It’s a curve of development you’re well familiar with in the transportation and manufacturing industries: a technology is introduced and while innovative, there are certain limitations that prevent it from catching fire right away. Then, external forces around it begin to change, making it more cost-effective, accessible, and practical, and suddenly, it explodes.  

This is the story with the Internet of Things (IoT)—and particularly, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The concept of the IoT can be traced back to 1982 when scientists at Carnegie Mellon University connected a soda machine to ARPNET, the US government’s precursor to the internet. They used the connection to check to see if the machine a) had soda and b) if that soda was cold.  

But the term Internet of Things—coined by MIT’s Kevin Ashton—wasn't introduced until 1999, and even then, scientists and technology thought leaders were still talking about it in future terms. Then, in October 2003, approximately 1,000 delegates in the retail, technology, and academic fields gathered at Lake Michigan to launch the electronic product code (EPC) network, aimed at introducing a universal system to replace the global barcode that would provide a unique number for every object worldwide.  

Fast forward to current day, where we’ve made dramatic improvements in multiple forces that power the IoT—including tech device battery lives, network connectivity, and cloud-storage capacity—and we are now tracking towards 75.44 billion installed IoT devices worldwide, having surpassed the number of people worldwide back in 2008. 

As consumers, we’re increasingly familiar with “smart” or connected devices—from the watches we wear that help us track our health details to the thermostats and light bulbs we can monitor and control even when we’re away from home. But the Industrial IoT, while part of the overall IoT, is its own distinct subset—with important differences, including benefits of IIoT for industry, risks and challenges, and all the way down to the types of IIoT devices used and the way in which they communicate. 

The Industrial IoT  

Cisco defines the Industrial IoT (IIoT) as “an ecosystem of devices, sensors, applications, and associated networking equipment that work together to collect, monitor, and analyze data from industrial operations.” 

Some examples of IIoT devices include:  

Industrial Control Systems (ICS): ICS are at the heart of manufacturing operations, controlling machinery, processes, and production lines. These systems ensure precise control over factors like temperature, pressure, speed, and quality.  

Robotics and Automation: Industrial robots equipped with sensors and IoT capabilities can perform repetitive tasks with precision and efficiency. IoT-enabled robots can communicate with each other and adapt to changing conditions. 

Predictive Maintenance: IoT sensors installed on manufacturing equipment monitor factors like vibration, temperature, and usage patterns. This data is analyzed to predict when machinery requires maintenance, reducing downtime and minimizing disruptions. 

Smart Inventory Management: IoT-enabled inventory management systems automatically track inventory levels and trigger reorder points. This prevents stockouts, reduces excess inventory, and streamlines supply chain operations. 

There are a number of differences between the IIoT and IoT, including the function of the devices and sensors, the scale of networks, and type of security required, but one of the biggest differences is the importance of reliability and uptime in the IIoT. IIoT failures can have devastating consequences, including safety hazards and life-threatening situations. And while downtime of other IoT devices can be inconvenient, the stakes are typically not so high.  

Still, the opportunities for industries like manufacturing and transportation are almost limitless, and implementing IIoT is a key part of a digital transformation for your business. 

The tremendous wealth of data the IIoT enables businesses with is highly actionable. The analysis of this data enables and increases real-time visibility into what’s going right and what’s going wrong within your processes and systems—even enabling predictions on when a part will fail or something else will go wrong. It can empower your teams to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, monitor remotely, optimize operations, and benchmark across sites and locations. 

Other benefits include: 

  • Maximizing uptime through predictive machinery maintenance. 

  • Improving safety and security. 

  • Maintaining and assure product quality. 

  • Helping ensure regulatory compliance. 

  • Accelerating response times, thanks to real-time data collection, processing, and analysis.

Empowering Predictive Action and Agile Real-Time Decision-Making 

You’re aware that improving your organization’s access to data and analytics about products and systems enables a greater ability to optimize processes and workflows. By embedding sensors in products or components, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) can better understand how they perform in real-time. These same sensors can also help managers identify machinery issues early by detecting failing components, helping to uncover problems before technicians are sent out to work on them—and allowing them to be replaced before they become an issue.  

On factory floors, the IIoT can also connect wearables worn by workers to management, via mobile devices and other cloud-enabled devices. By monitoring worker health information and behaviors, managers can improve worker safety, time management, and also provide more specific feedback. 

Further down the supply chain, we were able to help some of our customers enable remote monitoring—which has tremendous opportunities throughout industry. In collaboration with Cisco’s Industrial Asset Vision, we helped a customer perform refrigeration monitoring at a chain food market, with the aim of enabling businesses such as butcher shops and restaurants to ensure they’re serving safer products. By implementing IIoT systems, these stores prevent unnecessary site visits and equipment checks, reduce downtime, improve asset utilization, and maintain compliance with safety and regulatory requirements.  

