We had our laughs about the rise and fall of the IoT hype as many empty promises came tumbling down like a digital house of cards (tower of iPads?). But now that other hypes are gladly stepping in (looking at you, Blockchain!), the time for a practical implementation of the industrial IoT (or iIoT) seems to have come, and we have the practical examples to prove it.
With first best practices, we see that the formerly defensive attitude of organizations against digitization makes way for an open attitude to rethink the way we do business. Maybe one of the side effect of younger generations stepping up to the decision making positions.
However, if you want to lead discussions about the digitization in the industry, it definitively pays off to know the nuances in the terminologies — between IoT, iIoT, Industry 4.0 and soon-to-be Industry 5.0 — and being able to give examples.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (first mentioned by K. Ashton in 1999). Basically it’s about using the internet not for communication between humans, but to give machines the same access to contribute and use available data.
In the consumer space, IoT is about connecting things to each other over the internet in order to please humans — how?
„Internet“ example: Me taking a picture to upload for my family to look at. (Human to human)
„Almost IoT“ example: The pet bowl using the integrated webcam to upload a picture of the cat. (Machine to human)
“IoT” example: The pet bowl recognizes 1) it’s empty and 2) the cat in front of the bowl looks famished (hint: they always do). Plus, my cupboard broadcasts that no cat food is left. So the bowl automatically orders my cat’s favorite brand of food — which it knows from analyzing the speed how fast the plate was cleaned. Ultimately this means less effort for me and always food for the cat. (M2M to human, to cat)
As fulfilling as the automation of pet care may be, we are looking to earn the money which pays for the pet food. So we want to apply similar tech to connect and automate our production processes:
Which brings us to the Industrial IoT (iIoT), where the focus lies on enhancing the productivity and reliabiliy of communication and control in mission critical applications. IIoT, first mentioned by General Electric, is a subset of IoT. It covers the use of data collection and analytics in industries like manufacturing, transportation, energy, health care (and the list goes on…).
A simple example from agriculture: A farmer wants to reduce the effort and time to check and fine-tune the irrigation and fertilizing process. By placing sensors in the ground to check moisture levels, temperature, fertilizer levels, the irrigation system is able to select the ideal irrigation time and water/fertilizer mix. Also, if extreme temperatures or malfunctions are detected, the farmer is immediately alerted via text message. (He might even activate a few drones to rush into action, equipped with sun screens or repair kits for good measure — thinking a bit crazy here)
A term initially coined by the German government as part of the “High-Tech Strategy 2020” in 2010, it’s all about connected value chains: Connect and automatically integrate things and processes to form cyber physical systems. The ultimate goal being the increased value in manufacturing or the reduction of waste through the use of new technologies. From this, we expect to see a revolution (“the 4th industrial revolution”) in the way we develop, produce, manage and consume products.
The main points where I4 and iIoT differ, although they are often used synonymous:
- Industry 4.0 focuses primarily on the manufacturing sector, whereas iIoT covers all sectors where industrial / professional equipment is used.
- Industry 4.0 covers not only the pure connection of assets and data management but the digitization of the complete value chain.
- Industry 4.0 is more closely associated with governmental and institutional initiatives, and only gaining traction in professional setting.
An example Industry 4.0 application could look like this:
A customer configures and orders a new pet bowl online. While the order processing and payment is fully automated, the product configuration is transmitted to the shop floor of “Smart Bowl Inc.”. This is where the autonomous robots take over to handle the bowl between the assembly steps. The pet bowl to be assembled tells the machine by unique identifier which steps need to be done (add a clear cover and webcam wiring).
All of this happens as the customer gets an exact forecast of delivery time with real time tracking info.
The utilization of the assembly machines is automatically leveled to reduce part wear and to adjust for machines which are switched off for being serviced. And the service personnel is able to predict the ideal maintenance schedule, optimizing the use of parts and reducing the impairment of the bowl assembly process.
This use of technology means that “Smart Bowl Inc.” has more time to focus on the fun stuff — to design and market their pet bowls.
Where ones are just learning about the 4th industrial revolution, others are already filling the 5th (and soon 6th?) with meaning. Not yet clearly defined how we will produce in future — some possible changes and visions include:
- Enabling the personalized mass production by reintroducing the “human touch” to products. Industry 3 brought mass production, Industry 4 brought mass customization, but Industry 5 could be about using the latest tech to not only customize but also to personalize the products (and production processes). Reverting to creative, handmade work — paired with ultimate precision and productivity, i.e. with the use of collaborative robots as envisioned by the likes of Universal Robots. But probably not every industry will (need to) embrace Industry 5.0. The focus lies on applications where the personalized touch delivers a better customer experience, which brings an additional value (and revenues).
- Going from easy to use human-machine interfaces to no recognizable interfaces where the interaction of human and machine happens. Enabling technologies could be interaction via voice or even brain-waves. This seamlessly integrates artificial intelligence with the everyday actions.
- Machine to machine micro-transactions for a complete transparency of the value creation chain and for human and non-human contributors. This could be one practical application for blockchain technology, which could fulfill incremental payment for created value or smart contracts, securing the production quality fulfillment.
In the end, the question for the customer value always comes before the selection of the technical solution. Technology comes and goes but the quest for ultimate value remains.
Daniel Sontag connects the bots: As Industry 4 lead and manager for connected products, he does what he loves — tying business to tech, and theory to practice.
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