggestions for operational improvements. As organisations transition from hands-on ‘analog craftsmanship’ to the new intelligence-driven ‘digital craftsmanship’, the human touch will remain vital. “It would make sense to shift towards ‘Smart Factories’ or IIoT plants whilst you still retained the operational skills and knowledge to ease the transformation,” Gilchrist says, noting that the introduction of “collaborative machinery such as robots that are designed to work and learn alongside humans … has been very successfully deployed in several industries”.
The takumi approach views technology - much like the calligrapher’s brush or a woodworker’s knife - as an implement controlled by human eye and hand, guided by human knowledge and experience.
The Japanese refer to the traditional artisanal values that drive their legendary craftsmanship as takumi. Citing takumi as a central corporate philosophy and value, Yokogawa believes that this very human sense of artistry, mindfulness and attention to detail will, in unison with the exacting precision that the new ‘digital craftsmanship’ brings, result in man and machine working in tandem to achieve supremely harmonious and sophisticated results — products of a quality level previously unknown. The takumi approach views technology — much like the calligrapher’s brush or a woodworker’s knife — as an implement controlled by the human eye and hand, guided by human knowledge and experience.
Machine learning and AI are, says Gilchrist, “useful tools for solving problems but that is what they are, simply tools.” Humans, meanwhile, “are irrational, quick, gut feeling decision-makers — which sometimes annoyingly works. However the tools of AI and machine learning have huge value in the fact that they can do the logical, rational decision making and figure out best probabilities that are beyond a human’s willingness or patience to work out in their head.” In his opinion, “AI and machine learning are appropriate as a tool to support human decision making, but certainly not at this stage a replacement.”
"AI and machine learning are appropriate as a tool to support human decision making, but certainly not at this stage a replacement."
Wilder believes that while these technologies will definitely make work more efficient and effective, “they will not usurp or replace humans in the overall process. AI and machine learning will, in the short term, offset many of the day-to-day tasks performed by humans, but there will always be a litmus test for critical decisions that will be made by humans.”
Helping facilitate collaboration across internal departments and external partners, and making the geographical distances between stakeholders irrelevant, IIoT will in fact be a great aid to human cooperation — or what Yokogawa calls ‘co-innovation’. This involves sharing intelligence and expertise in core competencies, as wholly-owned Yokogawa subsidiary KBC Advanced Technologies is presently doing via its Co-Pilot Program. This allows KBC’s strategic and technical consultants to use proprietary simulation technology (Petro-SIM, a kinetic steady-state and dynamic process simulation and optimisation software product), connected to a cloud-based IIoT data-as-a-service solution, to remotely monitor customers’ processes and provide them with guidance to improve operations.
The IIoT is not merely about computers and machines ‘talking’ to one another, but also a means of tearing down the “silos and communication barriers,” as Gilchrist puts it, that hinder the open exchange of ideas and information within industries and organisations, and among human beings in general. IoT may stand for Internet of Things, yet ultimately its higher function could indeed be as an Instigator of Teamwork.
Founded in 1915, Yokogawa engages in broad-ranging activities in the areas of measurement, control, and information. The industrial automation business provides vital products, services, and solutions to a diverse range of process industries including oil, chemicals, natural gas, power, iron and steel, and pulp and paper. With the life innovation business the company aims to radically improve productivity across the pharmaceutical and food industry value chains. The test & measurement, aviation, and other businesses continue to provide essential instruments and equipment with industry-leading precision and reliability.
To learn more about Yokogawa Electric Corporation, click here.
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