The Internet of Things (IoT) we’ve all been hearing about usually involves people wearing health monitoring bracelets or intelligent additions to the human ecosystem, such as smart lighting controls for the home and smart car systems in which sensors alert the driver when a vehicle wanders outside of its traffic lane.

Less well known, but a very big new opportunity for the Internet of Things focuses on industrial infrastructure. Smart machines (or as General Electric has described them in its advertising, “Brilliant machines”) have the capacity to change the world economy more than anything since the industrial revolution. This next wave of the Internet of Things will create smarter, more competitive factories by connecting machines and devices together into functioning, intelligent systems. These interconnected devices — collectively known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)--will enhance the productivity, efficiency and operation of our manufacturing facilities.


In Europe IIoT is being called Industry 4.0 because it refers to the fourth industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution introduced the mechanization of production using water and steam power. It was followed by the second industrial revolution which introduced mass production pioneered by Henry Ford with the help of electric power. Industry 3.0 was the digital revolution, bringing electronics, information technology and control systems to the factory floor to further automate production using computers, robots and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Now, Industry 4.0 entails using networked communications and the cloud to combine smart machines into truly intelligent distributed systems.

The Industrial IoT introduces new requirements for the speed and volume of information exchange. Connections between machines must be real-time, they must be secure and they must work over wireless links, because without wireless communications acting as the conduit to deliver data between machines, M2M and therefore IIoT cannot exist. In an IIoT set up real-time data will be shared between mobile devices via the cloud and can be accessed through a web browser. The IIoT system must efficiently scale up to handle streaming updates, alarms, configuration settings and command instructions, all as needed and it must be enterprise-friendly.


(Source: General Electric)

Though manufacturing companies have been implementing robotics and computerized automation for decades, the sensors, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and PC-based management systems on most factory floors are largely not connected to broader in-plant IT networks. What is more, unlike other IoT applications, in most cases they are not connected to the Internet. Consequently, the concept of networking industrial devices to achieve higher levels of automated interaction also will involve upgrading current automation and robotics systems and developing a connected approach to maintenance as well as retrofitting other, older equipment to receive information to allow for decision-making without human intervention.

Logistics made possible by the IIoT will allow plants to react to unexpected changes in production, such as materials shortages and bottlenecks. IIot also assumes cloud-based “big data” analytics will be used in decision making and for event prediction based on the streams of incoming data from a myriad of sensors.

The benefits of IIoT include improving machine uptime, conserving or consolidating factory floor space, reducing labor costs and boosting throughput. And because of the unforgiving environments in which industrial devices can exist, such as in harsh physical conditions, to obtain these benefits IIoT solutions must meet the challenging requirements of industrial-strength reliability, security, connectivity and backwards compatibility with legacy installations.

Let’s now look at some industrial IoT examples

Getting mining equipment operators out of harm’s way

Robots work alongside humans on the factory floor. But what if the industrial automation application is outside of a plant? .Joy Mining is the world's largest underground mining equipment manufacturer. The company’s equipment mines coal by digging channels in coal seams. The cutting end of the digging machine has a rapidly-spinning cylinder with 6-inch diamond-studded cutting teeth. It chews through tens of tons of rock per minute. The huge machine simultaneously creates a rectangular mine tunnel using hydraulic lifters to support the ceiling as the machine moves forward. Then, automated drills drive 3-ft long screws into the ceiling to stabilize it. A set of gathering "fingers" scoop up the rock and coal and deposit it onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor passes under the machine and out the back. A train of conveyor belt cars, up to a mile long, follows the cutter into the mine. The rock shoots along this train at over 400 feet per minute until it empties into rail cars at the end.

