Integrating IIoT equipment into manufacturing systems

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) equipment should be integrated even into older manufacturing systems to optimize facility and system operations. Think you’re using IIoT technologies? Are you adding sensors in 12 steps or 6 steps?

By Jeff Miller, InSource Solutions August 1, 2018

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been brought up in the media, and many mainstream instrumentation and controls vendors even remarket their existing product lines as IIoT products. Engineers often suggest they’ve "been doing IIoT for years." However, there is a lack of understanding around IIoT. What the industry has been doing often differs from what IIoT promises. Just like calling a goose a duck; it’s incorrect.

Yes, the sensors used in manufacturing are becoming smarter and better connected. Yes, they are coming with onboard web configuration interfaces, but are they really IIoT? What does the process of implementing additional sensors into manufacturing systems using traditional methods look like?

Adding sensors in 12 steps

For example, if a proximity switch was going to be added to a manufacturing line to count the number of units produced, the process would include the following steps:

  1. Identify the need
  2. Define requirements and specify hardware and cabling
  3. Identify an open contact on a digital input module or add an expensive high-speed counting module, depending on speed requirements and engineering in step one
  4. Purchase the sensor
  5. Mechanically install the proximity switch
  6. Wait for downtime on production systems
  7. Add a new module to the programmable logic controller (PLC) rack, if needed
  8. Run wire from the proximity switch to the input module
  9. Modify the PLC program to execute logic based on the new functionality to count pulses and identify when the counter will roll over to avoid an overflow situation
  10. Test the PLC program logic
  11. Create a human-machine interface (HMI) display to use production counts, or configure a historian to log production counts
  12. Optionally, take additional steps to tie the new counter into higher level manufacturing execution system (MES)/line performance system to capture overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

To add one sensor and leverage the information it provides, writing the PLC code, and building the appropriate applications require a significant time and money investment. This becomes even more challenging if the equipment is aging and doesn’t currently have a PLC, as there are still mechanical manufacturing lines operating today. For example, a few years back, a pie shell machine was in operation and was comprised entirely of motors, gears, pulleys, and relays-not one PLC. Don’t assume that because the system is old, the need to gather smart data metrics diminishes. Many vendors would recommend adding a PLC to this system to gather critical production metrics-requiring designing a control panel, electrical wiring, and buying a PLC with an input/output (I/O).

Adding sensors in 6 steps

Now, let’s compare this process with a modern IIoT implementation process:

  1. Identify the need
  2. Purchase the IIoT device and sensor
  3. Mechanically install the proximity switch
  4. Connect the IIoT device to a wireless network, hardwired ethernet, or purchase the IIoT device with onboard 2g/3g connectivity already activated
  5. Plug into 120 v or 24 vdc power
  6. Create an account in the cloud web application

Done. No engineering. No coding. Just plug-and-play. Personnel can walk down to the plant floor from the boardroom and have a wealth of collected data within an hour. Data may include being able to count parts, display and trend, downtime metrics. Added capabilities may include access to downtime metrics, mean time between failures (MTBF), mean time to repair (MTTR), OEE, and other analytics.

For example, if a worker were to place an internet browser window near the line, stop causes would be received that were selected by a prepopulated list from the operator, allowing the worker to analyze production stoppages. The total cost for this would be approximately $150 per month, per sensor, with unlimited users-a cost that would report a big return on investment.

IIoT acceleration

As a system integrator, this could be quite unnerving. There has been gradual shift from original equipment manufacturers (OEM) vendors to minimize the friction for implementing their products and lower the total cost of implementation by reducing the labor of system integration.

So why is IIoT a game changer? For example, at a house, each floor may have its own HVAC unit, totaling three unique systems that operate independent of each other. These systems have no onboard Ethernet or wireless connectivity. Like many machines and systems existing on plant floors, they’re disconnected and self-contained operational units. By connecting smart thermostats, in less than an hour, all three units were connected to the internet and operating together. To turn the heat on, all units can be switched to that mode through a mobile device. There is now a central supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that offers control and monitoring capabilities, and the units no longer operate independently. Built-in analytics and smart control features also are included that results in money savings and operating more efficiently.

Smarter, faster systems

This is the true power of IIoT – making existing systems smarter, without a rip-and-replace.

This is the future of manufacturing-purpose-built applications with a mixture of computing and control at the edge, connected to cloud-based applications with ready-to-go analytics.

Many manufacturers were left behind during the Industry 3.0 movement while others are in states of "islands of automation" with disconnected assets. In many cases, moving from disconnected production assets to enterprise connected assets with traditional engineering could mean either a complete re-control or rip-and-replace. This requires huge capital investment for systems that may still be functioning profitably. However, the need for data to drive decisions is increasing.

IIoT allows manufacturers to smart-enable their assets to potentially save thousands in operational expenditure (OpEx) funding, and tens of millions of dollars in capital expenditure (CapEx) funding. IIoT means smarter production systems now, with minimal investment costs.

Just as ducks and geese have similar characteristics, so do modern IIoT and traditional automation controls.

Jeff Miller is the director of smart manufacturing and innovation at InSource Solutions, a partner company of Avid Solutions. Avid Solutions Inc. is a CSIA member and CFE Media content partner. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


KEYWORD: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) 

The process of adding IIoT sensors into existing manufacturing systems

Identifying the benefits of IIoT integration to improve manufacturing operations.

Consider this:

How can your existing manufacturing equipment connect to gather actionable data for increased operational efficiency?