The industrial internet of things could help to unlock economic growth in the 21st century.
At the dawn of the machine age, debates are raging about robots stealing our jobs and how the internet of things (IoT) will automate our lives. The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is at the nexus of this debate.
There are fears that robo-advisers, with algorithms rather than blood (or coffee) pulsating through their veins, will outwit their human counterparts in the race for office jobs or jobs on the factory floor. The evidence is convincing.
‘It is a perfect storm culminating in compute everywhere’
– BRIAN QUINN
At Amazon, the number of robot workers taken on in the 2016 calendar year was up 50pc compared with a 46pc growth in human workers. In Japan, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is to replace 30pc of its existing workforce with AI bots powered by IBM’s Watson.
Before we arm ourselves with hammers and pitchforks and start taking machines apart, the industrial future powered by IoT may not be quite as dystopian as we fear.
There are parallels with history. In the early 19th century, English textile workers – remembered in history as the Luddites – smashed up machines because they feared for their livelihoods. And yet, within decades, the very automation they feared actually created more jobs in the long run.
So maybe there is hope?
IIoT is about making humans super
Likewise, with IIoT, the key is greater efficiency and levels of productivity. In some cases, entire factories earmarked for closure because they are too expensive to run could be saved by reduced energy costs, for example.
“We believe that the real power of artificial intelligence is to augment what humans are great at and make them better at what they do,” said Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty in an interview with Siliconrepublic.com two years ago.
And this could be the bonus that industrial IoT offers: the ability to do more, at less cost and with greater efficiency.
‘Our studies show that businesses are seeing a 20pc improvement in cost management after enabling IIoT’
– LAUREN MORRIS
The magic key here is the data that can only be gathered at the edge, from sensors in assembly lines and smart meters in electricity grids to IoT gateways on buses, motorways and in smart buildings.
The IIoT is a new badge on something that has been happening for some time.
In the 1990s, putting sensors on buses, cars and lorries was known as telematics.
It was used as a way of ensuring assets such as trucks weren’t costing too much by idling in traffic or taking inefficient, fuel-draining routes.
As the mobile revolution unfolded, sensors in trucks, lifts and factory floors were given SIMs and the area became known as machine-to-machine (M2M).
This unleashed new opportunities. Formed above a shop in Terenure in 2004, Irish company Fleetmatics embraced this transition of telematics into the cloud and today, it connects close to 800,000 vehicles worldwide.
Fleetmatics, the epitome of an IIoT play, was acquired last year by US telecoms giant Verizon for $2.4bn.
Silicon on the edge
And now, the silicon that sat in data centres and on PCs and smartphones is moving out to the edge, paving the road for the IIoT world to embed deeper into our lives and at a faster pace.
Important advances in silicon technology, such as the move to 14nm and 10nm scale chips coupled with the advent of new wide-area, low-energy communications networks such as Sigfox, or the soon-to-be-deployed narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) standard by mobile operators, are accelerating the pace.
Two years ago, Intel opened the latest of its Ignition Labs focused on IIoT in Leixlip. One of five across Europe, the Ignition Lab is focused specifically on areas such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, smart cars, energy and utilities, and smart agriculture. It is working with Irish companies such as Glen Dimplex and Keenan to bring IIoT projects to life.
‘Look at the amount of data tech jobs that exist today as distinct from 10 years ago. Data analytics and data science as an industry didn’t exist before. The jobs are moving up the stack and becoming more challenging for humans’
– BRIAN QUINN
Brian Quinn, director of European research programmes at Intel, explained that the IIoT is really a culmination of a number of technologies, from the silicon to the middleware and particularly wireless.
“It is a perfect storm culminating in ‘compute everywhere’. Intel is putting technology into a lot of things. Gateways are a key component of an architectural topology for the IIoT, but also, silicon is going to the edge devices, like mechanical machines and robots. This is making machine learning and AI possible in places it wasn’t before, giving workers and employers greater flexibility and insight.
“Compute at the edge is also important for the machine to make its own decisions.”
