Interest in Industrial IoT starts to grow

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Research from IoT Analytics surveyed the top topics addressed by C-levels in Q2 2022 earnings calls from nearly 1,500 publicly traded companies in the US, titled “What CEOs Talked About”. The results reveal that five themes gained traction in Q2 2022. Among them, Industrial IoT.

Industrial IoT was mentioned by 0.5% of all earnings calls. While this percentage may be considered irrelevant compared to other topics such as the recession (20%) and the war in Ukraine (40%), it represented a 56% increase over mentions of IoT in the previous quarter. 

“IIoT experienced the fastest year-over-year revenue growth in IoT this quarter, driven by continued demand for connectivity and advanced processing at the network edge,” said Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of Qualcomm. 

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“It’s very encouraging to see how customers are really making this permanent shift from their traditional manufacturing to additive manufacturing. This is really the strongest demonstration that they believe IIoT technology can help them improve their production lines,” explained Yonah Lloyd, Stratasys’ Director of Communications and Vice President of Investor Relations.

The defining characteristic of connected devices in IIoT networks is that they transfer data without human-human or human-computer interaction. Connected devices communicate through gateways, which are physical servers that filter data and transmit it to other devices and software applications.

In an IIoT system, temperature, motion, light and pressure sensors, for example, feed data to a programmable logic controller (PLC), industrial control system (ICS) or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. These systems deliver the information to an IIoT process. Then a function in the IIoT process delivers information to a device, for example, a heater, security camera, light fixture or pressure balancer.

Examples of OT devices include sensors, control valves, machines, transmitters, actuators, cameras, electronic locks, engines, thermostats, factory and plant equipment, embedded systems, Human-Machine Interfaces (HMI), and robots. OT systems communicate mainly over point-to-point networks.

OT applications include telecommunications, electronics, chemical processing, paper manufacturing, power and nuclear plant management, waste management, mining, water treatment, building management industry, and oil and gas processing.

Unlike most IoT applications, which operate in the public cloud, proprietary IIoT systems operate primarily in private clouds developed for commercial, government and industrial organisations.

Utility companies and mission-critical systems use the IIoT to manage outages or to identify heavy demands on resources, for example electricity grids and nuclear plants. IIoT technology can improve the reliability of resource distribution. IIoT-Analytic software detects faults, alerts businesses about outages, and suggests repairs.

Fleet management businesses use IIoT applications to track vehicles, supplies, drivers, and workflow efficiency. IIoT tracking enhances operational efficiency and enables the remote support of offsite workers.

In the agriculture industry, the analytic and predictive capabilities of IIoT help farmers to make informed decisions about when to harvest. IIoT sensors gather data about soil and weather conditions and suggest optimum fertilizing and irrigating schedules. Embedded computer chips monitor the health and location of livestock.

In the manufacturing industry, IIoT is used for asset and supply chain management. It enables the centralized management of assets, and supports real-time communication between suppliers, manufacturers, storage facilities, delivery companies, and customers. IIoT applications monitor maintenance programs across the supply chain and enable remote communication. IIoT minimizes human error in inventory management. IIoT asset management requires less human labor and reduces the costs of goods and services.

The increase in mentions in the result calls is also related to the companies’ participation in the main global industrial fair, the Hannover Fair (Germany), held again this year. After three years of virtual fairs, 75 thousand visitors attended the event and showed interest in Industrial IoT. 

Key themes at the show included the move towards industrial software solutions, as well as wireless software-based control. Siemens, for example, had a strong focus on showcasing various solutions, each as a combination of several products from Siemens’ portfolio. Nokia exhibited wireless connectivity between I/O and PLC, leveraging a private 5G network. AWS, Software Defined Automation (SDA) and Tulip Interfaces collaborated to show how a virtual PLC, running on a Lenovo server standardized with VMware Edge Compute Stack, can run manufacturing operations on a single IT server instead of multiple IPCs and PLCs.

Virtualisation of automation workloads is another important topic for industrial companies today. Virtualisation separates hardware from software and allows workloads to run in a distributed fashion from the cloud to the far edge.

According to another recent IoT Analytics study, 60% of companies have already virtualized some of their storage, visualization, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), or control workloads. While PLC virtualization (i.e. the introduction of software-based PLCs) is not yet the top priority for most manufacturers, they are aware that it is an option. The move to virtualized workloads has certainly begun.

The promise of virtual and soft PLCs is clearly resonating with potential end users. Interestingly, however, the survey also shows that industrial end-users have a preference for buying flexible PLCs from suppliers. Established suppliers are ready and customers are willing to work with them. At the same time, there are also market innovators, such as Beckhoff, Codesys and Logi.cals, which are likely to gain more traction in the near future.

With 75% of the companies surveyed having a dedicated digitisation strategy, modernising existing industrial automation set-ups is clearly in the focus of most manufacturers. According to the survey, a third of the automation budget is now being dedicated to digitisation activities. This includes topics such as connecting disparate assets, performing data visualization and analysis, upgrading control systems to meet enhanced data needs, and modernizing equipment and software, among others.

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