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What's Stopping the Internet of Industrial Things?

Is it even Needed?

There, I said it, is that controversial enough? It might be. You have likely heard of the Internet of Things (IoT) by now and what it is, "let's connect everything to the internet! so we then know what it is!" and my suspicion is, that it is not necessarily needed. Or perhaps the concept is just too big to comprehend how it applies right now, let us think about and discuss this, I suggest first we start small.

 

Starting Small

For a lot of people the first thought that comes to mind with IoT is making a smarter home via home automation. There is nothing more awesome than feeling in control and being informed whether your plants are in need of a water, if your home is secure or keeping a close eye on your front door via a camera when Amazon ring the doorbell. We have even read that a controlled sprinkler system allowed a home owner to save their premises from being burnt down where their neighbours suffered great losses. The success stories are slowly pouring in, we are surely better connected, are we not? We can even look after our pets. Though for every success story there is often a horror tale, but we shall not talk about cars (or Die Hard 4 and its hacked power plant).

 

However, when we are looking at the scale of the home, we have an isolated scenario, a sandbox, a location where frankly we can do whatever we like. Here in begins to lie the crux of the scale of IoT and its increase to a level where it could be considered to be applied to, let us say for example, a humongous steel production plant.

 

Thinking Big

I was introduced to industrial environments from a young age, my father being an industrial shift engineer working on the huge and heavy electronics of British Steel. Regularly I would hear tales of trudging up long ladders, getting covered in extra fine coke dust and crud, to take care of the electronics for a conveyor belt system that would put a shopping till to shame, and motors the size of a large living room with junction boxes the size of a human. So, too, came the tales of blast furnaces and metal working, but also of the systems that controlled these. From the computer systems that people sat at to systems which you would not hear about from home.

 

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) are the electronics that are the heavy duty, industrial armoured electronics against the elements and truly harsh conditions. Your typical Beaglebone Black would not cut it where a PLC can do the grunt work, (though with the industrial BBB we're getting better). This is what I see as the type of system which the Internet of Things is trying to replace or supplement in an industrial environment, and it is not going to be cheap to do so.

 

So just how do you go from a system that is setup to use PLCs to one that wants to be connected to the internet? Or is it already on the internet? Unfortunately for this information, my father retired from Corus as it was then known, before becoming Tata Steel and did not see what upgrades were done to the system.

 

However, I suspect that the engineers of this community may have seen similar or even more.

 

What is Stopping the Internet of Industrial Things?

You tell me! You do not have to be specific, I suspect that a number of people are under Non-Disclosure Agreements with their company, but let us be general about this shall we?

Poll Results
  • Network and Infrastructure Upgrades (IPv6, Bandwith, etc.) (0%)
    0/34
  • Data Management and Storage (0%)
    0/34
  • Ensuring Security and Integrity of Data and its Communication (24%)
    8/34
  • Return on Investment - How do we make the money back from upgrading? (18%)
    6/34
  • There are no Standards to Follow (too varied hardware, no cohesion) (18%)
    6/34
  • Existing Systems need Retro-Fitting (6%)
    2/34
  • Its not Applicable for the Industry we work in (9%)
    3/34
  • Proposed IoT Hardware just is not Resilient Enough (3%)
    1/34
  • Software to Support and Use IoT Hardware does not Exist (or costs too much) (3%)
    1/34
  • Maintenance - How do we power/replace/update so many IoT devices? (3%)
    1/34
  • Training - A new system means new hardware, software and knowledgeable people (18%)
    6/34

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