When you think of the Internet of Things, you may picture smart speakers and home automation systems — the IoT applications that parallel your own experience. Those are indeed relevant, and becoming more influential in consumer economics, but there are significant industrial uses for connected devices, too. Technology analysts agree that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has significant potential to streamline automation in manufacturing, even though big challenges remain.
It's not always possible to avoid those challenges. On a positive note, having awareness of those obstacles makes it easier to plan for — and overcome — them.
1. No Widespread Adoption - Yet
Some people in charge of investing in manufacturing facilities hesitate to proceed with IIoT programs because widespread adoption of the relevant technologies has yet to happen. As such, it may be necessary for you to plan pilot projects, or to gather information to support the assertion that a pilot project is worth the time and cost required.
If a CEO is reluctant to adopt IIoT technology without the evidence of worthiness provided by at least a few case studies relevant to the items a company manufactures, such information may not exist yet. That's especially likely if those companies are still engaged in processes to test how applicable the technology is to their needs.
Because the IIoT and manufacturing automation technologies are relatively new, some companies resist adopting them quickly and may struggle later to catch up with competitors. But, since IIoT adoption is initially time-consuming and costly, widespread adoption — which is still pending — may be the only evidence that gives company leaders the confidence necessary to move forward implementing it into existing systems.
2. Security is Lacking
Installing anti-virus software a straightforward process for businesses, but there are not yet such simple approaches to protecting IIoT devices and systems. Some solutions monitor network traffic, but not the integrity of individual pieces of equipment. Analysts repeatedly raise the security shortcomings inhibiting businesses that are considering the gadgets needed to bring about improvements in manufacturing automation.
A vulnerable IIoT system could be hacked, causing loss of data, production disruptions, equipment shutdowns, decreased quality levels, and more. Even worse, attacks could remain undetected for months or longer.
And, despite the availability of some methods for securing IIoT devices, a recent survey concluded people tasked with securing IIoT systems generally aren't using all the techniques available to them to keep out the cybercriminals. More specifically, the study found 60% of respondents didn't use device-level patches to protect devices and networks.
A substantial cybersecurity event could prevent a company from getting the expected return-on-investment that IIoT equipment would ordinarily provide. Plus, executives may decide the aftermath of that issue is so significant that they should stop giving so much attention to IIoT upgrades. Keeping security in mind from the start could prevent such catastrophes.
3. Disagreements Over the Use of Collected Data
Those in charge at manufacturing companies often struggle to determine how to use the data captured by IIoT equipment. They might not have thought that far ahead, or disagreements may arise about which problems to solve through data. Often, the sequence of events is such that entities decide to collect data because the capability is there. Then they install the equipment without having a roadmap in place for interpreting the data.
Manufacturing businesses can avoid this danger by outlining the things that hinder their business and figuring out how data could relieve those. In one poll about how real-time monitoring improved operations, 52% of respondents said they achieved better maintenance scheduling accuracy. Then, the collected data gives insights about equipment maintenance needs.
Real-time information gathering can be extremely valuable, but typically not so if a company doesn't first have well-formed ideas of what the data could reveal. As such, discussions about why it's worthwhile to collect information, and why doing so could cause a competitive advantage should ideally occur before IIoT equipment investments.
4. Unforeseen Difficulty Upgrading Equipment
Retrofitting equipment to modernize itfor the age of the IIoT can be complicated. But, when manufacturing companies know their existing machinery has at least several years of use left in it, replacing the equipment for pieces that have built-in connectivity is not an economical option.
Not every sensor works with every machine, and there could be further hassles ensuring an embedded sensor captures the intended data rather than vibrations from nearby equipment. In other cases, manufacturers may not know with certainty that particular sensors will collect the required data. Then, it may be necessary to conduct a trial run before agreeing to a full upgrade.
Moreover, some manufacturing experts may not realize initially that large equipment, or equipment that handles numerous processes, may need various sensors to track all the desired data. If so, upgrading a single piece of equipment could cost tens of thousands of dollars, or substantially more.
If manufacturers are not accustomed to IIoT equipment upgrades, they may be taken aback by the total expenses and start to balk. Fortunately, working with companies that specialize in helping clients adapt older equipment to work with IIoT components could be helpful in keeping down costs and assessing whether to upgrade equipment or buy newer options. After all, even though new equipment may not be a company's first choice, it could prove less expensive than upgrading in some instances.
5. Poor Communication May Restrict Progress
Correct implementation of the IIoT means the operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) teams have to communicate with each other. They must come up with processes and answer crucial questions, such as what resources exist, how IIoT and manufacturing automation could alleviate known issues, and how to protect the data generated by connected equipment.
These teams often work in siloed environments and aren't used to interacting regularly. So, another related challenge is to put plans in place to make the necessary communications happen and ensure the right matters are discussed at each meeting.
One possible approach is to have weekly meetings between all the respective teams, complete with agendas that cover all the necessary topics. However, when people in different departments focus heavily on their work, they may forget to mention essential matters at those gatherings. Using an online project management tool and encouraging people to update it daily should reduce issues.
Relying on an internal blog or a company wiki also could improve communication struggles that make it unnecessarily difficult to maintain current processes related to the IIoT equipment or begin new ones.
Obstacles Are Not Restrictions
The items listed here may seem daunting. However, companies should not let these potential challenges cause them to avoid implementing the IIoT and enhancing manufacturing automation. Even if they don't anticipate the things on this list causing disruptions, business leaders should consider how to tackle the issues if they arise. Preparation helps enterprises steer clear of mistakes.
Kayla Matthews writes about the IoT, IIoT, automation and smart technologies for publications like InformationWeek, Manufacturing.net, Robotiq others. To read more from Kayla, follow her personal tech blog, Productivity Bytes.