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Industrial automation represents a bold leap into infinity. Like the industrial and digital revolutions that preceded it, this transition to a new way of working is saving enterprises from expending human effort, slashing fiscal overhead and improving process quality hand over fist. Whereas factories and other industry hubs were once deemed wicked centers of toilsome drudgery, their Internet of Things-connected successors have taken on a decidedly cleaner, more streamlined appearance.
The picturesque charm of this idyllic vision doesn’t mean that everyone is convinced, however. The adoption of an IoT platform takes time, and when the transformation involves such drastic levels of wholesale change, it can be hard to convince people that it’s worthwhile or workable. With that in mind, we thought it fitting to share some examples illustrating not only why people are leveraging the IoT in industrial automation but also how. Whether you use these ideas to educate yourself or inform your leadership, you’re certain to emerge with a more knowledgeable enterprise.
Industrial automation is all about intelligent process control. Why send your plant manager galloping down to the assembly line to flip a switch when you can program a smart computer to take care of it instead?
The IoT is what you’d get if you took this concept to the extreme and kept going. Instead of merely programming the network to flip the aforementioned switch and wait for the next scheduled event, for instance, your leadership team might also use the system to observe how the assembly line fared after the initial change.
How does this differ from classical process automation systems that already include feedback loops? Here are a few essential distinctions:
• The IoT doesn’t depend on your hardware because you can choose independent control systems, sensors, and network components.
• The IoT’s power goes beyond the limited features and functionalities your device manufacturer or software provider offers.
• Those who use the IoT in industrial automation processes can connect multiple sites and locations so that they operate in harmony.
Industrial automation is well-known for diverting technology from the commercial sphere and adapting it to new ends. The industry’s widespread IoT adoption builds upon this tested concept in numerous ways:
Wireless connectivity makes it simpler to implement complex control systems in awkward, remote or hazardous environments. For instance, using wired networks to link remotely controlled cranes, robot arms and other manufacturing devices can be problematic due to their unique ranges of motion and exposure to harsh fabrication environments.
The IoT’s compatibility with wireless technology lets enterprises replace standard linkages with fully enclosed mesh radios that perform the same functions. Even better, these alternatives may be more useful for automation processes that require fine-tuning or ongoing adjustments. For instance, you don’t have to replace miles of Ethernet cable to achieve higher transmission speeds with Wi-Fi.
Growth has decided on the pros and cons. Although few experiences beat the thrill of taking your organizational training wheels off and cruising along, doing business at a higher volume introduces unique risks, such as the potential for greater waste should you take a wrong turn.
Industrial automation experts love the Internet of Things because it lets them stay on course regardless of how excruciating the growing pains become. A company that wanted to conserve resources might use an industrial sensor system to tell it when to shut down auxiliary production lines. An enterprise that relies on automated stock machines to transport replacement parts to workstations could employ a connected framework to initiate new deliveries without waiting for approval from a line manager.
The IoT also makes it possible to create digital twins. These replicas of existing systems serve as testbeds for new projects and experiments. With a well-modeled digital twin, you could dramatically simplify project planning stages, such as if you were breaking ground for new facilities, by having the doppelgänger figure out how much floor space or equipment it took to maintain ideal output.
For automation to be fruitful, it needs to facilitate real-time communications. Our earlier parable of the switch-throwing manager exemplifies the hazards of lag. By the time the manager reaches the factory floor, the conditions that prompted you to send her there may have become irrelevant.
The IoT enhances traditional automation schemes by making everything on-demand. When you make a change from a control dashboard, you get to see its effects ripple outward right away. What you might not expect is that the system also performs the innumerable tedious tasks that facilitate good digital communication, such as
• Rerouting traffic to keep data moving no matter how much information happens to be passing through,
• Accounting for the effects of network topologies to sustain optimized service quality,
• Accommodating vendor-neutral communication protocols and schemes to support a wider variety of hardware and software,
• Self-detecting equipment failures and automatically switching to functional network elements, and
• Duplicating and storing data as necessary to prevent catastrophic losses.
Although this kind of work may get overlooked because it goes on in the background, it’s an essential part of ensuring that automation frameworks behave deterministically. When your industrial communication systems behave consistently, sound management practices prove easier to execute.
There’s no shortage of industrial automation maintenance philosophies to choose from, so debugging can get confusing. Should you conduct regular repair rounds where you only fix the items that need attention when the schedule tells you it’s time for a plant-wide upkeep tour? Could you curtail downtime by overhauling each faulty device as soon as its trouble indicator starts flashing? The answers aren’t always obvious because factories differ so widely.
IoT mesh networks help stakeholders handle maintenance more logically. You can debug, tweak and maintain controllers and sensors from local network nodes to cut down on overhead and make the best use of limited bandwidth. For example, why have a low-level vibration sensor continuously report that machinery is operating normally? A smarter option might involve programming it to send notifications to its nearest overseer or automatically shut local systems down only when trouble arises.
Decentralized maintenance is the glue that helps automation systems stick together and run seamlessly even as they expand. By using the IoT to program functions at the node level, you can optimize resource usage and slash costs for a more productive enterprise.
Internet of Things technologies offer a spectrum of other potential benefits that we haven’t even covered. There are voice-recognition systems that let factory owners authenticate themselves and implement complex behaviors without any manual programming. Your factory might connect its fire sensors to automated disaster response systems or install programmable logic controllers that track crucial process variables to eliminate wasted time.
Embedded and linked networks contribute to improved lifecycle oversight, demand-specific customization and better cost control, but choosing the best-equipped IoT layout and technical components can be a tough task. Optimality isn’t universal. It’s defined by the circumstances, so you need to move forward with an eye on building something that’s sufficiently flexible yet robust enough to survive the unexpected. Find out how the Davra team can help you construct an IoT that supports agile, intelligent automation today by booking a demo.
Brian McGlynn, Davra, COO
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