Industrial Internet of Things – revolution or evolution?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is one the largest megatrends to have ever impacted on the Australian industrial and manufacturing industry and the impact is expected to continue.

Accenture predicted in its most recent survey on “Winning the Industrial Internet of Things” that the IIoT could add $14 trillion to the global economy over the coming years. The profound impacts of the IIoT have led many industry leaders to refer to the Industrial Internet of Things age as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ or Industry 4.0.

However, when we contemplate the Industrial Internet of Things we argue that what we’re seeing is an “evolution”, not a “revolution”.

Industrial Internet of Things as an evolution

When you consider the notion of revolution, it is defined as a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favour of a new system. It is hard to claim that IIoT, which has been developing since the mid 90s is truly that.

Across the globe, many companies have spent years investing in smart automation and control systems and they are now looking to providers to help them evolve these technologies with the IIoT, rather than abandon or change them.

To this point, there are also a number of organisations that have a long history in this evolution of automation products; driving innovation in open architectures and Ethernet-based technologies that have been helping to guide companies through the IIoT transformation for years.

With these examples in mind, the Industrial Internet of Things should be seen as a major shift in the industrial automation market, but it is not something that industry isn’t prepared for.

Understanding the evolution

The Internet of Things is defined as a world where smart connected products and systems operate as part of larger system that encompasses multiple smart connected assets.

In our world the IIoT means smart plants and machines with intelligence embedded at their core, cooperating to enable the smart enterprise. This is where tangible business value is realised through improvements to efficiency and profitability, increased cyber security and innovation and better management of safety, performance and environmental impacts.

While the growth of these connected devices has increased, the approach to developing a more efficient, profitable and intelligent automation system is something that many industrial automation companies have been championing for years.

In fact, industrial automation has always been ahead of most other industries in its readiness to adopt the Internet of Things.

Most sectors have waited on the deployment of low-level connected devices to enable the Internet of Things while industrial automation already had over a billion connected devices deployed when the trend came to light. If you consider a curve of connected devices needed to make the Internet of Things effective, industrial automation is much higher up the curve as the trend’s evolution began earlier.

Globally, Schneider Electric for example, launched its first digital distributed control system – by its very nature, digital and connected – in 1987, four years before the launch of the World Wide Web. By the 1990s, Schneider Electric was implementing Ethernet and web servers in programmable logic controllers and has continued to innovate with new products and solutions since then.

The development of these kinds of technologies played a big part in connected devices long before the connected momentum brought on by the IIoT was even recognised.

However, this progression does not show that the Industrial Internet of Things is not relevant, nor is it slowing down.

There will be many more devices deployed at an impressive, increasing rate, and it will be imperative for industry to stay aware of the IIoT’s advances.

However, organisations that have long employed solutions (like intelligent, connected and automated devices) to prepare for the IIoT trend can continue on their path to efficiency and enterprise innovation. They can consider the growth of the IIoT as a natural progression of their current practices and successes, rather than a disruptor.

[Neil Smith is Director, Process Automation Offer Management and Business Development, Schneider Electric]