Smart manufacturing leverages cellular IoT connectivity solutions to improve business intelligence and operational efficiency
Industry 4.0., Industrial IoT (IIoT), and smart manufacturing are eye-catching additions to the heading of a press release, and they most certainly are impacting how companies do business. In fact, according to Juniper Research, global IIoT connections are expected to rise to 36.8 billion in 2025.
That said, even with this level of growth and investment, it's worth exploring how IIoT interlocks with other rapid changes in manufacturing — most notably, the rise of 5G for business.
What is Industrial IoT?
IIoT and smart manufacturing integrate scalable communication programming, machine learning, and big data with industrial production operations. IIoT is typified by the sensors and devices that work together to generate data used in manufacturing, production, and energy management, supporting everything from oil and gas to water and wastewater to utility and factory automation, and more.
IIoT generally serves two purposes: to make systems and processes more reliable, and to enhance business intelligence. By creating a holistic industrial ecosystem that drives predictive maintenance, production systems and processes have less downtime. Additionally, the granular, real-time visibility into industrial data enables enterprises to make better business decisions.
For example, utility companies that used to read meters every 30 days can now read them every five seconds or sooner, creating a more accurate picture of demand on their distribution network, from substation to meter, and any places in between. Similarly, in oil and gas industries, the price of oil fluctuates rapidly, and it may not make sense to pump oil at a specific location based on the cost of transportation. With IIoT solutions, wells can be analyzed and turned off remotely and within seconds vs. tasking an employee to complete a multi-hour truck roll.
What are the benefits of IIoT solutions for enterprise businesses?
In addition to improved industrial asset management and visibility, IIoT solutions come with a slew of benefits for enterprise businesses.
- Fast implementation of new innovations. The capture and analysis of real-time data accelerates innovation by giving cross-functional teams access to a broad, clear picture of business operations and productions. Additionally, new solutions can be activated quickly with the use of containers and custom programming.
- Scalability. IIoT solutions can be established without revamping an entire network, addressing the need to scale quickly alongside machinery, assembly line, and conveyance growth.
- Strengthened security. Increased visibility of the network — especially through a cloud platform that can be managed through a single pane of glass — enables IT managers to quickly locate and mitigate security events, as well as apply security protocols to all IIoT devices at once.
- Cultivation of a competitive playing field. IIoT solutions also come in a wide variety of options to suit various company sizes and budgets, giving new or small businesses an opportunity to compete competitively within the global market.
- Multi-faceted operations management. As generational knowledge leaves with an aging workforce, it’s sometimes difficult to spool up new talent. Intuitive machines help bridge the knowledge gap and better manage operations.
How 5G impacts IIoT solutions
Cellular IoT connectivity solutions in a 5G environment not only transform traditional factories into smart spaces, but they create an ecosystem capable of rapid scale, customization, and adaptation.
Increased bandwidth and reduced latency are chief characteristics among the various types of 5G. These features lend themselves to augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and digital twinning that improve design, training, prototyping, safety, maintenance, and troubleshooting in factories and on job sites.
Network core advancements on the 5G network provide the means to create virtual performance and resource “slices” to different users or applications. In a smart manufacturing environment, IT managers can use network slicing to segregate machines and applications based on the amount of bandwidth they use, their security needs, and more. Traffic from mission-critical applications can also be given priority access to the network based on their designated slice.
Due to wiring, cabling, and legacy infrastructure, it’s difficult to have a completely flexible factory floor. Additionally, industrial networks tend to be hierarchical in nature, posing challenges when implementing new equipment or applications. Cellular IoT connectivity for IIoT solutions turns a hierarchical network into a flat, software-defined network that enables equipment to be moved or changed without having to rewire a factory floor or re-architect a network.
Implementing IIoT solutions
Deployment of a new IIoT solution occurs after an enterprise business has determined how the devices will connect to the network (i.e., through an industrial cellular router) and how they will integrate with available supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA). This integration often comes with unique challenges. For example, most industrial businesses purchase equipment that is made to last decades, their factory floors may be composed of equipment, interfaces, and machines from different eras. Bringing each of those pieces up to speed technologically can prove difficult.
Luckily, industrial cellular routers are suitable for all types of environments, and containers and SDK capabilities can be leveraged to quickly and easily adapt general-purpose hardware to industry-specific applications. This type of device customization makes IIoT solutions a game changer for manufacturing, warehousing, utilities, and other industries. Coupled with a cloud management platform for connected routers, users have high visibility into the performance of their network, which often has been a mystery until now.