Quinn cited the RealValue energy grid project that Intel is collaborating on with Glen Dimplex and SSE, which involves smart meters and data modelling in more than 1,250 homes. “By putting compute in edge devices like smart heaters and radiators, we will employ data fusion and data modelling to interpret the real energy needs of homes. Traditional energy grids were designed to handle peak load and coal stations had to be built to capacity to handle peak demand, and that was inefficient. Compute can predict demand better and understand consumer behaviour.
“This will be complicated by the arrival of renewable energy. By being able to better predict and react to demand, utility operators will have a real sense of what they need to generate. We are also seeing an evolution in battery technology where electric cars can become a storage device in the home, power walls can be applied in homes and factories; and this is enabled through IIoT.”
Quinn also cited the example of Trinity College spin-out SureWash, which use Intel RealSense cameras in hospitals to ensure medical staff wash their hands correctly using smart visual tagging and analytics. “The technology will make sure employees go through the tutorials, and the technology will determine if they are doing it right.”
Is Ireland ready for the next industrial revolution?
The old lament was that for various historical reasons, Ireland missed out on the industrial revolutions of the past. It was only in the latter decades of the 20th century that the country’s industrial policy began to take shape. And it has done so at an astonishing pace, becoming home to some of the world’s most advanced electronics and biotech manufacturing hubs.
‘IIoT is going to change manufacturing and Ireland is well positioned to take advantage of this trend’
– AIDAN QUINN
According to Aidan Quinn, PhD and deputy head with responsibility for materials and devices at Tyndall National Institute, there are around 4,000 manufacturing enterprises active in Ireland that, between them, employ more than 220,000 people directly. An additional job is created in the wider economy for each one of these manufacturing jobs.
“Manufacturing is the backbone of the Irish economy. IIoT is going to change manufacturing and Ireland is well positioned to take advantage of this trend.
“Smart manufacturing is adding intelligence to enable real-time decision-making, improve the quality of the process and reduce maintenance. This creates self-aware manufacturing systems.”
Quinn said that when it comes to smart manufacturing readiness, Ireland is among the most advanced in the world. He pointed to a recent Roland Berger report, which showed that in Europe, only Germany had a slightly higher manufacturing share (percentage of GDP) than Ireland and a higher readiness level. Switzerland has the highest readiness level and a manufacturing share comparable to Austria.
The report indicated that to assume a leading role in ‘Industry 4.0’, Europe will have to invest €90bn a year over the next 15 years.
“The opportunity is there to keep Ireland at the forefront of manufacturing, and IIoT will be pivotal in terms of sustaining jobs, improving the productivity and competitiveness of manufacturing, as well as attracting new opportunities.
“Smart manufacturing through IIoT positions Ireland at the crest of a wave. The Luddites and weavers became more productive once they automated the looms, going from manual weaving to increased productivity and, in turn, more employment.
“Because of the global opportunity around IIoT, Ireland can lead and sustain jobs by reskilling and identifying new opportunities around services,” said Quinn.
Already, AI and IIoT are creeping into the workplace in Ireland in various, unexpected ways, resulting in new business models for established companies.
‘It is not just the data that is valuable but entire new industries that are springing up around the data’
– NICOLA MORTIMER
Nicola Mortimer, head of business products, marketing and operations at Three Ireland explained: “IIoT is enabling businesses to be proactive rather than reactive. Information coming from the sensors is fuelling new opportunities.”
Mortimer cited TireCheck, an Ennis-based software company that is using IIoT sensors to help truck firms achieve greater efficiency by monitoring the condition of vehicles, from individual vehicles to an entire fleet.
“It is not just the data that is valuable but entire new industries that are springing up around the data,” she said.
According to ComReg, 12pc of mobile connections in Ireland are M2M-based and Three is responsible for 50.1pc of that figure. Three CTO David Hennessy recently confirmed that the company will be deploying NB-IoT in the coming year.
Mortimer said that Three is gearing up for a wave of industrial digital transformation, and is establishing partnerships with players such as Cisco-owned Jasper to create an ecosystem to help businesses cope with IIoT.
“The key thing for us is working with the partner ecosystem to help businesses, from start-ups to established companies, embark on the innovation journey. We can also access resources from our parent [company CK Hutchison Holdings], such as IIoT management platforms. IIoT is definitely a global play that helps businesses transform.”
