Industrial IoT - Challenges & Opportunities

08.10.2015

Sensors in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

In this post, we will focus on the opportunities and challenges of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and especially highlight the effects on industrial production. Industry thought leaders see the digitization of single machines and whole factories as a natural evolution of the industrial landscape. At the same time a large number of experts, especially within the german economy, speak of a new industrial “revolution”. The responsible department (Federal Department for Education and Science) dedicated a project to the topic called “Industrie 4.0”. Meanwhile in the US, the term “Industrial Internet of Things” which became the norm.

As a young IoT company and as one of the first providers of integrated hard- and software solutions, we take part in the discussion about the future of the producing industry. On this blog, we are therefore filling the buzzwords and empty words around IIoT and Industry 4.0 with meaning and content.

Our Chief Technology Officer Vlad Lata will give us an overview of what is going to change in the area of measurement technology in the near future:
“Through the Internet of Things, industry changes accelerated, especially in the field of measurement technology new opportunities for providers emerge."

Right now the German sensor market offers a lot of different solutions. Most of them though only capture a single mechanical quantity. Sensor fusion, a combination of intelligently connected sensors that can measure several quantities, are a rare phenomenon at the moment. Today’s solutions do not offer scalability and can hardly adapt to changing measurands. The performance of most sensors additionally suffers when exposed to difficult environments. For example, strain gauges are susceptible to temperature fluctuation or axial forces. MEMS sensors can produce erroneous results when exposed to lateral forces. Optical encoders are susceptible to dust and dirt.

Another problem is the missing standard for industrial ethernet. While 93% of all german engineers work with industrial ethernet, approximately half of them prefers ProfiNET, another 20% use EtherCAT and more than 10% prefer PowerLink. Since there is no uniformity and the different solutions are incompatible with each other, difficulties for intelligent connections emerge. Also, sensors have to be changed to adapt to every system.

Establishing standards is especially important for network connections and interfaces used in machine-to-machine (m2m) communication.

In the IIoT, the need for adaptable sensors is rising. These devices are dynamic and able to use ad-hoc networks to react to sudden changes in the manufacturing process. This way a sensor becomes more than a monitoring device, it becomes an actor and directly influences the production process. To be able to do just that, there are certain preconditions that a sensor has to fulfill: it should be highly precise, have very low latency in the microsecond range and should provide a robust signal. The demand for sensors with a dynamic self-calibration during operation is expected to rise as well.

So-called smart sensors are able to analyze and process collected data onboard. This way they become even more usable and flexible within intelligently connected factories. Future data is expected to be generated by sensor networks and stored within a cloud environment. The next step will be so-called fog computing which will become especially relevant in connection with big data. Modern sensors, optimized data transmission and infrastructure like the cloud enable promising ideas like predictive maintenance to become reality. Instead of reacting to problems, sensors will be able to recognize upcoming breakdowns and enable planned maintenance before costly downtime occurs. Parallel, these innovations will also increase overall efficiency.”

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