Internet of Things: The Beginning of Industry 4.0?
In the not-so-distant future, constantly connected and communicating machines are set to transform lives outside of the home. It may be too soon to prepare, but it’s not too soon to pay attention.
The Internet of Things (IoT) seems to have reached that point of public consciousness where most have heard the term but cannot explain it. While the majority of people are still watching to see how this innovation will impact society, others are seeking ways to transfer the benefits of a connected machine world beyond consumer applications -- traditionally the focal point of IoT. Smart utility grids, traffic management, and connected marketing are all on the horizon, as is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IIoT is simply an off-shoot, or extension, of The Internet of Things which is focused on applications and advancement for industry.
Industrial equipment has long had the ability to share information. Now that equipment will be networked with the other equipment in a facility, and that facility will communicate with many other facilities. Sensors and advanced analytics will enable this equipment and facility network to intelligently respond to the dynamic conditions of a typical production environment.
Already there are companies that have reduced operational expenses and created a more safe work environment with this technology. However, these improvements represent just the beginning of the revolution. Projections indicate the IIoT will contribute $6 trillion (USD) to the US GDP and more than $14 trillion to twenty of the world’s largest economies by 2030 . A number that size indicates it will not just be operational efficiencies, but entirely new markets and services that result from the connectedness of the world’s manufacturers. Workers are also likely to benefit from this industrial transformation. Certain jobs will be made obsolete through improved automation, but resulting advancements are likely to a have a net positive effect on job creation and require highly skilled labor.
Signal transmission will be a significant component of this new Internet. There will be continued proliferation of wireless connectivity, but most facilities will have a cable based backbone. Additionally, participating in this internet will require high-quality and cost-effective products that have sensors, processors, and connectivity. Most products do not yet have these features, meaning a boom in development and production is on the horizon.
Beyond the creation of these newly capable machines, there is much that needs to be accomplished before the $14 trillion will become a reality. First, standards need to be developed. These standards, when accompanied by appropriate regulation, will foster the advancement of the IIoT by providing clear direction to developers and manufacturers on how to make the network a reality through inter-device communication. Government regulations, on the other hand, will ensure that all equipment will be able to communicate with each other, as opposed to high-powered manufacturers developing consortiums and blocking out the competition.
Advancements in other areas will be necessary as well. The IIoT will require vast amounts of data to be captured, transferred, and stored, thereby driving significant growth for the data industry (another that needs reliable and high-quality signal transmission systems) and cloud computing. New infrastructures to process and house the information will need to be built.
Advanced software will need to be developed to support this hardware as well. The equipment and data management infrastructure will do little without intelligent systems that monitor and react mostly autonomously.
The last major component of seeing a fully-realized IIoT is time. For example, many industrial machines have long life-cycles. Companies will face hard choices in deciding when the appropriate time to invest in the future will be. Early adopters will have the highest cost of entry and immediately obtain only a portion of the benefits that will be available as the IIoT becomes more mature. Followers, on the other hand, may find themselves at a disadvantage as the network evolves and they have little experience to build upon.
It’s likely that we are on the verge of another leap forward in manufacturing. Some are calling it “Industry 4.0”, as in the fourth industrial revolution. The Industrial Internet of Things will be a component of that revolution, but before we all begin to see the true results, the future will need to be built.
1 Source: http://www.zdnet.com/article/forget-the-internet-of-things-here-comes-the-industrial-internet-of-things/
2 Source: http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/25/the-human-impact-of-the-industrial-internet-of-things/
3 The first three being steam power, mass-production, and the digital revolution.