With the IIoT, the “Things” Mind Themselves

In digital manufacturing, intelligence is increasingly being placed at the “edge,” at the spot where the manufacturing execution and production operations take place. This is called edge computing, and with digital intelligence smarts (and their sidekick sensors and connectivity) now embedded in or in close proximity to the machines and assets where the data is generated—the “things” of the IIoT—the equipment is increasingly able to “mind” itself.

Responsive Smart Manufacturing

This is smart manufacturing—digital brains controlling ops and crunching data where the rubber meets the road, whether it be banging metal, assembling components, or inspecting throughput. The result is a data-rich and more adaptable shop floor, “aware” of itself and able to communicate its needs—and better able to serve the larger goals and strategies of the overall organization, as companies pivot incessantly in response to changing customer demand, production or supply chain disruptions, and a fickle global business environment.

The human body solved this challenge eons ago, through cells and organs that work autonomously to keep the internal powerhouse humming. Of course, our brains sense and assess this input and oversee the organism—and with the IIoT, the brain is in the cloud.

Constant Communication In The Cloud

Industry4.0 and IoT(Internet of Things). Factory automation system. AI(Artificial Intelligence).The smart IIoT, “animated” by edge computing, is similarly not an island of its own, but is in constant communication with server farms in the cloud. The edge processes some IIoT data locally, slimming the raw flood that would otherwise stream non-stop to the cloud and clog the pipes. The IIoT’s ability to mind itself gets things done faster in situations where there is time sensitivity; provides backup against cloud outage; and reduces the cost of bandwidth, network connectivity, and compute capacity. The Brainiac work—where machine learning uncovers patterns, and optimization algorithms generate courses of action—takes place in the cloud.

The smart-minded IIoT brings the vision of digital manufacturing into reality. It furthers the automation of production equipment and robotics. It takes the monkey wrench out of maintenance, as sensors continuously monitor assets to take early, preventative action, or quickly diagnose failures when they occur. IIoT wearables bring the shop-floor workers into the loop, through added cognitive assistance to relay directions, reduce errors and improve safety.

A More Complete Picture With IIoT

As the IIoT data moves from the source in the factory to the office, its capture of production content provides the raw material for everything from process improvement to product optimization. Intelligent things “talking” to the larger organization are the ground game to move the ball downfield, through a fuller understanding of production capability and status that can update supply chain logistics to help satisfy demand and deliver on commitments.

There are not many things you can predict with certainty when it comes to anticipating market preferences, demand volumes, and economic and political dislocations. What you can predict is how much agility you can bring to bear on these constantly shifting sands. Making your digital manufacturing environment a more “mindful” place through the IIoT is a key part of the toolkit.

John Martin

John Martin writes about technology, business, science, and general-interest topics. A former U.S. correspondent for The Economist (Science & Technology), he writes for the private sector, universities, and media, and can be reached at jm@jmagency.com.