The media loves to play up some of the most outlandish inventions intended for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. While inventions such as internet-capable toothbrushes and fridges make the headlines, other developers are working under the radar to bring the IoT to life.
In fact, the consumer area is not expected to be the biggest adopter of the “connected world”—that honor falls to the industrial sector. The Industry 4.0 philosophy was developed in Germany and has had a major influence in manufacturing, but the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) encompasses much more, including HVAC, transportation, and smart metering.
It could be said that the IIoT covers everything that was once termed machine-to-machine (M2M) networking, and more. The IIoT offers the lure of making industry more efficient and flexible. It also promises to streamline asset management and services, as well as enable accurate predictive maintenance for those systems.
The most basic functional blocks in IIoT systems are sensors to detect and measure almost every aspect of the process and environment, data converters (from analog to digital and back), processing, memory, and communications technology to provide the control link to actuators as well as serve data to the remote servers that collate and analyze the data. The remote servers may be installed in-house, or use cloud computing in external data centers.
Normally, solutions such as these sensor-based systems are designed on printed circuit boards (PCBs) using individual components. The microcontrollers developed for on-board processing have made life easier for designers by including many of the functions outside of pure processing. A wide variety of multipoint control units (MCUs) offer peripherals that can take care of data conversion, memory functions, and wired and wireless connectivity options. These systems still need many other external components to operate effectively.
Sensing, Presenting, and Acting on Data
As processes have become more automated, the systems that provide the automation have also seen increased growth in the number of inputs and outputs. A typical industrial system is detailed in Figure 1. The inputs are provided from a number of different sources, which include switches, touchpads, sensors, and encoders. The sensors are designed to provide input from processes and the environment to give an all-around view of the operation.