Next steps in IT-based automation and operations

Welcome to the CFE Media special edition, IIoT for Engineers.

By Kevin Parker December 15, 2016

The unfolding of the Industrial Internet of Things can be looked at from numerous angles.

IIoT combines advances in sensors and devices at the process level, enhanced connectivity across operations and execution, and analytics availability for decision makers. As the edition’s cover illustration suggests, one way to look at IIoT is as an alternative to the traditional automation triangle of control, execution, and enterprise levels.

The IIoT for Engineers special edition, which will appear four times in 2017, is about the use of information, automation, and Internet technologies to improve productivity in discrete-manufacturing and process-production industries.

Engineers are the backbone of our industrial management and executive ranks. Technicians, engineers, managers and executives know better than most that computerization changes the nature of their work, and are very comfortable freely mixing engineering, automation, IT and management vocabularies. In addition, we hope readers from IT backgrounds will be drawn to the publication to familiarize themselves with concepts related to discrete manufacturing, process production and supply chain management. 

Market snapshot

Another aspect of IIoT is that unlike some integration technologies proposed over the years, IIoT embraces legacy systems and the installed base. Progress can proceed from "the bottom up."

In other words, as noted in the edition’s case study, innovation is achievable by mid-size enterprises. The level of capital investment involved doesn’t necessarily require a corporate initiative. In this it resembles the supervisory-control (SCADA) markets that grew so precipitously in the 1990s.

At the device level, new generations of multi-parameter and industrially strengthened sensors are being introduced, as well as Internet fieldbus and protocols, advanced Internet switching, and a range of embedded systems.

Automation and IT suppliers have brought IIoT technologies together as products. IIoT connectivity suites ease the pain of machine and application integration. Analytic suites apply themselves to asset management and other optimization tasks. As product categories, their boundaries can overlap, but the special edition includes a brief impressionistic listing of the kinds of analytic solutions coming to market based on the IIoT opportunity.

The "things" that IIoT refers to are uniquely identifiable objects. Their virtual representations, combined with middleware and a service orientation, allow machine-to-machine communication among computers, embedded processors, smart sensors, actuators and mobile devices, with limited human intervention.

In general, the challenge is that industrial enterprises have more than enough data. To better support decision makers, IIoT technology should bring the data sources together, presumably in the Cloud, and then parcel the information back out in a roles-based, comprehensible context. Application spaces include in process automation, enterprise-assets management and industrial-IT-based business operations.

Application spaces being addressed include predictive maintenance, advanced process control and operations optimization. Often the point is to have a single interface that melds automation elements and the IT network, or maintenance with an operations view.

Additional coverage

As mentioned, the IIoT for Engineers special edition will appear each quarter in CFE Media engineering titles throughout 2017.

The magazine tagline—sensing, connectivity and analytics—succinctly summarizes the major technologies powering IIoT at this stage of its development. On the other hand, three CFE Media IIoT newsletters focus on major IIoT application areas, including process automation, enterprise assets and operations and IT management. Look for them in 2017.

The CFE Media webcast series will devote five editorial webcasts, co-branded with Control Engineering, Plant Engineering and Oil & Gas Engineering, to IIoT topics in 2017, chosen based on feedback from our engineering management audience.

It is true that some of the emergent technologies mentioned above are already in use for years. You reach a point, however, when the sum is greater than the parts. It’s also true that engineers and enterprises have been achieving connectivity and doing analytics a long time. That’s hardly surprising since what engineering disciplines always have done is to use accurate measure to achieve better judgement.

This article appears in the IIoT for Engineers supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

– See other articles from the supplement below.