Most advocates for fluid power technology are well aware of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where factory floor and mobile equipment are fitted with sensors, connected to wireless networks and send vast volumes of data to the cloud. Analyzing the data in real time gives manufacturers a better idea of how their production lines are operating, predicts when machines need servicing, improves efficiency and safety, and even opens up new revenue streams.
The devil, unfortunately, is in the details. While large organizations have made progress, many potential users of IIoT — especially small to mid-size firms — are still on the sidelines when it comes to mass adoption due to the cost, complexity and risk.
Juergen Kraemer, General Manager, IoT and Analytics at Software AG, says there’s a better option. In a presentation, “The democratization of IIoT,” at last month’s Hannover Fair Digital Days, he explained how hands-on experts like machine operators, engineers and plant managers can be equipped with self-service software tools to readily access, analyze and act on IIoT data. “These tools can be used by everyone, not just software developers and data scientists,” he said, and leveraging them has a powerful effect.
“In our interconnected world, companies that implement a digital strategy will be better positioned to innovate and differentiate. But success is not just about technology, it’s about establishing a data-centric business strategy. Data, in the hands of many, creates competitive advantages,” said Kraemer, because knowledge that is widely accessible ensures more stakeholders embrace, support and benefit from IIoT.
In this set-up, a company’s own sensors, devices and machines connect to a preconfigured IoT platform, in this case Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT, which accesses data using common fieldbus protocols. The platform provides out-of-the-box applications, such as for building plug-and-play dashboards, so users can define workflows, manage devices, analyze anomalies and view statistics. It can also remotely connect to HMIs and seamlessly integrate with order-management and ERP systems.
“There is no need for coding to get started with IoT projects,” Kraemer emphasized. “Algorithms are easily created using a drag-and-drop GUI without any programming knowledge.” Companies can start with just 5 or 10 sensors and the tools needed to connect and manage devices, and implement functions like remote monitoring in a matter of days. Then they can scale up as practical and evolve toward condition monitoring and more-advanced analytics.
This approach holds several advantages. Manufacturers can focus on their core expertise and build on top of a proven software base, which also brings enterprise-grade features like multitenancy, high availability, scalability and security. It can even be offered as a managed solution with usage-based pricing to minimize investment risk.
In contrast, constructing a complete, custom IoT solution — relying on hyperscalers and a sizeable development team that must select and network many devices and platform services — can take months or years to complete and realize return on investment.
Numerous businesses have gotten on board. Pneumatics manufacturer SMC Corp., for example, has partnered with Software AG to help adapt customers’ machines for smart networking and decentralized intelligence. As most air cylinders are already fitted with sensors, integrating them on the Cumulocity IoT platform permits real-time monitoring, reports on latency times and impending faults, and generates reliable analytics tailored to each machine. It’s evolved to include leakage detection services and energy efficiency tracking.
“While today’s organizations are realizing that IoT has the power to completely transform any business, it is abundantly clear that the majority of these organizations experience significant barriers to effective IoT implementation,” said Kraemer. The democratization of IoT provides an efficient and agile path to widespread adoption and success.