industrial building interior at Car factory.
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Industrial IoT (IIoT) is booming across a variety of industries. A recent survey found that 82% of respondents have either implemented IoT, are running a pilot program, or are considering it.

As the technologies get cheaper and more reliable, more and more companies are looking to adopt IoT to bring efficiency to their organizations. Yet many are asking, what exactly is IIoT and how are companies using it? We’ve turned to industry experts to find out.

What Is Industrial IoT?

IIoT is the next stage in bringing more devices online. “Building on the foundation laid by traditional control systems,” explained Emily Maxie, VP of marketing at Very, “Industrial IoT is making these heavy equipment and system controls more user-friendly, adaptive and capable than ever before.” That’s because IIoT leverages better data collection, automated processes and an improved user experience to deliver real-time analytics and improve machine efficiency.

While companies have been collecting data to monitor machinery in the past, with inexpensive sensors and innovative technology it’s easier now. “What’s different now is that technology companies and the industrial companies themselves have developed new technologies to turn that data into more of an asset for extending the life of existing capital or monitoring equipment,” stated Perry Zalevsky, senior director of industry and community at OSIsoft.

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IIoT vs. Consumer IoT

IIoT has an entirely different set of requirements than consumer IoT. A small improvement in efficiency may not matter to a consumer, but the results could be dramatic for companies. “The scale and scope of industrial operations often means companies can make significant gains rapidly,” explained Zalevsky.

Zalevsky believes risk is another big difference between industrial and consumer IoT. Consumers can adopt new IoT devices without much to worry about, but companies are often more diligent before implementing new IIoT devices. “If something were to go wrong,” Zalevsky said, “it could have serious consequences for employees or substantially impact a company’s finances.” Companies can’t afford to move fast and risk potential adverse outcomes.

In addition, the devices that these type of companies use need to be much more durable than the consumers version. Industrial companies often invest in machinery and technologies that they keep running for decades in heavy-use environments. “That means everything — updates, maintenance, patches — needs to be considered in significantly longer cycles than consumer IoT,”  Maxie explained.

The way things are headed, however, it's likely all IoT will converge eventually. “If IoT is a collection of smart devices in your home,” explained Darek Fanton, communications manager at OnLogic, “IIoT is the technology that's creating entire smart factories and smart cities that are changing the way business is done.” This could mean, for example, that in the near future consumers could have a smart refrigerator that communicates directly with grocery stores when you’re running low on supplies.

How Manufacturers Are Using IIoT

The primary adopters of IIoT are manufacturers looking to invest in technology that drives efficiency. “IIoT is being used by manufacturers to track inventory, automate product inspections, optimize workflows and reduce downtime (among many other things) by analyzing data and adjusting processes accordingly,” Fanton said. In many cases, the technology also improves safety for factory workers as well with preventative maintenance — detecting and fixing potential problems before they occur.

But Industrial IoT isn’t limited to factories and warehouses. Fanton added, “IIoT technologies are being used by city planners and civil engineers to create smart cities which might employ facial and license plate recognition, access control, intelligent roadways, and autonomous vehicles.” These sensors send and receive data to make informed, autonomous decisions without human intervention that improve safety, reduce the environmental impact, and more.

Even a previously off-the-grid industry like agriculture is adopting the emerging technology. “IIoT is increasingly finding its way into agriculture,” explained Fanton, “driving the adoption of autonomous farm equipment, smart harvesters, automated milking machines and a wide array of devices that make food production and distribution more efficient.” Across the board, IIoT is bringing efficiency to previously arduous processes.

While IIoT may be in the early stages, the experts are optimistic that the technology will bring enormous benefits to society. Zalevsky suggests that use-cases range from curbing carbon emissions to reducing pharmaceutical costs and improving food safety. Dramatic progress in these areas can be made by leveraging big data and IIoT together.

In the end, Maxie concluded, “Optimization is the name of the game when it comes to IIoT.” Data-driven machines can perform their tasks more efficiently than ever before. There’s no telling all the ways IIoT will be used in the future, but any machinery that can be optimized using data are good candidates.