IIoT at the IO level

Really look at the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): How will device-level communication work using this developing technology? What is IIoT? Learn four IIoT misconceptions, five ways IIoT is new, and six reasons why the disruptive technology of IIoT will be slow to catch on.

08/04/2015


The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT, also designated I2oT) has been getting much discussion lately, as if it has burst on the scene fully formed and ready for immediate use. A closer examination shows that, at least where we are in mid-2015, much of what is being billed as IIoT is either not industrial or not Internet.

The IIoT communication stack is very complex and has a huge variety of implementation possibilities made necessary by the variety of devices that will use it, the variety of applications, and the variety of communication media, wired and wireless. The sli

Common machine-to-machine (M2M) communication techniques that have been in use for some years are now being rebranded as IIoT whether any Internet protocol is involved or not. This is causing some confusion to say the least.

Four IIoT misconceptions

Common misconceptions about the IIoT include:

  1. All process control functions will move to the cloud.
  2. Any field device will be able to communicate with any other field device anywhere in the world.
  3. Enormous amounts of new data will be created.
  4. Everything will be wireless.

These misconceptions tend to emerge from much of the current discussion because it fixates on the benefits expected to emerge from adoption rather than understanding the technology itself. It's more fun to talk about the benefits of "big data" than to pull apart the communication stacks. Once the underlying concepts are better in hand, the benefits will be easier to understand. Rather than talking about what IIoT might be able to do, it is more useful to discuss what IIoT is and how it will work. In that way it will be easier to recognize the real thing and possibly reduce the level of hype.

First and foremost, the IIoT is infrastructure—it enables and supports communication, and that is the extent of IIoT capabilities. Maybe that doesn't sound very exciting, but don't underestimate what IIoT implies. New networks will be faster and will offer more sophisticated connectivity.

What IIoT isn't

The Internet part of IIoT is the use of IPv4 or IPv6 for its addressing, so communication that doesn't use Internet Protocol (IP) is really not IIoT. The IIoT does not create data nor will it change the way we deploy instrumentation in a typical process manufacturing environment. (Much, if not all, of the data promised is available today using conventional technologies, but users aren't collecting it for a variety of reasons. It remains to be seen whether or not new infrastructure will somehow make data more compelling.)

Implementing the IIoT will have a major impact on the way control systems communicate with field devices, which is, of course, the basic input/output (I/O) function. If IIoT succeeds in making device-level communication easier and less expensive, users will likely find opportunities to deploy a larger number of sensors (some of which might be wireless), though field instruments will still have to pass the same evaluations for safety and robust construction. All the other costs of deploying a new sensor still will apply, such as adding it to plant databases, adding it to control room human-machine interfaces (HMIs), process unit piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID), etc. A consumer-grade, smart, Internet-enabled thermostat will not be attached to the side of a refinery distillation column.

IIoT connections

In the May 2013 issue of Control Engineering, Herman Storey offered some thoughts on the technical side of where the IIoT was heading and what would be needed to make it practical and effective. Since then, the discussion has certainly intensified, although actual technical progress has been limited.

The updated information presented here revisits the topic, offers an update, and discusses how IIoT will be used at the device level. Below, Storey wrote his comments using a question-and-answer format (in education, known as a catechism). Since the IIoT has become almost a religion to some, this approach seems particularly appropriate.

Learn more about five ways in which the IIoT is new and six reasons why it will be slow to catch on.


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