The only Internet meme that has more traction right now than the “what color is this dress?” question may be “the Internet of Things.” We all know it’s here. We’re all talking about it. Some companies are even trying it on for size. But some nagging questions still need to be answered; namely, how can all this chattering equipment and its newly generated data help companies run more efficiently and profitably?
That was the question addressed during a keynote address and panel discussion early March at ABB Automation & Power World in Houston. The keynote, "Business Transformation with the Internet of Things," was presented by Norm Judah, CTO of Microsoft Services. The panel discussion also included Frank Berry, process controls group manager for Air Products, Greg Scheu, president of ABB's Americas region, and was moderated by Keith Larson, VP of content for Putman Media, publisher of Control Design.
"We've enjoyed jumping into IoT with both feet, and it's been a big game changer for us" said Air Products’ Berry. "We think it really began with our rapid advances in remote connections, monitoring and configuration." He reported that Air Products began by building its Remote Operations Center a few years ago, and then connecting it 24/7 to hundreds of manufacturing facilities.
"We've gone from polling our plants for data to having them push it to us," added Berry. "This has allowed us to mine cyclic and acyclic data, create better KPIs [key performance indicators] and dashboards, and do better predictive maintenance. The short-term challenge is inconsistency. Because we have many plants with different suppliers and equipment, it's still difficult to provide consistent solutions."
'Our Best Technical Knowledge'
Air Products operates about 750 plants in 30 countries. "It's hard to spread expert knowledge across all these sites, so our remote center allows us to gather data and do condition monitoring, and then we can supply our best technical knowledge to all of them, instead going site by site. It even improves quality of life for our operators because we can run some facilities unmanned and just visit them occasionally."
Scheu added that ABB has $400 billion worth of equipment deployed in 80 countries, including transformers, motors, robots and other devices, which may run for 20 to 40 years or more. "Digital models and IoT will let us see how this equipment is supposed to run, but then also let us compare how it's running in the real world, so we no longer have to run it to failure" said Scheu. "This will be a big part of improving uptime and reliability."
[sub] Revenue from big data
In his keynote, Judah reported that big data is where IoT will generate revenue by enabling predictive maintenance, but he added that it will also spark designs for entirely new systems and products. This is happening because IoT alters the time constant when users interact with their own customers from weeks and days down to hours and even minutes. IoT allows correlations and patterns to be found in the data generated, and this helps new business models to be developed. Even though IoT devices are exploding in popularity and usage levels, Judah predicted they'll even busier and more prevalent in the next five years and will be measuring and controlling even more parameters.
"For instance, Thyssen Krupp builds heavily instrumented elevators, which are now bringing data into a centrally located facility," he said. "This is allowing the company to offer its elevators as a service. But none of this would be possible without all of its new measurements. IoT will change many industries in the same way by building these consumptive and subscription-based models."
Berry added that, despite generating huge amounts of data, Air Products prioritizes its efforts by requiring a specific business case for the data it wants. "Instead of the shotgun approach of collecting all the data we can, we take more of a rifle-shot approach," explained Berry. "We ask who is going to look at this data, and what are they going to do with it? If they're not sure, then we say to come back later."
"Meanwhile, IoT devices themselves are still fundamentally insecure," added Judah. "And, because these devices aren't secure, users need to ask: What is the identification for this device, and what is it being allowed to do?" explained Judah. "IoT components are like people, and so they need security to do what they're asked to do."