When old-school engineers are preached about the upcoming wave of Industry 4.0 technologies and how they will revolutionize plant operations with remote connectivity, they often respond with little excitement, and with good reason. Embedded system is a well-established technology within the industry that has offered remote connectivity for decades now, be it HVAC systems, assembly lines or chemical tanks. So, if everything was available from the start, why the IoT buzz then?
The simple answer is “cost”. The embedded system technology stated earlier isn’t the simplest thing in the world, and also not the most inexpensive. Internet of Things breathes new life into the cost-effectiveness of remote monitoring/control/automation technologies thanks to major developments in ubiquitous computing. Companies can finally achieve all the benefits associated with remote connectivity for a lower price, greatly expanding the range of IoT applications and implementations.
Monitoring mechanical equipment is the biggest concern within a range of industries, i.e. manufacturing, drilling, oil & gas, etc. It has always required top-notch delivery of three major yet sophisticated technologies, at prices that are always “too much” for companies. For starters, IoT will strike at the heart of these technologies:
- Data needs to be gathered: hundreds or even thousands of sensors are required within a plant floor to get a clear picture of operations. Today, the cost of sensors has drastically gone down, while their onboard processing power has increased.
- Communication needs to be reliable: in the old days, the system data would remain at a particular site where it would be assessed by an operator. IoT revolutionizes this concept by turning the onsite network hub into an internet bridge. Wireless and GSM technologies have attained significant bandwidth upgrades that allow them to seamlessly transfer real-time data to centralized servers (Cloud).
- Analysis needs to be turned into useful guidance: data holds little value on its own, except for occupying storage if it isn’t presented into a useful manner. Analytics form a core component of IoT platforms and will thus provide operators with actionable insights into improving plant operations.
The lower cost concept originates from the ubiquitous nature of IoT technologies, similar to that of smartphones. For the engineering profession, this means that clients’ requirements will drastically increase. They will expect unplanned downtimes to be cut down, assuming their equipment’s health will be tracked in real-time. Along with this, they will expect that the system will warn them of maintenance activities beforehand, banking on the concept of predictive maintenance. Clients will also look for greater visibility in their equipment and area of operation. For instance, an HVAC system will be expected to take into account multiple factors such as air temperature, power quality, sound levels, vibrations, etc. before adjusting its outputs.
Finally, engineers will require the data to be presented in workflows that can be remotely accessed and viewed on multiple devices so that troubleshooting and rectification of faults can be performed easily.
All these expectations and requirements will become standards for the engineering industry, making it essential for machine builders to leverage IoT technologies within their products to stay competitive and maintain their profits in the years to come.
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