The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is here, transforming the manufacturing floor as we know it. Just think how technology has changed our personal lives in a few short years. Cell phones have gone from being used to make calls to controlling our thermostats and home security systems and allowing us to check on our kids via a webcam.

These same kinds of advances in connectivity, control and automation are now being applied to processing and packaging lines. These Internet-enabled systems bring a new level of flexibility, performance and cost advantages, but also raise concerns about data, plant information and product security.

IIoT is the network of physical objects—devices, machines, systems, computers and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enables them to collect and exchange data. But, IIoT goes far beyond collecting data. “Data for the sake of data is useless. The Industrial Internet of Things leverages a digital thread, seamlessly connecting people, equipment, products and software,” says Katie Moore, global industry manager – manufacturing, GE Digital. “IIoT is about getting connected, enabling us to use the data and insights to make smarter business decisions.”

To reap these benefits, machines need to be connected. But, according to a study conducted by research firm The MPI Group, manufacturers have incorporated smart devices or embedded intelligence in only 25 percent (median) of their production equipment and processes. However, the study predicts 76 percent of manufacturers will increase the use of smart devices or embedded intelligence in the next two years. One way equipment suppliers and their customers are using this technology is to remotely monitor equipment to diagnose problems. “Service data shows 70 to 80 percent of machine problems can be diagnosed and remediated remotely,” says Mark Ruberg, vice president, Pro Mach Business Process. “But, the monitoring side is where we are really seeing the benefits. Data analytics provide real-time information that pinpoints problems before customers experience downtime.”

Despite the benefits, only a few manufacturers have the network infrastructure to accommodate IIoT machine-to-machine (e.g., sensors in one machine trigger the actions of another machine) or machine-to-enterprise communications (i.e., machine sensors send data to corporate business systems), according to The MPI Group report.

 “Cost justification remains a big issue with real operational data and objective results unavailable to justify investment in IIoT systems,” says Roy Greengrass, corporate engineering, Del Monte Foods, Inc. “If the price for IIoT goes down considerably, food companies may be able to justify these systems.”

Despite the cost, one key manufacturing metric that can be impacted by IIoT is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). One way manufacturers measure the availability, performance and quality of their manufacturing operation is calculating the OEE and using that measure to improve processes. “OEE is the best initial key performance indicator to look at; it is the gateway to optimizing your process. OEE is almost plug in play. You have the information at your fingertips,” Moore says.

But, the true value of OEE comes from understanding the underlying losses: availability loss, performance loss and quality loss.. “We monitor OEE with visual displays to reduce downtime and improve operating efficiencies. Pushing this information to those who need it allows issues to be addressed immediately,” says Greengrass. “Improvements and early detection of quality defects, as well as better insights into the root cause of manufacturing issues, are major benefits. These improvements, as well as the reduction of machine failures and downtime, result in cost savings.”

To help manufacturers gain a better understanding of OEE and the various factors that can impact this key performance indicator, the OpX Leadership Network, a community of manufacturing, engineering and operations professionals convened by PMMI, released an OEE Starter Tool, along with an OEE Benefits Calculator, that calculates the product cost impact from improvement efforts.

So, how does one get started down the IIoT superhighway? “Start small. Look at your critical assets or a critical line. Once you know things like if a piece of equipment is down,  you can look at why and determine what is preventing it from operating properly,” Moore says.

Despite all its benefits, every discussion about IIoT begins with security.  “Security is always the first, second and third things customers ask about. We have handled that by putting our monitoring on a dedicated network. It is a completely different path,” Ruberg says.

While you need to consider the security of your own systems, it is important to also consider the security of your suppliers’ systems. “Anything connected to the Internet has a level of exposure,” says Mike Muscatell, information security manager, Snyders-Lance, Inc. “Although your connection may be secured through encryption, if the vendor’s system has been compromised, the attacker has a secure connection back to your  network.”

According to Muscatell, a focus on cybersecurity is necessary. “The same security solutions that protect the entire organization also protect the manufacturing environment, but what is seriously lacking is awareness. If people were provided with information on what to be more aware of in terms of cybersecurity, related risks would potentially be reduced,” he says.

In addition to cybersecurity, food manufacturers have a heightened awareness around food safety with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) taking effect this fall, says Jeffrey Barach, FSMA expert and consultant for PMMI. “The type of real-time monitoring that comes with IIoT has significant advantages in food production over the intermittent monitoring traditionally found in food plants. It allows for quicker response, limiting the volume of product affected by any mishap. This type of monitoring can take human limitations out of the system,” Barach says.

According to PMMI’s Vision 2020 Report, with the advent of IIoT, the skill set necessary for manufacturing facilities may be changing. “Manufacturers will need to incorporate more mobile technology to accommodate a different skill set now coming into the workforce. IIoT is really about people, process and technology, with people being the critical part of that equation,” Moore says.

The technology that IIoT brings to the plant floor can also be used in training. “IIoT can be a great training tool. If internet communication is available with download training material at the equipment location or if operator can go to OEM sites and receive training on operations, safety, service, etc., this would be a great tool,” Larsen says.

PMMI’s Certified Trainer program, a train-the-trainer program customized for manufacturing, fosters the partnership needed between machinery manufacturers and their customers. “Equipment reliability requires not only quality equipment, but also a well trained workforce. In order to effectively implement technology such as IIoT, the partnership between suppliers and customers is critical, and our program provides a framework for that communication and collaboration to happen,” says Stephan Girard, director, workforce development, PMMI.