The challenges of the Industrial Internet of Things

18 March 2017 by Jon Hill

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a subset of the IoT phenomenon, referring specifically to connected technologies in the manufacturing industry. IIoT technology captures data by monitoring and controlling production processes, which improves overall documentation and quality management.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a subset of the IoT phenomenon, referring specifically to connected technologies in the manufacturing industry. IIoT technology captures data by monitoring and controlling production processes, which improves overall efficiency and quality management.

By 2020, revenues generated from the IIoT market will be about $225 billion. What’s more, companies are already reliant on data captured from their assets such as jet engines, gas turbines, and MRI scanners. The information collected helps enterprises utilise resources more efficiently, create more advanced predictive models, and drive more societal adoption of these connected machines.

However, despite the rapid growth of connected smart devices and sensors, the transition from M2M to full IIoT presents challenges that manufacturers and enterprises must address in order to reap the benefits of connected tech. Here are our top five challenges IIoT faces…

Security
Any ‘thing’ or device that is controlled by network communication that ‘faces’ the Internet is vulnerable to being hacked. Until recently, cyber security has focused on a limited number of end points. With the advent of the Industrial Internet, security must expand its focus to include the physical and virtual worlds on a large scale.

Redesigning new security frameworks that span the entire cyber physical stack, from device-level authentication and application security, to system-wide assurance, is not negotiable for industrial enterprise.

Companies should consider solutions such as the Device Authority KeyScaler Platform. This has been designed from the ground up to deliver rapid security automation and active security posture enforcement to address the new security challenges of IoT. The technology allows customers to securely register, provision and update their devices through active, policy-based security controls, which are designed to protect IoT applications and services.

Interoperability
According to a Nexus survey, 77% of respondents see interoperability as their biggest challenge in the Industrial IOT.

In any interconnected system, all of its component devices must be able to communicate with each other. A lack of common software interfaces, standard data formats, and common connectivity protocols creates a challenging landscape. For industries, this means that up to 40% of the total value of the Industrial IoT will remain inaccessible because different systems cannot work together. In addition, the drive to seamless interoperability is further obstructed by the long lifespan of traditional devices that require costly retrofitting, or even replacement, to work with the latest technologies.

Bridging the gaps in communications between devices and the rest of the Internet will require middleware or gateways that ensure interoperability throughout a network by translating the data from one protocol to another. However, it is critical that, with the number of network devices and protocols quickly growing, the middleware delivers fast protocol conversion.

Software products like Kepware and hardware protocol converters will help you overcome these problems.

Device reliability & durability
Device reliability in the IIoT is of the utmost importance in the harsh operating environments typical of the manufacturing, oil, gas, power, and railway industries. These industries rely more and more on remote access, so it is in their best interest to deploy rugged-enough, tough devices. Even the most well-designed and user-friendly front-end will be good-for-nothing if the backend of the system is not reliable. Devices that are defective, or break down in extreme temperatures and other harsh environments, will have a negative effect on the adoption of the IIoT. We are all painstakingly aware of the possible outcomes because of device failure: people in danger, costly downtimes, and inaccurate data analysis.

Investment in rugged industrial-grade devices−featuring wide operating temperature ranges, higher MTBFs, level 4 EMS protection, dual-power supplies, and dual-LAN technology−is a no-brainer for industries operating in challenging environments.

A silo mentality
One of the most difficult challenges to overcome is that of breaking silos between different disciplines and departments. A pivotal convergence needs to happen between the IT and OT divisions. Control engineers must up skill so that they in the very least understand networking and security and IT engineers and architects must understand the difference between business processes and manufacturing processes.

Insufficient Skills of IT Staff
Most industrial companies don’t have the IT resources or skills to build an IoT solution internally in a way that’s cost-effective and fast. Indeed many companies are concerned their teams lack the skills and understanding to exploit IoT and big data.

According to a research report produced by service provider Capita Technology Solutions and networking supplier Cisco, 70% of respondents said they found it relevant to their business, but 71% said they did not have the skills to identify the growth opportunities it offered. Some 80% said they did not even have the skills to capitalise on the data it generated.

Any wave of new technology causes disruption and brings with it financial, structural and cultural challenges. IIoT is no different but it does introduce a myriad of opportunity to improve overall operational performance. The IIoT is at the forefront of the future of manufacturing, and while the key challenges of the IIoT are certainly daunting, they are not insurmountable and there is a course of action available to industry to overcome each one.

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