The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market is growing as different industries have found ways to incorporate IoT technology into workforce management initiatives, automation, and customer experience.
Industries from retail to health care to automotive manufacturing are finding industrial IoT solutions that enhance their current initiatives and planning.
Read on to learn about some of the top IIoT trends of today and how experts are predicting these trends will shape the future of industrial IoT:
5 Industrial IoT Trends to Watch
- Rising popularity of the IIoT digital twin
- Developing an intelligent IIoT edge
- Improved functional safety for IIoT equipment
- Addressing the expanded IIoT cyber attack surface
- Working with persona-based IIoT
More on the industrial IoT market: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Market Size & Forecast
Digital twins are incredibly detailed digital models that use IoT-powered sensors to update the digital model based on real changes happening to the source object.
Digital twins are frequently being implemented as part of IIoT in manufacturing today, especially because they enable more remote workforce flexibility and real-time status updates on field devices.
Vishnu Andhare, a consultant with ISG, a global technology research and advisory firm, believes that IIoT digital twin technology will continue to mature quickly because of the demand for this technology in manufacturing as well as the remote needs required by pandemic workforces.
“Digital twins/threads exist today in varying definitions and use cases, and we foresee a rapid maturity in this space,” Andhare said. “There are two drivers for this. One is the structural changes happening in most manufacturing industries in which aftermarket services and customer experience are integrated with product innovation as the new source of value. The power of IoT can be significantly multiplied with digital twin models maturing across the plan-build-operate-maintain spectrum.
“Secondly, the pandemic is forcing manufacturers to consider modeling these types of events to be better equipped to deal with failures and risks associated with critical entities in the supply chain. A mature digital twin/thread can create end-to-end transparency and traceability across the value chain and enable what-if modeling to adopt the planning based on the real-time scenarios. The real-time situation awareness provided by IoT data becomes a key source for such scenarios.
“The above is also focusing the CIO’s attention on the intelligent workplace, one that is extended beyond the classical enterprise IT space, to include people, machines, devices, and sensors.”
The increasing sophistication of sensor technology is a foundational element driving the wider adoption of IIoT digital twins.
Bjorn Andersson, senior director of global IoT marketing at Hitachi Vantara, a top IT management and IoT company, believes that sensor fusion is one of the most important up-and-coming industrial IoT trends that advances a more holistic digital twin approach.
“IoT data should never be examined in a silo, and answering complex questions requires cross-correlation across data sources,” Andersson said. “This lesson has led to the rise of sensor fusion, a merging of data sources in industrial IoT across acoustic, video, vibration, thermal, tactile, positional, and lidar sources, and more.
“By combining data from several types of sensors, we essentially create new virtual sensors that measure combinations of factors that previously were not possible to monitor. To enable us to measure the immeasurable …
“The ubiquity of sensors, particularly video and lidar nowadays, means manufacturers, transportation, energy, commercial, and industrial organizations will move beyond smart assets to smart spaces/facilities. One example of this is digital twins, by combining and co-analyzing different types of data to improve operational accuracy, predict production optimizations, and enable new use cases.
“New sensors will bring new funnels of data that create the pathway for full-scale digital twins, which can be transformed into actionable insights through computer vision and machine learning. We see this with the combination of lidar technology combined with traditional video and audio sources, which together can paint a more complete digital picture of facilities.”
More on digital twins and IoT development: Using Digital Twins to Push IoT
Internet of Things technology generates and transmits data continuously, meaning that industries that use IoT technology have large amounts of data they need to store, manage, and analyze.
For the kind of performance results that industrial IoT users expect, there’s not always time to transmit data back and forth to a distant cloud data center.
Wil Florentino, senior industrial segment manager in Micron’s Embedded Business Unit, an IT, computer memory, and storage company, believes that the intelligent edge is the most strategic data management approach for the future of industrial IoT.
“[I]magine aggregating zettabytes of data from these endpoints and pushing that information through a constrained network infrastructure,” Florentino said. “Or the cost of storing and managing this information in cloud platforms and data centers where they charge per gigabyte of raw data. Moreover, industrial systems need to react within highly accurate, millisecond control loops and fixed latency requirements, so sending data to the cloud will just not allow for industrial real-time command and control.”
“Addressing these challenges requires an updated approach to IoT architecture that brings AI and analytics capabilities closer to the source of data — an approach we refer to as the intelligent edge. This approach not only mitigates the cost of sending data to the cloud, but also provides the foundation to be able to react to real-time events.
“Since edge solutions are a combination of hardware components as well as edge software platforms, companies will need to look beyond their core competencies and expand their ecosystem for a more integrated solution offering.
“Partnerships between cloud providers, compute and enterprise network OEMs, industrial networking companies as well as software application providers will be key to success. Memory and storage considerations would be a critical element not just to support today’s applications, but also to anticipate the complexity of future use cases.”
IoT experts are predicting that industrial users will need to hire more tech professionals who can manage new IIoT use cases as well as the edge infrastructure where they’re operating.
Przemek Tomczak, SVP of IoT and utilities at KX, a streaming data analytics platform, believes that the efficient use of talent and other resources will be the key to IIoT success.
“Demand for intelligent edge systems, which ingest distributed information and enable localized decision making, will rise — as will the push for higher-skilled resources to implement, operate, and optimize this kind of technology,” Tomczak said.
