What makes the Industrial Internet of Things Unique?

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

I have been talking about industry 4.0 and different trends in industrial automation and machinery a lot lately (if you don't believe me check out my Twitter account). The main driver for any advancement in the field remains the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), a concept that is close to the much-used and famous buzzword Internet of Things (IoT). How does IIoT work? What is the goal of IIoT?

The Difference between the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things

Before we go into any further details as to how the technological ecosystem of IIoT (which is mainly the integration of cyber-physical systems), let me explain the Internet of Things (IoT) briefly, look at its advantages, before making a distinction between IoT and IIoT. Sound good?

The idea behind IoT is to build a system of interrelated computing devices that are able to transfer data over a defined network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. For example, a smart home or automated home could be based on a platform or hub that controls smart devices and appliances. You could then control the home entertainment system or lights with your smartphone or tablet. Another use case could be your car telling you where to park in the city or if you need service which car dealership you can go to (they ultimately can also use this information to enhance their products, hence the vehicle network). In summary, the Internet of Things gives us access to the data of millions of different devices. Before I move on to explain where the main distinctions between IIoT and IoT lay, let's look at this video first:

As you can see, the IoT reaches well beyond simple everyday-tasks and has an impact on industrial setups as well. In an industrial configuration, the interconnection and communication is between sensors, instruments, machines, and other devices which are bound together in a network. Such applications can be found in manufacturing and energy management, allowing vast data collection, exchange, and analysis. Installing new ways and technologies to (especially qualify and analyze data correctly is still a challenge) potentially facilitate improvements in productivity and efficiency as well as other economic benefits.

The IIoT (R-)Evolution

The basic principle behind IIoT and from which it has evolved are distributed control systems (DCS). In continuously evolving, IIoT now allows for a higher degree of automation by using cloud computing, which is needed to refine and therefore optimize process controls. The technology ecosystem underpinning IIoT is mainly the integration of cyber-physical systems (CPS). These systems deploy interconnected computational, or cyber, elements to sense and control a physical environment, which given their task, means a high complexity in the software functionality. That's also why frequently, engineers use Model-Based Design to create these models. There are other technologies and concepts to consider when talking about the IIoT, such as cloud computing, automation (e.g., intelligent robots in product assembly lines), wireless technologies, and augmented reality (AR), amongst others.

Which of the technologies just mentioned are you most interested in? Let me know in the comments section or via Twitter. To sum this post up, I'd like to remind you of the purpose of this concept, which is connecting the physical and digital worlds, making sense of what is happening, and ultimately taking actions that benefit the physical world.

In my next article, I will look at smart factories with you - another great way to show how different sensors and subsystems need to connect, communicate, and ultimately decide on whether to take a certain action or not. Until then, stay curious!

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