What Is IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things)?

Has your company tasked you with driving more efficient, digitized operations, and you're unsure where to start?

Maintenance managers across industries are turning to IIoT technology as a practical solution—connecting industrial equipment to the Internet.

In this guide, you'll discover all you need to know about IIoT—including how it works, common challenges, and how to secure it—so you can maximize efficiency and revenue in your company.

What Is IIoT?

IIoT, or the industrial Internet of things, is the network of devices a company uses to enhance manufacturing processes in industrial applications. The goal of IIoT is to enable enterprises to monitor and maintain their assets more effectively.

There are many benefits to IIoT, but at a high level, it helps companies integrate systems for better process and task automation, increase visibility into logistics and supply chain functions, and streamline maintenance operations

Additionally, IIoT has become a critical driver of two movements:

  1. Digital transformation: As more industrial enterprises adopt digital technology and rely on big data analytics—advanced analytical techniques on extensive and diverse data sets—IIoT has become essential to achieving goals. 
  2. Industry 4.0: The fourth iteration of the industrial revolution focuses on cyber-physical systems (CPS) and sophisticated communication systems that enable greater machine autonomy. When an organization implements IIoT correctly, it can support Industry 4.0 initiatives and increase reliability, uptime, and profit margins. 

IIoT can have an immensely positive impact on industrial applications. To receive those advantages, it's essential to understand how it works.

How IIoT Works

Several components make up an IIoT ecosystem, and each plays a specific role in the broader objective of monitoring, capturing, exchanging, and analyzing data:

  • Connected devices: A connected device is a physical object that can connect with other equipment and systems via the Internet. These devices use industrial IoT sensors to provide real-time maintenance data on equipment. Coupled with machine learning (ML), IIoT sensors take traditional machine-to-machine (M2M) communication a step further by developing insights from vast amounts of data to improve performance. 

  • Data communications infrastructure: This component includes the technology, products, and network connections that transmit sensor-captured data to IIoT platforms. 

  • Analytics: IIoT platforms have applications that use sensor-captured data to generate insights or analytics across different devices. Analytics can identify patterns and trends, make specific suggestions, and detect issues before they become more significant problems or failures. 

  • Data storage: IIoT devices generate massive amounts of data, which maintenance teams need to store and access. Some organizations store this data in on-premises servers, while others prefer more flexible cloud storage solutions. 

  • Machine operators: A healthy IIoT ecosystem relies on the people who manage the machines and devices—typically machine operators—to make data-driven business decisions based on IIoT insights. 

Modern enterprises are beginning to adopt IIoT technologies to improve their predictive maintenance programs—the practice of monitoring asset conditions through sensor devices. 

However, IIoT technology is quickly evolving, and implementing an effective ecosystem can have its obstacles.

Challenges of Industrial IoT

When implementing IIoT devices, there are a few typical challenges you might encounter:

Proper Integration

Every new or emerging technology must be able to communicate and work with the world in which it functions. IIoT is no different. 

Poor integration means subpar (or even problematic) data collection and analysis, hindering visibility and rendering the ecosystem useless. 

It's, therefore, essential to ensure your devices connect correctly to one another, the Internet, and across critical systems.

Effective Patch Management

Patch management involves identifying, acquiring, testing, and installing patches or code changes—often fixing bugs, closing security holes, or adding features. 

Without proper patch management processes, maintenance teams can easily miss periodic updates and disrupt operations in an IIoT environment.

Robust Cyber Security

The most significant challenge of IIoT is cyber security. Only about one-third of industrial companies have started to address the risk of cyber attacks with security professionals and experts. 

Here are a few typical cyber security risks in IIoT systems:

  • Exposed or open ports: While connected devices require specific ports to be open to function properly, malicious actors can exploit these ports via code vulnerabilities. Without the right tools for identifying open ports that may expose them to serious cyber security risks, organizations can’t ensure a secure IIoT implementation.
  • Inadequate authentication practices: M2M communication within an IIoT ecosystem requires authentication—determining if a device has the proper credentials for access. Unfortunately, many enterprises still use basic username/password authentication methods, which are highly susceptible to attacks, rather than more robust practices. 
  • Obsolete applications: If an organization doesn’t have the right tools to identify, update, or retire outdated applications, attackers can more easily exploit vulnerabilities. This risk also applies to businesses that don’t have an efficient patch management program for strengthening their operating systems, firmware, and applications. 

As with any implementation, understanding the challenges is half the battle. While these obstacles are notable, organizations can overcome them using the right processes and tools for support. 

How to Secure IIoT

Operational efficiency and reliability might be two of the most coveted objectives of an IIoT implementation, but it's essential to prioritize and invest in cyber security measures first. Doing so can help you mitigate performance challenges and get the most out of your IIoT devices.

To ensure IIoT technology is secure, enterprises should use these four critical best practices:

  1. Create secure execution spaces: Maintenance teams can protect the integrity and confidentiality of data by creating secure execution environments. This approach will help block unauthorized users or entities from modifying data and applications.
  2. Encrypt sensitive data: To meet encryption standards, organizations should ensure every system interaction undergoes specific cryptology protocols before it occurs. Encrypt all sensitive data (and especially external data exchanges). 
  3. Limit access to data: Encryption and virtual private network (VPN) tunnels can help your organization restrict access to data, which helps protect against disruption and destruction from cyberattacks.
  4. Authenticate sensor data: Each sensor should have a unique, easily authenticated identity, which allows analytics systems to identify missing and inauthentic sensors. 

When properly secured, an IIoT ecosystem can operate like a well-oiled machine and help your maintenance team make meaningful improvements that streamline broader business operations. 

