IIoT phases of planning, deployment, use

Five sets of questions serve as a checklist for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) planning, deployment and use for automation used for Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0.

By Alan Raveling June 12, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles


Learning Objectives

  • Create proactive insights from IIoT data and evaluate data sources.
  • Determine what to do with IIoT data and consider IIoT data usability.
  • Assess support and management of IIoT devices.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a key component of Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and other trends in automation and controls. While the term may be overused, questions below can be used as a template for engineers and others to walk through the IIoT phases of planning, deployment and use.

IIoT: Create proactive insights from data

At its core, think of IIoT as a collection of relatively inexpensive components which collect and transmit data to applications that analyze and process it to generate useful outputs. This data can be used to gain insights on the operational performance of equipment (as part of a predictive analytics), feed machine learning or statistical analysis packages, or allow for enriched trending or historical charting and graphics. The main idea is more.

By having more devices that collect more data, more often, engineers, statisticians, data scientists, and others involved in the design and operation of the equipment will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the real-world issues that cause stoppages, downtime, scrap, and poor product quality. It’s more devices, data, frequency and understanding. The insights gained from this data allows the organization to transition from a reactive posture to a proactive one.

Having dozens, hundreds, or thousands of sensors and data collectors is not a complete IIoT solution. A complete IIoT solution also requires transport mechanisms and software packages that process the data. Developing an IIoT strategy must include data communication requirements, a standard for deployment, and expectations for ownership, support, or maintenance.

Is your organization OK with IIoT devices leveraging the same networks as the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and human-machine interfaces (HMIs)? Is the facility in a location where 4/5G wireless networks are present and can be used by IIoT equipment? Are other wireless protocols such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or LoRaWAN allowed and available? What security policies or requirements are in place within the organization these solutions must be evaluated against?

IIoT: Evaluate the source of data

The final design has several contributing factors when approaching an engineering challenge where an IIoT solution seems to fit. The engineer should first evaluate the source(s) of data.

1. Questions: Will new sensors or instruments need to be installed? How will power and communication cabling for the device be addressed?

Considerations: Many IIoT devices can be battery-powered with lifespans ranging from one to five years, depending on the duty cycle. Some devices can be self-powered, using energy sources available at the point of installation.

2. Questions: What possible formats is this data available, such as MQTT, 4-20mA, REST API, RS232, JSON, and RS485? Is any translation or transformation of the data necessary? If so, where will the transformation take place?

Considerations: To save time in communication and energy, sensors may transmit a compact stream of bits which then need to be broken back into separate data fields.

3. Questions: Is new data required every 10 seconds or 10 minutes? How much data is being sent during each communication?

Considerations: LoRaWAN, for example, has an upper limit on the amount of data a singular device can send in a given time, and bandwidth is often measured in single or low double-digit kilobits per second (kbps) rates. If using a cellular modem, it’s critical to understand the amount of data generated in a month to avoid overages or other fines.

4. Questions: Is the distance between data sources and sensors measured in yards/meters or miles/kilometers? Are existing long-range networks in place, or will a new network need to be created?

Considerations: Local terrain, other frequencies used in the space, or physical infrastructure and equipment may impact the range limitations of the different communication protocols. This can block or reduce the effective range of devices.

Determine what to do with IIoT data

Next, engineers must determine what to do with the generated data. The association, storage and timestamping of these data points are all crucial to the effective information use.

1. Questions: What is the strategy for associating sensors with specific components, machines or areas? Who will track the inventory of deployed IIoT devices and their locations?

Considerations: These are assets and must be managed under the same policies and procedures as other network-connected equipment.

2. Questions: Where and how will the data be stored? Will it go to a cloud-based service or be transferred to a local database? How will loss of internet access be addressed?

Considerations: When selecting solutions for data storage, consider the amount of data generated daily and the amount of data that must be stored.

3. Questions: How will each IIoT device’s time or data generation event be synchronized? How much variance in the time between IIoT devices is acceptable?

Considerations: Cellular devices use the network’s clock, whereas wireless or wired network devices may use network time protocol (NTP). The variance between these is a handful of seconds.

4. Questions: How is each IIoT device reporting time? Will transformation of the timestamp be necessary?

Considerations: Some devices list the time in Epoch format (seconds passed since January 1, 1970). Other devices record the time in UTC, while others list the time based on the local time zone. The dates and times must be in the same format to allow for the data and information provided by the devices to be processed, compared, and analyzed by the applications.

Consider IIoT data usability

With the data now held in a database or other systems, engineers must consider its use or accessibility.

1. Questions: Will the data only be accessible through the IIoT software solution, or will access to the tables and database driving the software also be possible?

Considerations: Some vendors or solution providers only provide web-based or frontend access. This access allows for analysis or visualization, but would not allow data integration into other internal solutions.

2. Questions: Is the software in a cloud-based platform, or is it running within the organization’s environment? Is there a guarantee of uptime? If the IIoT solution is not available for an hour or a day, what’s the impact?

Considerations: As the data and analytics from these IIoT solutions grow in importance, the organization may need to decide if they should continue to operate the equipment if the IIoT systems are offline.

3. Questions: Who will be allowed access, and what type of access will be granted? Will partners, contractors, or third parties be permitted access to the data?

Considerations: Engineers should work with the organization’s IT or security teams to understand any requirements for data sharing, transferring data, and integrating into existing identity and access management systems.

Assess support, management of IIoT devices

With the IIoT devices and potential networks or gateways in place, engineers should assess the support and management of these devices.

1. Questions: Who will be responsible for responding to a device malfunction or outage?

Considerations: Battery-powered devices have a limited lifetime, and maintenance should be scheduled to periodically replace the batteries.

2. Questions: Will spare IIoT devices be kept, and where will they be physically housed? How quickly can a malfunctioning device be swapped out, and who within the organization knows how to perform these tasks?

Considerations: The technicians at a location may need to receive additional training or documentation to allow them to replace these components.

3. Questions: What is the planned lifespan of the IIoT devices? Will the devices available in two or three years warrant the replacement of existing hardware?

Considerations: The organization may need to evaluate its strategy based on the fast changes within the IIoT space occurring year over year. New features or functions can provide enough value to drive replacements ahead of regular schedules.

IIoT can enable organizations to make smarter and quicker decisions and bring value through efficiency gains, cost savings, or cost avoidance. Although this article brings more questions than it does answers, working through these questions and considerations will result in a much more robust and comprehensive solution, avoiding the traps and pitfalls of charging into IIoT without planning.

Alan Raveling is OT architect at Interstates and a 2021 Engineering Learder Under 40, recognized in the Control Engineering September 2021 issue. Interstates is a Control Engineering content partner. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT implementation checklist


Use this checklist for your next IIoT project.

Author Bio: Alan Raveling is OT architect at Interstates and a 2021 Engineering Leader Under 40, recognized in the Control Engineering September 2021 issue.