For example, at the butcher shop, IIoT sensors alert the system of ajar cold room doors, causing refrigeration and ventilation units to work harder. The system can also maintain the right temperature, ensuring that the product is safe for consumption and reducing waste in terms of spoiled produce. The result is a highly efficient system, with assets and facilities working at full optimization, improved working safety, and better-quality products. 

Cisco’s secure industrial sensors provide environmental and operational data transmitted via wireless LoRaWAN gateways for secure, reliable, and long-range connectivity for indoor and outdoor industrial environments. Administrators manage all data using the IoT Dashboard, giving them visibility to the location and condition of monitored assets. Some sensors can also track indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, product temperature, refrigeration temperature, doors and windows, water leaks, and indoor occupancy. 

The Transportation IIoT Ecosystem 

The digital transformations powered by the IIoT are just as impactful in the transportation industry. A recent Deloitte report addressed the ways in which transportation companies truly differentiate themselves by creating true IoT ecosystems.  

By their definition, a disconnected state refers to one with manual communication, with limited visibility and traceability. IoT sensor-enabled trucks can facilitate a move into a connected state, giving a transportation organization tracking and tracing ability: through connected trucks, orgs now have access to information like real-time vehicle location data, telematics data, and even cargo conditions thanks to sensors that can monitor and report metrics like temperature and light, crucial for sensitive cargo such as pharmaceuticals or food items.  

These insights are real-time and actionable. By integrating these IoT systems with other technologies—from AI to the cloud to really anything—transportation organizations can then use data to predict events like maintenance and capacity planning and make more dynamic, agile decisions in real-time.  

For example, IoT devices and sensors can track information like driver data (energy, erratic driving patterns, and other driver behavior) with vehicle data, including fuel consumption, location, braking data, and speed. Through cloud connections, this data can be aggregated and fed to analytics applications that measure safe driving and digitally calculate safety limits. Closing the loop, alerts and messages can be sent to drivers’ connected communication devices, including mobile phones, to communicate when safety thresholds have been breached.  

With accidents, injuries, road safety, ineffective drivers, and fuel costs some of transportation companies' biggest risks, analysts are predicting these ecosystems improve driver and road safety and reduce incidents, as well as the costs of the incidents, insurance, and fuel. 

How to Get Started Implementing Secure-by-Design IIoT  

The IIoT is a transformation technology that thought leaders like the World Economic Forum and McKinsey consider “pivotal to the future of manufacturing”—especially on the heels of the global pandemic. And, like many new technologies, implementing them in your business can be tricky. It’s common to get caught up in focusing on technology for technology’s sake, without tying it to your business needs and strategy.  

To get started with IIoT, we’d emphasize that like with any new technology, it’s important for your organization to evaluate the needs introducing it would serve. “Smart” and connected IIoT systems will continue to explode, no doubt about it, and can give your organization a critical edge—but implementing new technology also comes with both costs and risks. Start by evaluating your desired outcome and deciding on where you think your business could benefit most. 

As McKinsey puts it, “Digital transformation is about envisioning how technologies like IIoT can redefine value creations by accelerating and scaling existing operations, rethinking how customers are served, and even by reinventing business models. It’s a complete reimagining of the way work is done. Above all, it is about a new way of competing.” 

Be Careful of Spending Too Much Time in Planning Mode 

It’s also easy to get caught up in the belief your organization must be 100% ready to get started with IIoT. But this approach can keep you in the limbo of planning mode indefinitely and can even be counterproductive.  

Instead, it’s beneficial to think of technology and digital transformation as a continuous journey—one you must get started on to join. While it’s important for your business to understand where you arein relation to where you’d like to be, and by when, it is also important to adopt an agile mindset so you can move fast and develop quickly in iterations that allow you to adapt, refine, and improve continuously. In other words, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. 

Implement Using a Secure-by-Design Approach 

As we mentioned, security and reliability are not only critical to your operations—a disruption in connectivity could shut down millions of dollars in equipment and significantly impact revenue—it can also be a life-impacting safety issue. Defense against cyberattacks has a whole new level of importance.  

But with every new connection, device, and sensor, you’re also expanding your attack surface. Implementing IIoT requires a layered security approach that works holistically to continuously detect, prevent, analyze, and respond to information security threats. 

The best place to start with securing IIoT? From the beginning: with discovery and awareness of every IIoT device that may be connected to your network, whether you think you have any or not. From there, you can build a strategy and plan to mitigate those risks first, then move forward with security at every layer as your IIoT ecosystem expands.  

Download the Comprehensive Guide to Evaluating Your Business Case for IoT 

With the right Technology Ally, you can not only safeguard your operations and customer data but also position yourself to thrive as a result of digital transformation. Download our guide to learn more about evaluating your manufacturing or transportation firm’s business case for IoT and how to ensure your IoT systems are secure by design.

evaluate business case for IoT

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