With all discussion about the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), there is another kind of ‘Internet’ that is that is growing at an equally rapid pace and this one is likely to have a much larger impact on enterprises in the coming years. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) has been developing in parallel to the more consumer-focused IoT, but has been overlooked as it tends to get thrown together with the more consumer orientated IoT. However, it is clear already that the IIoT is emerging as something quite distinct to the IoT and will change the way a wide range of verticals do business. The IIoT is not new. It promises to revolutionize industrial prowess by improving efficiency at existing power plants, refineries, off-shore oil platforms, pharmaceutical plants, hospitals and a lot more.

According to global management consultancy company McKinsey, IIoT will unlock $6.2 trillion in potential economic impact by 2025. For the electricity sector alone, the World Economic Forum estimates $1.3 trillion of value can be captured with IIoT. There is a problem though, that enterprises and IIoT vendors will have to overcome in the future, according to Harry Sim, CEO at San Jose, California based Cypress Envirosystems. In some of the largest planned deployments of IIoT, the reality is more problematic. Most existing plants do not provide the data visibility that IIoT needs—without that data, IIoT cannot work.

An additional problem is that upgrading the plants to obtain the data can be extremely costly and also disruptive to operations, making the whole proposition economically unattractive. “Unless we can solve this challenge, Industrial IIoT will not fulfil its potential,” Sim said.

What Is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Think of the IIoT as a part of the Internet of Things, which is the sum of connected devices, sensors and computers all working to collect and analyze data. The application of this IoT in industrial environments like power plants and factories will allow organizations to process much larger data sets much faster, which can be used to reduce waste and inefficiencies. “Gathering process data on pressures, temperatures, flow rates, RPM, vibration and other technical data will allow smart IIoT software to make plants more efficient, safer, and more reliable,” he said.

We are already feeling the effects of the Internet of Things in our everyday lives There has been a proliferation of sensors and intelligence in smart phones, cars, home thermostats, and even smart refrigerators. This rich source of sensor data can be networked, gathered and analyzed by super smart software which will help to detect problems, work more productively and save more energy. IIoT is the application of the same principles to industrial plants and processes.

Virtually all the major industrial technology companies are rolling out IIoT offerings. Early on, IBM had Watson. GE has Predix. Schneider offers EcoStruxure. Honeywell announced Sentience. 

Related Article: 12 Emerging Internet of Things (IoT) Trends That Will Become Mainstream In 2018

10 Trends Driving the IIoT

For the time being, the majority of the current focus is on the software side of IIoT — databases and algorithms to crunch through terabytes of data to detect faults and optimize processes.  In the medium term however, the two ‘internets' — IoT, IIoT — will continue to diverge with these 10 trends setting the IIoT apart.

1. Data Analysis

Drew Conway is founder and CEO of New York City-based Alluvium, which brings machine learning to manufacturing. He said manufacturing organizations will start investing in digital literacy rather than infrastructure in the next phase of IIoT development. Conversations have shifted from questions about how to collect data to what should be done with the data. To that end, the curve of investment in IIoT will begin to bend toward analytics capabilities. This will likely manifest as a blend of hiring for new roles, such as data scientists and data engineers; a move to multi-cloud to investigate capabilities across incumbent cloud providers, such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google; and, experimentation in investment with cutting edge analytics tools.

2. Mergers And Acquisitions (M&A)

There will be an increased amount of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) for advanced IIoT capabilities among large OEMs. There is a large appetite from industrial OEMs to bring advanced digital and analytics capabilities in-house as a means of accelerating their competitive advantage with peers, Conway said. Because software engineering and data science are not core competencies of OEMs, it will continue to be more efficient for these organizations to bring these capabilities into their stacks.

3. Application Development

The biggest gains will be in machine learning and see organizations bringing it to narrow applications for specific verticals. AI products will be brought into industrial settings only when those products solve narrow problems for specific users. The ability of organizations to successfully adopt these advanced methods in 2018 will largely be a function of where, how, and for whom these tools are applied.

Related Article: 9 IoT Problems to Add to Your Security Worries

Learning Opportunities

4. Energy Harvesting

Vivek Mohan is Director of Wireless IoT products at Camarillo, Calif.-based Semtech which produces mixed-signal semiconductors and advanced algorithms in the energy sector. 

According to him, as people try to find more green and energy efficient methods, energy harvesting will be important in IoT, especially for low power technology. Solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients, and kinetic energy captured, and stored for small, wireless autonomous devices, like those used in wearable electronics and wireless sensor networks will be important in the upcoming year as new cutting edge IoT technologies are developed.

5. Predicative Maintenance

The field service industry is huge, encompassing 20 million field technicians in vans spread across the world, maintaining everything from hospital equipment to office elevators and heavy manufacturing machines. Maintaining them can be a daunting and costly task so creating efficiencies and using predicative maintenance is welcomed. IoT technology — sensors and real-time monitoring — can help organizations exactly where and when equipment needs to be adjusted or replaced.

6. Smart Cities

Dermot O'Shea is co-CEO of Dublin-based Taoglas,  an IoT antenna provider that uses antennas to bring connected capabilities to life.  According to him, "smart cities" will mature in 2018 and continue to benefit from a host of technologies, including high-precision location accuracy, autonomous technology and IoT. As infrastructure becomes more connected, citizens will reap the rewards. Service calls will be made with high degrees of accuracy; lighting systems will aid safety efforts, parking systems will come of age and more.

7. Security

Mike Bell, EVP of IoT & Devices at London-based Canonical, which builds operating systems for cloud applications says security will be key for the IIoT just as it is for IoT. Industrial IoT devices may remain in use for up to 7-10 years on average. The ability to keep these devices updated and secured over that time frame is critical, but many of them have weak security, weak password solutions, no way to patch or install OS updates. Industrial companies historically tend to keep internet connections to a minimum, but the internet is punching through regardless.

8. Automation

David Barnett, VP of Products and Markets at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based RTI thinks the next few years will see the integration of more autonomous capabilities. Early IIoT implementations generally focused on improving asset utilization through better monitoring and predictive analytics, such as predictive maintenance. Many industries are taking advantage of increasing connectivity — or even driving it — in order to implement more autonomous systems.

9. Software

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hitachi Vantara has been working and developing IIoT applications since the start, along with its other software and storage systems. And according to Rich Rogers, SVP, product and engineering, industrial IoT portfolio at Hitachi Vantara, 2018 will be the year that IoT technologies rapidly accelerate the transformation of industrial factories into Software-defined Factories. OEMs will begin to provide smart connected conveyor belts, air compressors, cutting machines and other tools. And, IoT technologies will begin to enable automation, orchestration and DevOps style operations. Mobile monitoring and factory management will become increasingly globalized with IoT linking facilities with data insights from every location to drive better business decisions forward.

10. Data Centers Become Autonomous

2018 will be the year that data centers begin to transform into fully autonomous operations. IoT and AI will enable data center issues to be root-caused and resolved automatically by software, said Rogers. Data center administrators will no longer be woken-up at night to troubleshoot outages. Voice technologies will enable data center operators to monitor and manage their data centers from any location. IT Infrastructure gear will be deployed & maintained autonomously — you simply stock new compute nodes and disk drives and robotics streamline the technology to the appropriate systems.