The internet has become the most essential and most important tool used by businesses in nearly every industry. What was once a simple network that allowed us to send emails and make phone calls has evolved into a powerful, multi-purpose tool that allows users to interface with not only people from around the world but also with the “things” that fill our world.
Indeed, the physical objects that occupy our world have plenty to say, and with the help of IoT technologies, objects like smartphones, dog feeders, robotic arms, and driverless vehicles can all share important information between each other and with us.
We’ve already covered some of the more interesting consumer applications for the IoT in another article, so today, we’ll be covering some of the most innovative ways businesses are putting the IoT to good use.
Known as the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, these systems aim to improve efficiency and reliability across all levels of the industrial goods sector.
IIoT vs IoT: What’s the Difference?
Like the IoT, the Industrial Internet of Things refers to a network of physical objects (e.g., smartphones, robotics, routers, etc.) that share, collect, and exchange data over the internet.
While the IoT and the IIoT share many similarities, there are important differences between them: first, IoT devices, like smartphones, are mainly built for consumers, meaning that their shelf life is typically around 2-5 years. Additionally, because IoT devices are more consumer-centric, IoT devices are not designed to endure harsh working environments, like those in which dramatic temperature fluctuations can occur (both cold and hot).
However, IIoT devices are, in fact, built to handle these sorts of harsh working environments, and can operate for a much longer period of time (10 years or more on average) without the need for human intervention. And while consumer IoT devices are built with an emphasis on the machine to human connection, IIoT systems and devices are geared more towards machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, with humans primarily participating as a 3rd party observer.
To enable M2M communication, sensors are attached to “things” that enable the sending and receiving of data over a network, and with use of specialized software, this data can be used for things like performance optimization, predictive maintenance, and even the prevention of workplace injuries.
Industrial IoT Applications
Because there are no limits as to what can be “hooked up” to the internet, there are no limits as to what can be developed or converted into an IIoT device. This means that a company’s ability to design and implement their own IIoT network is limited only by their own ability to innovate.
Below are some examples of how some companies are applying this technology:
Safety & Health
Companies are going to great lengths to improve worker safety in a variety of different hazardous industries, such as mining and firefighting, and are beginning to see IIoT devices as an integral part of the solution. For example, Intel and Honeywell have developed an industrial IoT solution called the “Connected Worker”, and it combines technologies like Bluetooth, motion detection, and cloud computing to help prevent serious injuries.
How does this system work?
First, the Connected Worker system utilizes a mobile hub that collects data from an array of sensors embedded in things like self-contained breathing apparatuses, heart rate monitors, and gesture devices. Once this data is collected by the mobile hub, it is then sent to the cloud where it can be analyzed and monitored in real-time by an operator.
In hazardous work environment (think underground mines and burning buildings), this system can provide users with predictive warnings about malfunctioning equipment, changes in air quality, and dangerous structural changes that might cause a mine to collapse.
Additionally, users equipped with this system and others like it will be able to monitor their body’s vitals, which is important since stressful situations like fighting a fire in a burning building can often induce panic attacks and other life-threatening events.
Ever stepped into an elevator and wondered if you were going to get stuck? It’s a terrible thought, and unfortunately for some, it does happen. While most of the time it’s no big deal, there are times when being stuck in an elevator can become a life-threatening experience.
IIoT devices can help reduce mechanical breakdowns in elevators, and as a matter fact, companies like KONE and IBM have already teamed up to create 24/7 Connected Services—a service that will help customers prevent elevator breakdowns before they occur.
By embedding connected IIoT sensors, operators can obtain real-time updates on the condition of deployed elevators and escalators, resulting in less equipment downtime, fewer faults, and detailed information on maintenance that needs to be completed.
Cutting down on the cost of fuel and energy is a primary concern for all companies and a concern that can be managed with the implementation of IIoT devices. For example, the Marine Division of Caterpillar provides fleet operators of tugboats and shipping vessels with advanced, interconnected sensors that monitor everything that might consume energy or fuel.
By using this aggregate data, the customer is able to monitor fuel meter readings in real-time, which can then be correlated with something like the amount of power used by refrigerated containers.
In this specific case, the customer discovered that running more generators at lower power was far more efficient than running a few generators at maximum capacity, and as a result, the customer was able to save more than $650,000 a year by cutting down on fuel expenditures.
Finally, the IIoT will undoubtedly prove to be instrumental in optimizing the performance of automated systems across numerous businesses and industries.
While robotics have played an important role in manufacturing for years, the IIoT will allow these systems to become more robust, more reliable, and ultimately, more productive. Instead of simply being pre-programmed to perform a specific task, these systems will be able to react dynamically to their environment, ensuring that a mechanical breakdown doesn’t interfere with production, or worse, cause damage to products, other machines, or even to people.
The IIoT will bring such radical changes to manufacturing that fully-connected factories and workforces are expected to increase two-fold around the world by 2022.
The Future of the IIoT
While the IIoT in its current state is more than powerful enough to effect positive change, the IIoT is still only in its infancy. We have to remember, that, although modern day internet connectivity has come a long way from dial-up modems, internet connectivity and speed is about to take a major leap forward in the next couple of years.
As of right now, the vast majority of wireless communication occurring around the globe is conducted over 4G LTE networks; however, 5G networks are on the horizon, and with it, a whole new world of possibilities for IIoT applications.
This new high-speed form of internet connectivity offers speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second, and a theoretical speed that is up to 1,000 times faster than 4G LTE. This means that IIoT devices are about to become exponentially more powerful and more reliable, empowering industries across the globe to utilize automation to its fullest potential.
LDC Infrastructure’s Role
As exciting as the IIoT and 5G may sound, the evolution of these products relies heavily on the deployment of small cells like microcells and femtocells. Without these infrastructure elements, cellular providers and network developers will be unable to effectively densify and upgrade current networks, making the transition from 4G LTE to 5G more difficult.
And, without all the benefits that 5G provides, IIoT systems will be unable to evolve and become more dynamic in the future.
As one of Australia’s leading ground lease and rental rights acquisition companies, we can provide intelligent solutions to help develop your new small cell project, and we can help you unlock the true value and potential for assets like telecom, solar, billboards or wind turbines.
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