Benefits of IIoT

While getting it right requires some significant planning and forethought, an IIoT implementation can benefit an enterprise in several key ways:

Enable Predictive Maintenance

IIoT devices help you predict when a piece of machinery will need maintenance—then conduct that maintenance before it becomes a more significant, costly issue.

Let's say, for example, that a coal preparation plant relies on a centrifugal pump motor as part of its day-to-day operations. The plant's maintenance team uses predictive maintenance technology (in this case, a vibration meter attached close to the pump's inner bearing) to establish a standard baseline measurement. 

Six months later, the vibration meter detects a spike in acceleration. The maintenance team reviews this data from a remote location, then schedules an inspection. The assessment technician finds a loose ball bearing and immediately replaces it. 

The maintenance team then connects the vibration meter to their computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), so if and when they identify the same spike, they can predict a ball bearing fault and their CMMS instantly triggers a work order. The result is a more efficient, productive, and reliable maintenance operation better prepared to keep assets up and running. 

Improve Field Service Efficiency

With IIoT, field service technicians gain direct, instant access to machines in the field. This easy access has several advantages:

  • Improves fault analysis
  • Provides accurate operator usage insights
  • Enables remote troubleshooting
  • Allows for faster identification of trend and opportunity gaps to improve field service operations

For instance, IIoT-connected machines in the field collect data, which an operator can analyze through their CMMS's dashboards. Over time, patterns and trends occur in the data, and the operator can receive notifications of failures or anomalies before they become more extensive issues. 

Reduce Costs

In a study that looked at 1,600 IIoT projects, researchers found that the primary value driver for most IoT implementations (54%) is cost savings. A successful IIoT enterprise project can unlock insights that help an organization improve productivity and output without accumulating excess costs. 

In addition to reducing operational friction that can otherwise become costly in time and resources, IIoT can help you lower costs associated with expensive equipment repairs and asset replacements. You can quickly identify and alleviate issues to ensure optimal functionality and avoid unplanned downtime. 

Which Industries Use IIoT?

With the benefits being rather compelling, it’s no wonder organizations across many industries use IIoT. The most common users include manufacturing, agriculture, and government and public works:

  • Manufacturing: For manufacturing organizations, connected monitoring and analytics across plants, equipment, and lines help them measure current performance and improve future outcomes. IIoT enables them to optimize factories for increased efficiency, production, and operational success. 
  • Agriculture: IIoT helps farm equipment manufacturers and users boost their efficiency. For farmers, IIoT devices can collect data about soil nutrients, moisture, and more, enabling them to produce an optimal crop.
  • Government: In addition to private business adoption, governments have also started using IIoT. They’ve implemented smart grids to relieve some of the stress that peak hours typically have on power grids, improve parking and traffic management, enhance air quality monitoring, and optimize waste collection. 

Any organization that uses or maintains equipment can use IIoT sensors regardless of industry. While they require up-front costs, a successful implementation can be well worth the investment in the long run.

IIoT vs. IoT

Though the two terms are certainly related, it’s essential to address the differences between IIoT and IoT

The internet of things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, objects, animals, or people that can transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. In your home, these items might include connected appliances, smart home security systems, or a fitness tracker. 

IIoT, on the other hand, falls under the IoT umbrella but applies explicitly to industrial settings, which can be more high-risk. System failures and downtime in IIoT deployments can result in life-threatening situations. 

As IIoT continues to evolve, so do the applications and parts of the industrial process the technology touches. 

The Industrial Internet of Things in Action

To gain a complete picture of how IIoT works, it's helpful to explore real-life examples of it in action:

  • HMSHost: As a leader in airport and travel dining, HMSHost needed a fast, efficient, and effective way to maintain its facilities. With IIoT sensors, they achieved a more predictive maintenance process that kept their facility healthy and safe without the need for excess resources and expenses.  
  • Icon Entertainment: Large production company Icon Entertainment realized it needed better work order management and streamlined communication in the face of COVID-19. The organization (which runs several high-end restaurants) used IIoT sensors to submit, track, perform, store, and analyze work orders quickly for better decision-making and a more efficient operation.
  • FMLY: For years, real estate developer FMLY used low-cost, band-aid solutions to resolve maintenance issues. They didn’t have the data they needed to pinpoint root causes and therefore took a shot in the dark every time a piece of equipment started acting up. With IIoT sensors, their technicians could correctly resolve problems and accurately understand maintenance issues. 

As you can see, companies across industries with unique challenges, goals, and limitations use IIoT devices to connect their asset and equipment data in a secure place. 

Use IIoT Technology for a Smarter Operation

Getting the most out of your business's equipment requires operational efficiency and asset visibility. But traditional inspection and maintenance processes, disparate systems, and near-constant requests across various channels can hinder your team's productivity and performance. 

That's where IIoT technology can help, allowing you to achieve streamlined operations based on real-time data. 

If you lead maintenance teams in an industrial facility, consider IIoT sensors as a solution for improving reliability, uptime, and long-term profit margins. 

Discover everything you need to know about IIoT sensors by reading Industrial IoT Sensors: What Are They and Which Businesses Use Them.

Want to keep reading?

Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance is a type of condition-based maintenance that monitors the condition of assets through sensor devices.
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What industries can use IIoT sensors?

Any industry that uses or maintains equipment can make use of IIoT sensors. A few of them include agriculture, manufacturing, and retail.
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IoT use Cases (Internet of Things) for Commercial and Industrial Business

Internet of Things technology is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout homes and businesses alike in numerous applications.
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