IIoT Phases of Planning, Deployment, Use

industrial internet of things (IIoT) icons displayed off in the horizon while two men in hardhats view them.

Alan Raveling | January 6, 2023

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a crucial component of Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and other trends in automation and controls. Engineers can use the questions below to walk through your journey of IIoT of planning, deployment, and use.

IIoT: Create Proactive Insights From Data

At its core, IIoT is a collection of components that collect and transmit data to applications that analyze it and generate outputs. The data you receive can give you insights into equipment performance, machine learning, analysis information, or facility trends. Sounds simple, right? The main idea is much more.

IIoT gives you more—more data, understanding, and devices. Getting a more well-rounded understanding of your operations can change your reactive posture to a proactive one. The number of sensors and data collectors does not give you a complete IIoT solution; it also requires something to process the data. When developing an IIoT strategy, you must include communication requirements, deployment standards, and ownership or maintenance expectations. If you're looking at an IIoT solution, review these four areas first.

IIoT: Evaluate The Source Of Data

Several factors contribute to the final design when using IIoT as a solution. The engineer should first look at the sources of data.

  • Questions: Will new sensors or instruments need to be installed? How will power and communication cabling for the device be addressed?
    • Considerations: Many IIoT devices can be battery-powered, with lifespans from one to five years. Other devices can be self-powered.
  • Questions: What possible formats is this data available, such as MQTT, 4-20mA, REST API, RS232, JSON, and RS485? Is any translation or transformation of the data necessary? If so, where will the transformation take place?
    • Considerations: Sensors may transmit a stream of bits that need to be broken into separate data fields.
  • Questions: Is new data required every 10 seconds or 10 minutes? How much data is being sent during each communication?
    • Considerations: LoRaWAN, for example, sends a higher amount of data. Bandwidth is often measured in single or low double-digit kilobits per second (kbps) rates. If using a cellular modem, be sure to understand the amount of data generated in a month to avoid overages or other fines.
  • Questions: Is the distance between data sources and sensors measured in yards/meters or miles/kilometers? Are existing long-range networks in place, or will a new network need to be created?
    • Considerations: Local terrain, other frequencies, or physical infrastructure and equipment may impact the range limitations, which can block or reduce the effective range of devices.

Determine What To Do With IIoT Data

Next, engineers must determine what to do with the generated data. They must know these data points' association, storage, and timestamping.

  • Questions: What is the strategy for associating sensors with specific components, machines, or areas? Who will track the inventory of deployed IIoT devices and their locations?
    • Considerations: You must manage these assets under the same policies and procedures as other network-connected equipment.
  • Questions: Where and how will the data be stored? Will it go to a cloud-based service or be transferred to a local database? How will loss of internet access be addressed?
    • Considerations: When selecting solutions for data storage, consider the daily amount of data and the amount that must be stored.
  • Questions: How will you synchronize each IIoT device's time or data generation event? How much variance in the time between IIoT devices is acceptable?
    • Considerations: Cellular devices use the network's clock, whereas wireless or wired devices may use network time protocol (NTP). The variance between these is a handful of seconds.
  • Questions: How is each IIoT device reporting time? Will transformation of the timestamp be necessary?
    • Considerations: Devices list the time differently. Some use Epoch format (seconds passed since January 1, 1970), others in UTC, and some based on the local time zone. The dates and times must be in the same format to allow the application to process, compare, and analyze the data and information.

Consider IIoT Data Usability

With the data held in a database or other systems, engineers must consider its accessibility.

  • Questions: Will the data only be accessible through the IIoT software solution, or can access to the tables and database driving the software also be possible?
    • Considerations: Some vendors only provide web-based or front-end access. You can analyze and visualize, but it doesn't allow data integrations with other internal solutions.
  • Questions: Is the software in a cloud-based platform, or is it running within the organization's environment? Is there a guarantee of uptime? If the IIoT solution is not available for an hour or a day, what's the impact?
    • Considerations: As the data and analytics from these IIoT solutions grow in importance, you may need to consider if it's worth continuing operations if the IIoT systems are offline.
  • Questions: Who will have access, and what type will be granted (partners, contractors, or third parties)?
    • Considerations: Engineers should work with the organization's IT or security teams on requirements for data sharing, transferring data, and integrating into existing identity and access management systems.

Assess Support And Management Of IIoT Devices

With the IIoT devices and potential networks or gateways in place, engineers should assess the support and management of these devices.

  • Questions: Who will respond to a device malfunction or outage?
    • Considerations: Battery-powered devices have a limited lifetime, and there should be periodic maintenance to replace the batteries.
  • Questions: Will you keep spare IIoT devices, and where will you store them? How quickly can a malfunctioning device be swapped out, and who knows how to perform these tasks?
    • Considerations: Technicians may need additional training or documentation to replace these components.
  • Questions: What is the planned lifespan of the IIoT devices? Will the devices available later warrant the replacement of existing hardware?
    • Considerations: You may need to evaluate replacement schedules because of IIoT's fast changes. It may provide value to replace ahead of schedule.

IIoT can lead to smarter and quicker decisions for efficiency gains, cost savings, or cost avoidance. Although you may leave with more questions than answers, working through this checklist can result in a more robust and comprehensive solution, avoiding the traps of charging into IIoT without planning.

This article was originally published in Control Engineering.