Internet of Things (IoT) technology allows you to connect legacy equipment to your network. To gain increased efficiency and automation capabilities, however, there’s more required than plugging in a sensor and pushing data to a computer. Although this approach can connect your equipment, it won’t get you much closer to the digital transformation you need to remain competitive.
Is Your Refrigerator Running?
To illustrate this point, consider the example of having data on the temperature of a refrigerator sent to your laptop. An internet search of available products will yield a variety of sensors and data acquisition modules designed specifically to monitor temperature, as well as controllers that can adjust it. You’ll be able to find devices ready for use in a refrigerated setting; they can withstand low temperatures and, because they’re built to account for changes in ambient temperature, they won’t affect the quality of the data you receive.
Getting Your Refrigerator, Your Laptop — and You — to Communicate
In addition to devising a way to collect data, you need a way to transmit it. A wired connection doesn’t make sense unless you plan to remain tethered to your refrigerator. You need to use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or some other way to communicate remotely.
You also need a way to interpret the data you collect. You could install a program on your laptop that receives, interprets, and analyzes the data, but if you’re constantly analyzing and monitoring, you may need a laptop that’s dedicated to the task. Alternately, you could push data to an IoT gateway or subscribe to an SaaS data analysis application in the cloud for processing, before having it sent to your laptop.
Don’t forget that people are also an important part of IoT systems. You need a user interface that allows you to see what’s going on with your refrigerator and intervene when necessary. Ideally, you’ll be able to access the information you need in an easy to understand and actionable format.
Manufacturing IoT Applications Aren’t Simple
It goes without saying that connecting a piece of legacy manufacturing equipment is much more complicated than monitoring the temperature of a refrigerator. A closer comparison would be to monitor temperature and humidity in different zones of the appliance, monitor the refrigerant for leakage, monitor the compressor for efficiency and signs of impending failure, automate the in-door ice maker, and install sensors on the shelves to make sure the right quantities of specific products are ready for use.
In manufacturing applications, you wouldn’t collect data on a solitary parameter, analyze it, and then send a single datum back to the equipment. Magnitudes of information on your operations, products, equipment status, and more need to be in the right format and flow multi-directionally to the cloud, to people, to other machinery, to places, and to systems.
Although hackers could exploit a vulnerability in a refrigerator-laptop scenario, security in a manufacturing IoT application is much more crucial to protect your operation, your IP, and your business. Consequently, investing in IoT will also mean investing in solutions such as access control, encryption, and intrusion detection and prevention.
Smart Investing in IoT
While the example of connecting a refrigerator to a laptop is elementary, some manufacturers have given in to the temptation to take a similar approach. These manufacturers buy a basic, $60 Edge IoT device, connect it to their equipment, and transmit data to a computer or a cloud application. Is it a low risk way to use IoT technology? Perhaps. But it’s also low value, even for a small investment.
Your goal needs to be digital transformation while gaining the advantages that you need to stay competitive. These advantages include:
- Automation for greater efficiency
- Visibility into operations and equipment status to avoid downtime
- Added layers of security to prevent breaches
- Enhanced safety for workers and to prevent equipment damage
- In short, you have to do more than answer a question on par with whether or not your refrigerator is running.
A smart approach to investing in IoT starts with the business goals you want to achieve. Then you are able to build a system that delivers the results and the return you need. Develop a comprehensive strategy that will help you extract real value from data — before you simply attach sensors to legacy equipment.
Need help getting started with an IoT implementation strategy? That’s what ADLINK is here for.