This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Record.
Manufacturing organisations are looking for a way to improve performance without adding costs. Some have chosen an industrial internet of things (IIoT) strategy, purchasing sensors and devices that can bridge the communications between on-premises machinery and cloud-based servers. However, many do not know what their next step should be to capitalise on IIoT.
Data should only be moved between on-premises equipment and cloud servers for a specific business purpose. For manufacturers, such value-add applications include visualisation, historical data collection/replay, analytics and mobility. For example, HMI/SCADA components can help manufacturers visualise real-time or historical process views for monitoring or control, while a high-speed historian component allows them to capitalise on big data and analytics technologies in order to better understand their collected data and make information-driven decisions. In addition, smart devices enable manufacturers to securely receive process-related data in a fast, easy-to-grasp format.
Automation software solutions provide these components and benefits, and allow for connection to cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. Customers have the option of a hybrid on-premises/cloud-based automation solution, or they can take advantage of a fully cloud-based solution. These include virtually unlimited scalability and IT or firewall-friendly communications. A recommended initial step is for manufacturers to connect their equipment from behind firewalls to securely push data to Azure cloud applications.
However, the IIoT doesn’t necessarily require companies to buy expensive networking equipment. The ‘things’ can be comparatively lower-cost hardware devices called IoT gateways, which can securely connect the other ‘things’ (equipment, sensors and devices) across your enterprise to the cloud.
As IoT gateway hardware and software evolve, the heavy lifting of these tasks will move from the on-premises side to the cloud, offloading applications that were previously hosted on site. This saves infrastructure costs and maintenance, and alleviates concerns over equipment obsolescence.
Manufacturers who have embraced the IIoT should add visualisation, data historian, analytics and mobility functionality to their cloud connection’s repertoire. Companies who have not formulated an IIoT strategy should consider the comparatively low-cost and benefits of installing IoT gateways with an integrated automation software suite. ICONICS offers materials and resources to help in decision making for IoT-related software solutions.
Melissa Topp is Director of Global Marketing at ICONICS
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