How to Find IoT Solutions

Feb. 28, 2019
My first Industrial Internet Consortium meeting in Raleigh featured a lot of big IoT players and real-world testbeds.

Last year I became aware that Informa, Machine Design’s parent company, is a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium. The IIC is an organization transforming business and society by accelerating the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Its focus on real-world IIoT solutions was apparent when I first ran into the organization at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Once I heard there was an IIC members meeting in Raleigh, N.C. Feb. 11-14, I had to go and find out firsthand how industry is applying IIoT to solve problems.

Finding Solutions in the Industrial IoT

The IIC’s testbeds help advance the group’s mission of delivering a trustworthy IIoT in which the world’s systems and devices are securely connected and controlled to deliver transformational outcomes. I’m attracted to these testbeds because they are real-world solutions. New technology sometimes puts the cart in front of the house by creating a solution, then looking for a problem.

Testbeds are companies coming together that already have problems, or goals they are trying to accomplish. Once there is a clear objective, companies can look at what technology is available and viable to best solve the problem. For example, people nowadays love talking about 5G and everything it can do. While interesting, 1G and 2G are often enough to start collecting data or establish enough communication for many types of IIoT applications. Companies can talk about all the bells and whistles, but the newest and greatest isn’t always the best.

Upon arriving at the meeting, I noticed there was a lot of talk about metadata and data analytics. With sensor technology and multiple ways to connect, getting data was yesterday’s news. Finding the least amount of data necessary to accomplish goals is a relatively new trend. I’ve heard all of the Big Data hoopla and understand that a larger N-value can yield more accurate results. However, with the resources involved with sending and storing data, minimizing it while obtaining desired results would determine the winners and losers in the IoT.

The IIC member meeting also included a “Shark Tank”-style pitch night at Raleigh IoT Accelerator, called RIoT. Four IoT startups pitched their companies, and BruVue won the event. BruVue stops beer waste and theft with a sensor that drops into any tap. Each sensor provides real-time keg levels, along with the data you need to manage your beer on every tap at every location.

Finally, a hurdle I’ve heard multiple times, and experienced in the field, is communication between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). IT is focused on cost reduction and everything working in harmony, while OT is trying to increase product quality and make things robust. This can cause the two to work against each other. Communication is key, but how can it be streamlined and work to make everyone happy? Eric Harper – Senior Principal Scientist, Software Development says success between IT and OT can be accomplished with digital twins. Performing tasks digitally lets both parties build in a virtual environment, so everyone can lower their guards and work together without real-world risk.   

So clarifying a clear problem and objective, then looking at the available technology for a minimally invasive solution, and prototyping digitally with a twin, are great ways to find an IoT solution right for you. However, according to Harper—who is also the technology working group co-chair at the IIC—the biggest value at the IIC meeting was offered by the conversations and connections. In business, after all, connections are everything, but engineers sometimes get stuck in their cubicles. The IIC offers great talks and presents many testbeds, but for Harper the coffee breaks are the best part of the IIC meetings. He shared a couple tips to making the most out of my IIC membership:

Enlightened self-interest. I encourage people to talk, connect, make their circle bigger. Don’t just listen—learn, then go home to set up your own road map and keep to yourself. It is important to talk and share ideas.

Contribute and lead. This enhances your brand. Being recognized outside your company affords you more attention that might lead to advancements or new projects. “You’re doing what?” I would hear often during the week. “Oh, have you talked to Mr. X yet? Let me introduce you….” In short, it seems the more your name comes up in more conversations and circles, the cooler stuff you get involved with.

There are multiple real-world IIoT solutions that are working and being worked on in the IIC. This one works with IEEE 802, referred to as the time sensitive network for real-time control and synchronization of high-performance machines over standard Ethernet networking in a manufacturing ecosystem.  

The IIC and OpenFog

The meeting in Raleigh was also exciting as it was the first meeting after the IIC teamed with OpenFog. On Jan. 31, just before the IIC meeting in Raleigh, the IIC and the OpenFog Consortium (OpenFog) announced that they have finalized the details to combine the two organizations. They will work together under the IIC umbrella to drive the momentum of the industrial internet, including the development and promotion of industry guidance and best practices for fog and edge computing.

The IIC, now incorporating OpenFog, also announced that the IIC Steering Committee, which guides the strategic direction of the organization, has elected two OpenFog principals:

  • Ron Zahavi, chief strategist for IoT Standards, Azure IoT, Microsoft. Zahavi is focused on IoT standards and consortia and also leads Microsoft’s Worldwide IoT Architecture Community. He has extensive experience in all aspects of technology management and solution delivery, 18 of those related to IoT solutions. Matt Vasey, Microsoft director, AI and IoT business development, will serve as the alternate to Zahavi.
  • Mung Chiang, John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, Purdue Universit Chiang was previously the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor at Princeton University and founded the Princeton EDGE Lab in 2009. The Lab bridges the theory-practice gap in edge computing/networking research by spanning from proofs to prototypes.  Chiang received the 2013 Alan T. Waterman Award for his contributions to networking R&D.

The event also included a trip to the ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence, the famous James B. Hunt Jr. Library, and a dinner at the Raleigh Natural History Museum because you can always have a little fun while you learn and connect with others about the IoT.

“This agreement brings together the two most important organizations shaping the Industrial Internet of Things,” said Stan Schneider, CEO of Real-Time Innovations (RTI) and vice chair of the IIC Steering Committee. “The combined organization offers greater influence to members, more clarity to the market, and a lower-risk path to the future for end users. We will be the center of gravity for the future of Industrial IoT systems across industry verticals…“We welcome the experience and vision that Ron Zahavi and Mung Chiang bring to our Steering Committee.”

If you want to find solutions to the IIoT, you must have your finger on the pulse of the industry, understanding the problems and what technology is available. The IIC has a large collection of companies and online educational resources to help you stay informed to who is doing what and what is possible. Just as they say, “no one is an island,” companies are starting to see the value in working together. Products are becoming increasingly open-source, and more companies are joining forces in organizations and consortiums.

About the Author

Jeff Kerns | Technology Editor

Studying mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), he worked in the Polymer Research Lab. Utilizing RIT’s co-op program Jeff worked for two aerospace companies focusing on drafting, quality, and manufacturing for aerospace fasteners and metallurgy. He also studied abroad living in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After college, he became a commissioning engineer, traveling the world working on precision rotary equipment. Then he attended a few masters courses at the local college, and helped an automation company build equipment.

Growing up in Lancaster County, PA he always liked to tinker, build, and invent. He is ecstatic to be at Machine Design Magazine in New York City and looks forward to producing valuable information in the mechanical industry. 

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