The current system places an operator cage next to the cutter. Not a great place to work: there is choking and potentially explosive dust, the risk of collapse and the proximity to rock flying all over the place. All of which make the operator’s cage a hazardous location. Joy Mining’s new 14CM Continuous Miner system uses Connext DDS communications software from Real Time Innovations (RTI, Sunnyvale, CA), which allows the operator to be moved back to a safe distance from the action. DDS middleware is a communications technology designed to provide controlled access to the data and is specifically designed to handle Industrial Internet applications. Intelligent control algorithms built into the software optimize cutter pressure and rate, check and maintain floor and ceiling levels and enforce machine limits to reduce failures. Connext DDS also delivers data up and away from the mine to allow surface monitoring. In the future, it will integrate machine control all the way to cloud-based analysis and production monitoring systems.


The Joy Mining 14CM Continuous Miner. Data connectivity, both within the machine and to surface operations, is critical to safe, efficient operation. (Source: RTI)

No driver needed

Mines often are found in very remote and hostile areas, where it may be difficult to find or attract enough qualified truck operators. Komatsu’s Frontrunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) uses GPS navigation to allow large electric mining trucks to operate without a driver. The AHS trucks use pre-defined courses and navigate autonomously from loading units to dump locations.

Human drivers aren’t needed since the sensors track conditions and control speed and locations. Remote operators monitor the truck’s performance.  Position sensors guide the trucks on the shortest route and save on fuel consumption.

The Komatsu system is at work at Rio Tinto mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. More than 50 autonomous trucks are in operation at the mines. In addition to GPS the dump trucks are equipped with vehicle controllers, an obstacle detection system and a wireless network system. The trucks are operated and controlled via a supervisory computer, enabling them to be unmanned. Information on target course and speed is sent wirelessly from the supervisory computer to the driverless dump trucks, while the GPS is used to ascertain their position. When loading, the dump trucks are automatically guided to the loading spot after computing the position of the bucket of the GPS-fitted hydraulic excavator or wheel loader. The supervisory computer also sends information on a specific course to the dumping spot.

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Unmanned dump trucks at work at the Rio Tinto mine

The company says that implementing autonomous haulage means more material can be moved efficiently and safely, creating a direct increase in productivity.

Sensors also provide data for preventative maintenance; 32 sensors are embedded in the engine block, as many as 120 sensors in the drivetrains and 40 in the wheels.

From a safety perspective, the fleet control system prevents collisions with other dump trucks, service vehicles or other equipment at the mining site. In case an obstacle detection system detects another vehicle or person inside the hauling course under AHS operation, the vehicles will reduce speed or stop immediately, keeping the system safe and reliable.

Building Jeep Wrangler bodies

Based in Augsburg, Germany, KUKA is a leading manufacturer of industrial robots for a number of industries. One of its United States subsidiaries is KUKA Toledo Production Operations. KTPO builds the bodies of all Jeep Wranglers sold in the world. When KUKA built its Jeep production facility in Toledo, Ohio, the company took advantage of the Internet of Things to create a highly automated plant that connects as many as 60,000 devices and factory-floor robots to a central data management system.


A Jeep Wrangler body being produced in Toledo, Ohio

KUKA implemented an intelligent system based on Windows Embedded and Microsoft’s SQL Server that connects 259 assembly-line robots, a controller, more than 60,000 device points, and backend systems. All the control tasks, including creating and running programs and diagnostic processes, can be performed directly on the robots from the control panel’s Windows-based interface — a familiar tool to many employees.

A new Wrangler is due in 2017 and to continue building Jeeps in Toledo the plant may need to update its robotics, add new tooling and possibly also new paint facilities. It will have to build these facilities without shutting down the line.

Integrating people and processes

There is little good in having billions of industrial sensors and devices connected to the Internet if they can’t all talk to each other. To insure that they do, groups such as the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), an open membership international nonprofit consortium, are attempting to set the architectural framework and direction for the Industrial Internet. Founded by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel in March of 2014, the IIC’s mission to coordinate the integration of objects with people, processes and data using common architectures, interoperability and open standards.


The IIC is managed by the Object Management Group (OMG), the world’s largest systems software standards organization. The OMG also manages the Data Distribution Service (DDS) middleware protocol standard.

As you read this the IIC is preparing to release a Reference Architecture to its members. The first part of the Reference Architecture is to define the different components to making IIoT work, which are connectivity, sensors and actuators, data processing and security.