Industrial and heavy-duty building automation systems such as HVAC, lighting, factory-floor monitoring, and security have been using networking technologies for a long time -- so long, in fact, that a majority predate the widespread embedding of Internet protocol (IP) into devices.
Some form of IP addressability is a prerequisite for participation in the Internet of Things (IoT) and its important subset, the Industrial IoT (IIoT). But in today's industrial world, only a few of the established control networks are prepared to join the IIoT.
In a May interview, Linley Group's Loring Wirbel described these newer networks as "islands of IP addressability surrounded by vast oceans of unmanaged stuff," with the IP-addressable islands accounting for only about 20% of the industrial networks currently operating. That means that about 80% of the potential IIoT market remains unleveraged.
What's more, the industrial and commercial organizations that could most benefit from the IIoT -- for improving things such as productivity, efficiency, and time to market -- typically are the most technology-averse, according to Chris Rommel of VDC Research.
"Lots of decision making around adopting new technologies is inhibited because of the amount of investment in legacy platforms," Rommel said in an IIoT Talk in March. "It's easy to talk about the IIoT and its potential, but it's much harder to execute against that vision."
Here are three steps organizations can take to get past the fear and inertia, so they can link their legacy networks and migrate to the IIoT.
- Assess what you have: Take an inventory of your control networks and the protocols they use. Note what percentage, if any, are already IP-addressable and whether they communicate with any of your other networks.
- Learn more about the potential advantages of the IIoT in your operations: Find out what others in your industry are doing. For instance, consider whether it would help your operations if your network alerted you when a part being manufactured was out of spec or a device was failing. Think about all the ways that automatic, instantaneous feedback could be beneficial.
- Look for multiprotocol solutions: Rather than abandon your familiar control networks and make a single leap to the IIoT, find ways for your old networks to coexist with the new.
Your goal should be not only to connect your current islands of addressability, but also to create bigger islands of addressability as you enable legacy device networks to take advantage of IP. Eventually, your islands will become continents. Before you know it, your industrial environment will have turned into one big IIoT-friendly world.
-- Ron Sege is president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of directors of Echelon Corp.