What is IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things

 

IIoT stands for the Industrial Internet of Things. The goal of IIoT is to enable industries such as manufacturing, logistics, oil and gas, transportation, energy and mining, etc to initially improve operational efficiencies and ultimately deliver on new on-demand business and revenue models in the fourth industrial revolution.

From an implementation point of view, IIoT refers to a network of securely connected industrial equipment capable of machine-to-machine (M2M) and machine-to-cloud (M2C) communications. IIoT can enable convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) layers where OT refers to Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Distributed Control Systems (DCS).

Difference between IoT and IIoT

 

Although the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things have many technologies in common, they have different purposes. IoT devices generally include consumer devices and appliances that usually do not lead to emergency situations if something stops working. On the other hand, IIoT applications connect machines in industries such as oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing where any failures can result in life-threatening situations. The following table illustrates further differences between Consumer IoT and Industrial IoT.

 
Consumer IoT Industrial IoT
  • Lifestyle drives adoption
  • Disruption drives investments
  • Short life span – maximum of 3 years
  • Long life span – greater than 10 years
  • Everything is greenfield
  • Nearly everything is brownfield
  • People compromise privacy for the sake of
    convenience
  • Businesses are paranoid about privacy and
    security
  • Connectivity is important but not critical
  • Connectivity must be structured and guaranteed
  • Open standards and open software are widely used
  • Still scratching the surface in adopting open standards
  • What are the applications of IIoT?

     

    Equipping industrial equipment with IIoT enables the manufacturer/customer to capture and analyze data about the usage and performance patterns of such equipment. Some examples of applications are production monitoring and inventory management in manufacturing, supply chain optimization and worker safety in oil and gas, etc where overall equipment efficiency (OEE) and predictive maintenance are critical as downtimes are extremely costly. IIoT applications require integration with a wide range of legacy equipment and protocols (some decades old) to provide a single and consistent view of operations.

    In the near term, this will lead to opportunities for improving customer satisfaction through improved predictive maintenance and field service. In the longer term, this will lead to newer ways of product development to deliver future business models.

    How should industries approach IIoT security?

     

    While IIoT is ultimately about new business models that are enabled by connecting OT devices to the IT layer and above, that goal will not be possible without the appropriate investments in security provisions. Considering that the OT layer consists of devices and related applications provided by many vendors, IIoT users should be aware of the security approaches followed by their vendors and where the data from such devices is stored/transmitted. This becomes especially important in the scenario of stricter privacy regulations being introduced the world over.

    How to streamline management of IIoT devices?

     

    The concept of device management originated from IT and involved managing computers used across of the business organization. It was based on the assumptions of having high bandwidth and stable connections. However, many IIoT devices are deployed in environments that may not have access to a reliable source of power or stable connectivity.

    In this scenario, if an IIoT device stops communicating, it could mean something simple like lack of network connectivity or a discharged battery or something more serious like a hardware defect or a firmware bug. This becomes more complicated when considering the scale of IIoT deployments that can run into thousands of devices and requires automatic ways to proactively identify and address issues with devices. The states of IIoT devices should also be synchronized with the business processes that they support.

    How to choose an IIoT solution or platform?

     

    Everyone says they have the best IIoT platform. Not every customer has the same requirements. How do you choose the right one for your needs?

    • OT OEMs position their device engineering capabilities
    • Telecom companies their position connectivity capabilities
    • PLM/ERP vendors position their enterprise application capabilities
    • Cloud software providers position their infrastructure hosting capabilities
    • Silicon Valley start-ups try to disrupt the entire solution stack and bring in something new
    •  

    Coming to the practical aspects, in industrial applications, the volume and latency of time-series data is usually too great to handle in the cloud and the industrial culture also prioritizes physical availability – both demands flexible deployment options. There is also the need to enable easy integration with enterprise systems and easy administration of the thousands of devices that are part of an IIoT deployment. In summary, an IIoT platform should provide:

    • Flexibility for mix of on-premise, edge and cloud deployment
    • Device management – identify, provision, secure, update and recover
    • Integration with wide variety of legacy and modern equipment and enterprise systems

    How to choose an interoperable protocol for IIoT?

     

    Interoperability (especially at the application layer for data exchange) is a big challenge when it comes to choosing protocols for connecting industrial devices to the IT layer. There are many protocols such as HTTP/CoAP, MQTT/AMQP, DDS and OPC UA, etc that are considered for use in IIoT applications. All these protocols cannot be seen through the same lens as they come from different backgrounds and look at data definition in different ways

     

    HTTP/CoAP

    Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is a connectionless client/server protocol that is easily accessible to developers and is widely used in web applications. However, due to its high overhead, HTTP is not efficient for high data update rates and for exchanging small messages. The Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) was created to reduce the overhead related issues of HTTP and enable use in resource constrained devices. However, both HTTP and CoAP require application developers to define their own data formats and are unable to solve the interoperability problem in industrial applications.

     

    MQTT/AMQP

    Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) is a very simple and easy to use protocol that provides minimal overhead messaging by using broker based publish/subscribe model which makes it suitable for resource constrained devices. Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) is another publish/subscribe protocol with that provides more robust guarantee for message delivery but this makes it a heavy overhead protocol which isn’t suitable for resource constrained edge devices. Both these protocols expect application developers to define the data formats and hence are limited in being able to solve the interoperability problem.

     

    DDS

    Data Distribution Service (DDS) is a publish/subscribe protocol that’s focused on communication at the edge of the network. DDS is decentralized and does not require a broker (like MQTT) or centralized device management. Devices communicate peer-to-peer using UDP multicast and this makes DDS a fast protocol. While DDS is a good solution for reliable, real-time data delivery at the edge it does not define the data formats at the application layer and is (also) unable to solve the interoperability problem.

     

    OPC UA

    OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is the next generation standard from the OPC Foundation that builds on the capabilities of Classic OPC (well known in industry) and aims to expand interoperability to the device and enterprise levels. OPC UA supports both client/server and publish/subscribe protocols and is highly secure. In addition to OPC UA defining communications from the application to the transport layers, the companion specifications defined by various industry working groups in the OPC Foundation is a very unique advantage that makes OPC UA very interoperable between vendors all the way up to the application layer and for IIoT in general.