Data is king
One example of an IIoT player growing fast in Ireland is Johnson Controls. Following a 2016 merger with Irish security systems company Tyco, Johnson Controls – a leader in the building technology space in energy, HVAC, fire and security – moved its global HQ to Cork. The company also leverages IoT to deliver intelligent buildings, efficient energy solutions, integrated infrastructure and next-generation transportation systems that work seamlessly together to deliver on the promise of smart cities.
‘To me, it is an exciting time to be in IIoT because of the amount of compute that is becoming available at the edge’
– DONAL SULLIVAN
Country manager Donal Sullivan agreed that the key here is greater levels of efficiency through data. “Smart buildings and smart cities are our core business,” he said.
“Our Cork operation is primarily focused on engineering and innovation and, increasingly, our work is becoming like software engineering. Cybersecurity is also becoming more important.”
Sullivan added that the magic of IIoT is efficiency and knowledge.
“50pc of the running cost of a building is heating and cooling. Our challenge is to deploy the smart sensors and the intelligence to enable building owners and maintenance firms to use sensor arrays to detect people’s movements and pinpoint optimal comfort levels and never waste energy. This requires sensors, software platforms and data analysis. It is relatively easy to deploy in a brand new building but in reality, we are working with buildings that can be 30 or 40 years old. This requires different sensor layers that can gather the intelligence, compute, calculate and deliver a level of precision around heat and light.
“To me, it is an exciting time to be in IIoT because of the amount of compute that is becoming available at the edge.
“These new levels of functionality add to the asset value and reduce the operating costs.
“If you look at the overriding trends in the world, such as growing populations and increased urbanisation, you need to minimise the impact on the world’s resources and provide comfort at the lowest cost. Inexorably, the promise of IIoT is integral to that.”
Efficiency at scale
Two years ago, mobile operator Vodafone joined forces with EMC (now owned by Dell) to invest €2m in an IIoT testbed to enable businesses to test potential IoT deployments.
Lauren Morris, IoT country manager for Ireland and the Nordics at Vodafone, explained that interest in IoT among business leaders is at an all-time high.
She cited Vodafone’s latest IoT Barometer, which showed that 63pc of businesses expect to have live IoT projects within a year, and that businesses now spend 24pc of their IT budget on IoT, ahead of mobile, cloud and analytics.
“The key word here is ‘efficiency’. As well as automating the supply line, 42pc of customers save money and gain efficiency by monitoring the assets in their supply line; for example, in the case of carmakers, the process of moving a car from manufacturing to the showroom.
“There is a huge focus on asset management, reducing system downtime and ensuring that heavy plant machinery and equipment is always optimised.
“Our studies show that businesses are seeing a 20pc improvement in cost management after enabling IIoT.”
Vodafone is working on IIoT in Ireland with agriculture equipment maker Keenan. “They are focusing on ensuring that agribusinesses can operate in a very precise way to optimise food production and ensure the best possible milk and beef output.”
Globally, Vodafone is also working with lift company Kone. “IIoT enables them to know in advance if something is about to go wrong with their lifts or travelators, and proactively prevent downtime.”
Morris said that Vodafone is planning to commercially launch NB-IoT in Ireland this summer. “The key difference that NB-IoT will bring is that it will connect assets that were previously hard to reach such as underground.
“Companies like Ryanair and Sisk rely on IIoT to support their growth by ensuring high availability of critical assets.
“IIoT is very much a part of the Gigabit Society, and will be key to businesses being efficient and taking the cost out of their business.”
As the march of the machines continues, proponents of IIoT believe that the opportunities to come from data will create new jobs, not take them away.
“IIoT is about producing more things – better things – and more cost-effectively,” said Brian Quinn.
“Look at the amount of data tech jobs that exist today as distinct from 10 years ago. Data analytics and data science as an industry didn’t exist before. The jobs are moving up the stack and becoming more challenging for humans.
“The industrial internet of things is at the heart of this.”
Updated, 4.32pm, 23 March 2017: This article was amended to clarify that CK Hutchison Holdings is the parent company of Three.