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Why Industrial IoT Needs a Systems Approach

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By Russ Waddell, Managing Director, MTConnect Institute*, a not-for-profit subsidiary of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns IMTS- The International Manufacturing Technology Show.

New products and services for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are rapidly flooding the marketplace, and there are plenty of new toys and tools to choose from. The reality remains that users, not vendors, still bear the bulk of implemen­tation costs, and a high-level, system-engi­neering approach can minimize these costs and maximize return on investment.

There are no shortage of hardware or software options for IoT in the factory. Hobbyist development boards like Raspberry Pi and Arduino were designed for consumers and electronics tinkerers, but are increasingly implemented directly for production applications. Software costs for an IIoT implementation can be very low for barebones projects that need tons of tweaking and configuration or very high for plugins and modules packaged with common manufacturing suites covering everything from MES to CAM.

As tempting as it is to dive right in with a new or experimental tool, project planning and requirements gathering can save huge headaches down the road and drastically improve outcomes. Whether formal or informal your plan should include:

  1. State goals, map out milestones and deadlines
    Pick metrics in advance that will help evaluate perfor­mance-to-plan. These components are not unique to industrial IoT, so use systems and business processes already in place for new capital equipment, tooling, or software trials.
  2. Consider a phased implementation
    Pilot programs can lead to cost reduction by limiting the impact if a program fails, reducing the chance of installation delays, and postponing investment until superior product arrives on the market. Considering the biggest cost of imple­menting IIoT solutions is often labor hours and project planning, it’s worthwhile to build in mechanisms to measure success and opportunities to evaluate results against company goals.
  3. Set up cost accounting
    Systems thinking dictates a complete cost account­ing, and for IIoT the implementation costs are considerable. Regardless of the hardware (sensor package, Arduino, etc.), it could be an entire semes­ter’s project. Even for an experienced engineer, a few days to a few weeks is the normal timeline from conception to initial working proof of concept. Those hours far eclipse the cost of cheap development board and open source software tools, but could be small compared to the total cost of a full-featured software package pulling data off an existing sensor network. Consider the full picture of costs and how they may be recouped.
  4. Assess the plan
    Evaluate the strategy

Resist the temptation to dive right in, and do the homework up front to understand what a project will take to complete and how and when it will offer a return.

*The MTConnect Institute is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit subsidiary of AMT with its own Board of Trustees and membership, and promotes the standards development for the MTConnect® standard, which is a set of open, royalty-free standards intended to foster greater interoperability between controls, devices and software applications by publishing data over networks using the Internet Protocol.

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