Industrial IoT: Speaking the same (connected) language

The internet of things isn’t an entirely new concept. Long before smart fridges and Amazon Alexa began dominating conversations, connected devices were augmenting human experiences in industrial settings. For decades, embedded systems using proprietary frameworks and protocols have provided the ability for previously “dumb” devices to share operational attributes and statistics. Aircraft manufacturers, for instance, have used this technology within aircraft engines to determine when an aircraft needed preventative care. Engines would signal when the threshold of takeoff and landing cycles was reached and maintenance was required.

As technology has evolved, connected devices and communication have become pervasive, yet must still coexist with legacy systems. In manufacturing and other industrial settings, we often see a modernization of older technology — a cohabitation of new and old. All over the world, there are factories running totally viable, essential machinery that was built 50 to 100 years ago, yet this equipment is being monitored by new connected sensors developed in the past few years. These systems send predictive analytics to the plant owners, notifying them that a part or tool is overheating or may be running slower than it should be, indicating a repair needs to take place or that a new part needs to be ordered soon. In this way, modern IoT capabilities are helping maintain the longevity of the older machines, enabling plant operators to be more efficient in their use of the machines, and improving safety conditions for both workers and end users.

These connections are invaluable when it comes to safety and oversight. When it comes to the automotive industry, today’s connected vehicles provide auto manufacturers with a new level of data when it comes to recalls and part issues. Snapshot data can be pulled from the vehicle regarding what was happening in the system at the date and time of an event and used that to reveal anomalies. That provides a much richer context about that specific engine that was produced, and it can be compared to the data from the millions of other engines they’ve made over the years. Analyzing this information can reveal interesting trends and identify opportunities to improve quality, such as the durability of parts down to the mile.

While industrial IoT brings with it incredible opportunities for quality control and improvement, one area that still needs to be addressed is the standardization of connected devices. The ability to access the data on each individual machine or device is helpful, but the ability to have these machines communicate with one another and report back to those monitoring them is where the real value is found.

The idea of standardizing communication among connected systems isn’t new. There have been numerous protocols that existed for years under the guise of embedded networking — Zigbee and CAN-BUS being two. None of these networks were ever as pervasive as the internet of things, however, and they were largely proprietary to each company or device. The proliferation of IoT provides an opportunity to broadcast specific operational information about machinery, equipment and other resources that may have not been as widely connected. The ability of these systems to talk to one another in this way — providing contextual information and reporting issues — will be paramount to the success of IoT. For example, a sensor in a farm that indicates a drop in temperature and increase in humidity may indicate to the connected sprinkler system that a scheduled afternoon watering may not be needed because of impending rain, and alert a monitoring system of that.

To fully realize the benefits of industrial IoT, we will need a protocol around how devices talk to one another. One possible approach takes a page from the DNS playbook in standardizing naming conventions. In our factory example, the IPv6 address of a sensor or actuator in a piece of machinery would have a human-friendly name that is specific to that network — essentially taking the DNS paradigm and topology that is found within corporate IT networks interacting with the internet at large. Naming these connected “things” on the same network enables them to recognize and communicate with one another. Internal DNS, therefore, will also play a monumental role in managing the naming and access to these connected resources as we move to a fully connected world.

With billions of devices coming on in the next few years, having the naming structure in place to accommodate the eventual shift toward IPv6 addressing will be paramount to the success of all parts of the internet, regardless of size or significance of a connected device. As it stands today, businesses are accustomed to the domain name system as the gateway to all connected devices and services on the internet. The advent and expansion of IoT in all forms will merely add to the number of the devices that can be addressed in this fashion. While the Internet Engineering Task Force and The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number will ultimately have the last say, DNS will play a vital role in these systems, as it does today, on an even larger scale.

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