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Author: Bhagath Singh Karunakaran

Reading time: 3 mins

All of us know that the total available market for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is generally pegged at over 10 trillion US dollars. Each OEM, machine builder, system integrator, component vendor and silicon vendor out there are trying to get their share of the pie out of this huge opportunity. However, many questions do arise on

  • where are we on the technology adoption curve?
  • are we in the phase where early adopters are starting to see benefits?
  • is this just a hype cycle and are we at the peak of inflated expectations?
  • are there true IIoT environments and products at all?

As someone, who founded Kalycito in 2007, anticipating this wave would occur, it’s been a long journey. Being at the forefront of interacting with different categories of customers across the IIoT value chain on a day to day basis, I would like to share my insights here. Since more people are aware of what is happening in the cloud space, let me focus here on the devices and their interoperability.

First, we have to appreciate the idea that IIoT is not about improving productivity or reducing wastage in the conventional sense. Nobody is going to write a cheque just for incremental benefits of productivity or conservation of resources.

IIoT is about disruption by way of new business models and active pursuit of new revenue models. However, disruption of this scale requires true interoperability at all levels:

  • off-road and on-road equipment (cars, tractors, earth movers, etc)
  • field devices (sensors, motors, pumps, etc)
  • control devices
  • supervisory layers
  • enterprise layers

Today, there are innumerable technologies promising to enable IIoT but the extent to which they interoperate with each other is a question mark.

“As long as, my IIoT is different from your IIoT, there can never be a true IIoT environment”

Fortunately, the base technologies are now getting standardized. For example, Ethernet standards that have been instrumental in enabling the IT and datacom boom have had a key limitation in not being time aware which prevented it from entering the operational technology (OT) space. This has been the main reason for the mushrooming of a number of proprietary technologies in this space for nearly 40 years. A seemingly unrelated project that started in 2005 by the Audio Video Broadcasting group (AVB) is now coming in and challenging the status quo. In 2015, Audio Video use-cases, Automotive use-cases and Industrial use-cases were combined and Ethernet got its first major upgrade to become time aware in many years. We now see that Silicon vendors are starting to have market ready solutions that people can buy and start building their own products.

Similarly, OPC foundation that has been addressing the needs of the operational technology market since 1996, introduced OPC UA specification in 2003. However, the real momentum around this technology happened in 2015 when the German government started promoting Industry 4.0 and the RAMI architecture was introduced as part of it. The RAMI proposed OPC UA as the one and only Standard in Category of “Communication layer”. The one key missing link was the need for publisher and subscriber capabilities and this has been standardized in early 2018.

OPC UA along with TSN has the potential to enable 100% interoperability without compromising on performance parameters. However, there are a few more steps to be solved before wide spread adoption of this technology can take place:

  • The need for efficient software pieces that can run on resource constrained embedded devices
  • The need for standards to manage the configuration of these networks
  • Addressing brownfield integration challenges

Today, silicon vendors have TSN included in their new product lines and we see that the interoperability challenge is starting to vanish. However, there is a need for software components that customers across the globe can grab and use. A problem of this global scale can only be addressed through open source software. Today, Linux is available on most embedded environments andthe real-time capabilities of Linux are improving with each passing day. TSN ensures that the network becomes real-time as well. The availability of an OPC UA stack in open source along with the availability of other configuration tools will trigger widespread adoption.

In summary, our experience leads us to see that technology is already mature for customers who build their own embedded systems and are looking for using OPC UA TSN in engineered networks. These customers can adopt and immediately benefit from the technology. Most TSN hardware available today are future proof, there are means to upgrade capabilities of the hardware through software updates without upgrading the actual hardware. Also, the technology is evolving towards enabling customers who want to use it in non-engineered networks. Now is the right time for starting your IIoT and Industry 4.0 journey.

Originally published in linkedin on February 22, 2018. The article can be found here

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