By Ron Ambrosio
Machines have been connecting to the Internet for many years. To the point that, in today’s Internet of Things, more “Things” are connected to the Internet than people. This evolution now has industrial equipment branching out of their closed control networks to connect to enterprise networks, and in some cases to the Internet, too. But it’s created a challenge in how that data is understood and used. So, we joined AT&T, Cisco, GE, and Intel to establish the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) to help influence the global standards development process for how industrial equipment – like transformers in the grid – connect and communicate.
In the same way you connect to the Internet, whether over wifi or a mobile network, no matter where you go or what device you use, proprietary industrial equipment needs a standard way to communicate, too.
Think of the Industrial Internet as a subset of the Internet of Things. Those transformers in the grid, or the manufacturing equipment on an automated assembly line produce data and can communicate valuable information back to the business. The dedicated networks this kind of equipment uses today do manage critical things, like controlling strict requirements for an industry process (electricity flow) – but they don’t provide that data broadly across the business. But now that enterprise network speeds are up and costs are down, businesses can tap into the data their equipment produces from anywhere.
This combination of physical assets in the operational domain with economic and management processes in the business domain, via big data, analytics and optimization, is the premise behind our Smarter Planet solutions, and our strength in the IIC’s integration equation. For example, when the Irish government decided that 40 percent of the country’s power would come from renewable sources by 2020, ESB Networks turned to IBM software to build a smart grid that tied together everything from smart meters in homes, to electric vehicle charging stations, with wind power, which, as of last year already produces 20 percent of Ireland’s electricity.
Through the Internet, we can further improve asset monitoring, predict equipment failure, and shift scheduled maintenance to real time maintenance – all things that help optimize across both the operations and business sides of any industry that has physical infrastructure.
Every industry, and company in an industry, uses different vendors to build up a physical infrastructure. It means that IIC members need to work together because we all have clients in manufacturing, utilities, and other physical industries, and we all bring different strengths to the table.
Making sure the data pouring out of sensors on an oil rig improves its production is a great idea. But will the data be secure? Will analytics software that receives the data understand its formatting? Our first step will be to review standards ideas on how those physical assets will communicate. And we’ll start by working with government, academia and other commercial organizations to develop requirements, identify gaps in current standards, and define reference architectures to connect proprietary equipment to enterprise networks and to the Internet. In my role on the IIC’s Technical Committee and Architecture Subcommittee, I look forward to answering these questions, and in doing so, work with many of our clients to foster a transformation in their industry segments.