The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming and in some industries is already here, albeit in its infancy, writes Todd Snide: group senior expert and a leading technologist at Schneider Electric.
Industrial automation is ahead of most other industries in its readiness for IoT and more specifically for the Industrial IoT (IIoT). When one looks at the deployment of the sensors, actuators, and low-level devices that are needed to enable IoT or IIoT, industrial automation has an advantage.
Most industries are waiting on the deployment of the low-level connected devices to enable IoT in that industry. Industrial automation on the other hand already has over a billion connected devices deployed. These connected devices refer to an end node that is Internet Protocol (IP) enabled or is directly controlled by a proxy device that is IP enabled. On a curve of connected devices needed to make IoT effective, industrial automation is much higher up the curve than other industries.
That is not to say industrial automation is done growing with respect to IoT – far from it. There will be many more devices deployed at an increasing rate. And, while the rate of growth will be lower with respect to some of the other industries, and especially in regards to commodity device industries, the industrial automation rate of growth will still be impressive.
Where industrial automation may be lagging behind other industries is in the gathering of useful data and the use of this data. Much of the information that resides on the end device that could be useful is not gathered. Data that is not consumed at the field or process levels in the traditional industrial automation hierarchy is not gathered. If it is collected, the data is not being sent up the network in most cases. The value of this data is increasing and industrial automation networks are starting to collect the data and communicate it farther up the hierarchy. Energy usage and concerns are the first initiatives spurring the change in the data transmission strategy. However, if the data is not used then there is no reason to collect it.
All of these enabled connected devices in industrial automation and the desire to communicate more data also give rise to the concern of cyber security. Stuxnet – a computer worm that was discovered in 2010, designed to attack industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) – taught us this. The good news is that even in resource constrained devices there are solutions to support encryption and other cyber security requirements. The Scalable Encryption Algorithm (SEA) is an example of this.
The IIoT will change how industrial automation networks are designed and used, both now and in the future, as well as increasing the productivity of the industrial automation network. And while there are more changes to come for industrial automation and IIoT, we are happy to say that industrial automation is ready for these new developments too.