“It’s no longer enough to have lower-cost resources in production — it’s who can deliver the best outcomes with the most efficient use of resources. That comes through innovation, application of technology and techniques, and use of new materials.”
Learn about some of the top players in the edge computing field: Top Edge Computing Companies
Especially in the manufacturing industry, worker safety has always been an area that corporate leaders have looked to improve, both for the workers’ overall health and safety and more efficient production.
One of the greatest benefits of IIoT technology is its ability to track, alert, and protect workers from unsafe working conditions.
Neil Stroud, VP of business development at CoreAVI, an industrial safety tech provider, believes that functional safety is a core component of IIoT platform-powered safety that industrial users will need to consider more in the future.
“[Safe operation] is of course vitally important to keep the technicians safe within the factories and warehouses but also to protect the environment from pollution through potential failures and accidents,” Stroud said. “This safety puts direct requirements upon the way control systems are architected and is often referred to as functional safety.
“For the system developer and integrator, having the ability to design safety-based systems without hindering the pace of innovation is critical. This impacts both the hardware and the software. …
“There is an approach that can address this challenge — developing a software stack that leverages open standards. There are many of these, such as OpenGL, OpenCV, Vulkan. This approach still allows the developer to innovate and differentiate, but essentially, it can provide a level of abstraction from the hardware platform.
“Of course, there are some caveats, but if these are carefully considered from the start, it is possible to support multiple platforms and applications with the same functional safety implementation, thus dramatically increasing the return on investment and the scalability and reuse of the software. This has the potential to accelerate innovation, reduce costs throughout the supply chain, and of course, provide some level of protection against supply constraint issues.”
Learn more about how industrial IoT is being applied to worker safety: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Use Cases
Increased connectivity, primarily through mobile devices, is a keystone of IIoT development.
However, these devices, IIoT applications, and their users are expanding the attack surface for cyber threats at a rate at which most companies cannot keep up.
As a result, many industrial IoT components have not traditionally received the same number of cybersecurity safeguards as other enterprise tools.
Marty Edwards, VP of operational technology security at Tenable, a vulnerability management and cybersecurity company, explained why unprotected IIoT technology opens up the attack surface to dangerous possibilities outside of direct IIoT spaces.
“Now that IT infrastructure, such as servers, routers, PCs, and switches are connected through IIoT to OT infrastructure, the attack surface has expanded,” Edwards said. “An attacker can now enter from IT and traverse to OT, often wreaking havoc in industrial environments, including expensive and dangerous impacts to critical infrastructure. Once an attacker is inside an OT environment, exploitation is easier because OT device commands are unencrypted.
“Even though industrial controllers are built for rugged environments, they don’t provide built-in security. The results can be disastrous if an attacker gains control of an industrial controller, from creating dangerous pressure levels in oil or gas lines to power outages or damaged products from a production line.”
Many industrial IoT developers and users have recognized their cybersecurity vulnerabilities and are working to correct the problem.
Francis Cianfrocca, CEO of InsightCyber, a cybersecurity company, believes that unprotected IIoT will have potentially dire consequences in the future but that this technology is also causing tech companies to step up and provide new security solutions.
“The trend we regard as paramount to the future of IoT innovation is the devastating rise of cyber attacks that focus on operational technologies (OT),” Cianfrocca said. “The Colonial Pipeline attack is the canonical example, and more such events are no doubt coming.
“In fact, Gartner predicts that cyber attackers will actually cause human harm or death by 2025 in these settings. This will stifle innovation and unfortunately cause budgetary problems, and it likely means that the promise of many transformative technologies will be frustratingly delayed.
“On the positive side, this trend will also force new kinds of innovation in cybersecurity — effectively using tools like AI and ML, which are increasingly employed by the bad guys, to counter the new breed of attacks and, as a consequence, redefine security standards in business to become better and cheaper. The added bonus will be that these innovations can be transformative across other aspects of business beyond pure security (e.g., compliance, audit, reporting, inventory management, etc.).”
IIoT sensor technology continues to evolve its environmental tracking capabilities and is now being used to assess and improve the workforce.
Andersson with Hitachi Vantara believes persona-based IIoT will not only support existing workers in industrial roles, but also provide the workforce assessment and automation needed to give leaders additional insight into worker needs and shortcomings.
Especially when many industries are experiencing a skilled worker shortage, IIoT is being used to achieve more detailed worker metrics.
“We’re rapidly moving towards persona-based IoT, where you have critical data and KPIs for all levels of industry, from production manager to maintenance tech to quality and plant managers accessible on a single pane of glass with end-to-end visibility across functions,” Andersson said. “This will address skill shortages and give the ability for more people to work and collaborate remotely in supervisory roles focused on prediction and optimization, not reaction.
“Beyond persona-based IoT, we see closed-loop and semi-autonomous, and eventually autonomous, operations as the natural progression of many advances. Humans can supervise and intervene in processes, but they run semi-autonomously until persona-based IoT data prompts call for human intervention.
“This also helps with the predicted shortage of skilled workers, both in terms of offloading existing workers of more routine tasks, but also to help new workers get up to speed quickly with expert assistance available all the time via digital means.”
Getting started with industrial IoT solutions: Best IoT Platforms & Software