One of the big misconceptions about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is that it’s the same as consumer IoT, but located on a factory floor somewhere. It’s an understandable misconception, considering that both the IIoT and the consumer IoT share the term Internet of Things. But it’s a big mistake to equate consumer IoT applications such as wearable fitness trackers or home thermostats with the Industrial IoT.
Many IIoT devices are located in factory environments. As a rule, the IIoT has far more stringent requirements than the consumer IoT, including:
• Autonomous control. The consumer IoT serves the needs of, and depends on interaction with, human users. In contrast, the IIoT is characterized by the ability to operate without human intervention -- either because the industrial environment is too harsh for people or because actions need to take place too quickly, frequently, or reliably for people to be able to handle. In addition to operation without human intervention, autonomy is also necessary for self-configuration and self-securing.
• Peer-to-peer operation. Whereas the consumer IoT relies on cloud- or server-mediated communications, many IIoT situations do not require those, and in fact are not possible with interaction with an Internet server or cloud.
• Industrial-strength reliability. Reliability is non-negotiable in many industrial settings. If your networked home thermostat stops working for a while, it’s inconvenient. If an automated train switching system fails, it could literally be a life-or-death moment.
• Resilience in the face of failures. A subset of industrial-strength reliability, resilience in the face of failures includes such technical requirements as packet recovery, real-time application responsiveness, failure resistance (e.g., avoidance of single points of failure), network-wide confirmed multicast messaging, and detection of duplicate packets (and acting upon them only once).
• Brownfield vs. greenfield. Most consumer IoT applications involve recently introduced devices. Because industrial automation has been around for so long, there are a billion legacy devices already operating on various control networks, not to mention multiple protocols that have evolved to meet the needs of specific environments -- ones that don’t intercommunicate. IIoT solutions need to enable existing devices and applications to evolve alongside new ones.
• Wired as well as wireless connectivity. The consumer IoT depends primarily on wireless communications. Industrial environments are frequently not conducive to wireless links. Dust, smoke, extremely hot or cold temperatures, loud noise levels, vibration, and locations below ground or surrounded by thick concrete structures -- all diminish the reliability of wireless communications, making them risky as choices for many IIoT applications. For that reason, wired links must co-exist with wireless for the IIoT.
• Industrial-grade security.
• Scalability. IIoT device networks need to be able to scale to thousands of nodes spread among multiple links.
Market researchers such as IHS predict that in just a few years, the IIoT will surpass the consumer IoT in scope and economic value, assuming certain conditions are met. Just as the flourishing of the Internet depended on bridging the disparate networks connecting PCs of the 1980s, so too the flourishing of the IIoT depends on the industrial-device networks’ ability to intercommunicate, even in the face of incompatible protocols and connectivity media. As with the Internet, the bridging protocol can be IP: the Internet Protocol.
Currently, industrial systems connect to the Internet and internal IP networks through gateways, which require custom provisioning and programming to expose the necessary data to enterprise systems. Invariably, the gateway constrains what information can pass back and forth. Its configuration is difficult to evolve in order to support new requirements.
For industrial networks, IP addressing will move from the gateway to the field bus level, and gateway functionality, e.g., the translation of data into a common format, will be integrated onto chips. At the same time, there will be greater reliance on routers than gateways for connecting networks.
The IIoT requires multiprotocol, multimedia platforms able to perform control networking using IP all the way to the end device. Successful industrial control networking solutions will recognize and embrace the special considerations of the industrial world, e.g., myriad existing protocols, devices installed for their reliability and longevity, and the need for both wired and wireless connections, while building IP-based bridges to the IIoT.