The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) revolution is in full swing, with the agriculture and transport sectors leading the way.
BARCELONA, SPAIN – At the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, it can often be hard for business-led technologies to stand out from the crowd, and that was especially true at this year’s show where we here at IoB saw everything from Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and driverless cars to new Android smartphones and robotics leveraging Artificial Intelligence.
Enterprise technology is, in that context, a much harder sell.
Nonetheless, the Internet of Things (IoT) was a very topical theme at this year’s show, with announcements showing how telecoms operators and other technology firms see the potential of connecting cars, cities, buildings and businesses together for better business insights and customer relations.
And while it is usually the Internet-connected toothbrush or fridge that grabs the media’s attention, the industrial implications of IoT were not missed at MWC 2016.
One interesting discussion shined the light on recent use cases as well as difficulties around standards, protocols and legacy systems.
In the session, which was moderated by ABI Research’s Dan Shey, ABB group VP of service and R&D Christopher Ganz and John Deere’s director of on-board applications Ronald Zink talked through their respective IIoT roll-outs, while executives from Microsoft and analyst firm Etisalat Group also chipped in with market insight.
ABB, John Deere and IIoT
ABB, a leader in power and automation technologies, has been using IoT solutions to inform ship managers at German-based cruise operator AIDA when to replace parts on the ship in order to keep it running. The firm collects data from each ship’s internal control system and electrical systems, pushing this data to the cloud for data analysis.
Power consumption can also be monitored to see how the diesel engines run, in order to optimise energy consumption and environmental footprint, whilst also saving the cruise-liner money.
Meanwhile, John Deere has been using the Internet of Things to become more efficient, with Zink detailing the main challenge facing the farmers of today.
“The world has challenge and that challenge is tackling about how we add 2.5 billion people over the next few years, whilst having land that won’t appreciably grow. We think technology is a lot of solution, and maybe the majority of the solution.”
Using IoT and analytics tools, John Deere has automated its production steps much like a factory, making it easier to prepare land, and protect it by giving it the right nutrients and harvesting it at the right time.
Key components in this real-time monitoring of their crops are cloud computing, data analytics, hardware sensors and Apple’s iPad, which combine to give a precise live location of equipment in the field, even down to the farm knowing where seed is planted within just 2.5cm. This, says Zink, results in “better yield, saves costs and lets plants grow to their optimum potential.”
The sensors are installed on John Deere’s machinery, some of which can be so big they have up to 500 sensors on them. And such is their sophistication that Zink says that John Deere is developing guidance systems for these vehicles so that they can essentially drive themselves using coordinates from GPS.
The firm started connected machines, including its large tractors, in 2011 and now claims to have 100,000 connected machines in 50 countries. Telematics data reports back on the machine’s activity, and progress on certain jobs.
With its SeedStar Mobile iPad app, the firm has been able to see precisely what areas have been covered in the field. This mobility means the results can be monitored anywhere in the world in real-time, with data being pooled by a cloud operations centre and open for third-parties to develop applications on top of.
Mats Myrberg, senior director of business development for IoT and research at Microsoft, added: “If you think about IoT for consumer perspective, it’s about making lives easier and computing more personal, whereas in industrial perspective, a lot of it is about business model. The technology is also interesting, but it is a huge opportunity from business standpoint for companies in the industrial space.
Myrberg added that this was being driven by data, whilst pointing to Microsoft’s own efforts with Azure and solutions for data and analytics. He went onto detail how the Redmond giant worked with German elevator firm ThyssenKrupp to improve their efficiency.
Working with ThyssenKrupp, IoT algorithms could be used to predict when parts break down. “I think machine learning is super important in this area.”
Myrberg admitted however that there are concerns over legacy systems, adding that some firms also have issues about data being managed in the cloud. Driving insight from such data is another challenge entirely.
“Once you have this data in cloud, what do you do with it, how do you drive insight? That’s a super exciting area where I think machine learning is going to drive new learning.”
Standards and other issues
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the issue of standards was also raised, with a debate rising between the benefits of cellular, particular focusing on the potential benefits of LPWAN. Price of sensors, battery life and coverage remain pertinent issues.
But arguably the biggest is the different cycles between technology and equipment, something that was also touched upon by Porsche’s Michael Wanzeck about connected cars and Richard Fain, CEO and Chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises (which have been using IoT), on big ferries.
The panel said that electrical equipment might need changing 50-70 years, compared to two years for the software and sensors.
The experts also called for firms to open up APIs, as this would see industrial firms move on from leveraging M2M to taking advantage of IIoT.