Fundamentals: What is the Industrial Internet of Things?

By now, we’re all familiar with the Internet of Things (IoT.) The term IoT refers to consumer-level devices that communicate and connect via the internet. Think of smart wearables, phones, smart home appliances, and heart monitoring devices. But you may not have heard too much about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT.) That's going to change.

It’s a similar concept: it’s about communicating and connecting across networks. Instead of consumer devices, IIoT focuses on devices and machines in industries like oil, agriculture, and healthcare, where system failures and unplanned downtimes can result in high-risk and even life-threatening situations. IIoT combines modern industrial works with smart assets like sensors and actuators with the goal of enhancing manufacturing and industrial processes. Using a multitude of industrial devices connected by communication technologies, the upgraded machines can collect, exchange, analyze, and deliver valuable data.

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Like the consumer IoT, the IIoT involves a variety of devices and apps in different environments.

Each IIoT ecosystem consists of:

  • Connected devices that communicate, store, and detect information about themselves
  • Storage for data generated by IIoT devices
  • Analytics and applications that generate information from raw data
  • Public and private data communications infrastructure

The collected information is transmitted directly to the data communications infrastructure and then converted into information that can be analyzed and used for various applications, including predictive maintenance and business optimization. 

What Are the Benefits? 

The biggest benefit of IIoT is the various data that is collected and analyzed. Manufacturers use the network for improved quality control, sustainable and green practices, supply chain traceability, and supply chain efficiency. Some other IIoT uses include helping field technicians identify when a machine needs to be serviced, detect corrosion inside a refinery pipe, monitoring physical infrastructures in industrial operations, and even asset tracking. 

The IIoT network provides industries with greater system integration in terms of automation and optimization along with better visibility of supply chain and logistics. With the use of smart sensors and actuators, the monitoring and control of physical infrastructures in operations like transportation, utilities, and healthcare are made easier and more efficient. This smart communication network has the potential to greatly transform and improve industrial processes. But like with any new technology, there are a number of risks and challenges to keep in mind.

IIoT and Security Risks

The biggest challenge of IIoT is security. Many businesses still use legacy systems and processes, making IIoT integration a pain. Adopting the new technology can get complicated and leaves greater room for error. On top of this, there’s cybersecurity to consider. Anything and everything can be hacked. A number of major companies, banks, and private businesses have been hacked over the years, proving no one is invincible. To prevent major breaches and shutdowns, industries adopting IIoT have to take on new practices to manage physical and digital components securely.  

Another challenge is device management and patch updates. Adopting more IIoT devices means having an efficient way to keep track of them. In addition, the devices have to stay updated to run properly. It’s common for devices and software to receive regular patch updates. This means another system to track these updates and ensure they are installed correctly needs to be put in place. 

Other risks to consider when using connected devices are software vulnerabilities that leave themselves open to attack, data breaches, system manipulation that can disrupt and destroy operations, damages caused by system malfunctions, and using publicly searchable internet-connected devices and systems.

What’s the Future of IIoT?

Tech experts predict IIoT devices will play a big role in digital transformations, especially as organizations start updating their supply chains and production. Big data analytics are also expected to evolve in order to include IIoT data. This makes it possible for organizations to keep track of changing conditions in real-time. 

Though IIoT devices have been around for a while, many industries are just starting to adopt the technology. As 5G becomes more prevalent, IIoT is expected to get bigger. There are already several industries investing in IIoT. Currently, industries such as manufacturing, retail, utilities, and transportation are looking to adopt the technology to monitor production lines and make better predictions about machines that need to be serviced. Sectors like government and healthcare are also looking to integrate IIoT into their processes.