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Five IIoT companies prove value of internet-connected manufacturing

Five leading companies show that slowly, but surely, global manufacturers are making strides in industrial IoT, enjoying benefits from process improvements to cost savings.

The latest barrage of hype around the internet of things and industrial IoT comes from Accenture, which recently released a study estimating the economic value created by IIoT to reach $15 trillion globally by 2030.

But Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said there is reality behind the hype, and when it comes to IIoT, companies are serious, because they want to reduce costs and downtime and improve the customer experience.

"What companies are hoping for is that they can get to a higher level where they have an opportunity to rethink their products," Gillett explained. It's not enough to just put sensors on a new compressor, Gillett added, a company can really make a difference when it changes the way it markets that compressor and offers customers a pay-for-usage model based on the data its new analytics systems generate.

Richard Mark Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, based in Needham, Mass., added that IIoT companies hold great promise for the United States, which has seen its manufacturing base shrink considerably since the 1980s. "We can bring a lot of that industry back," Soley said.

Whether it's 3M deploying water filtration systems that automatically order replacement parts, or Honeywell's efforts to redesign processes so oil refineries save on downtime, companies are making real headway with IIoT.

Schneider Electric

Global manufacturer looks to make producers more efficient via analytics and modernizing the factory floor.

Greg Conary, senior vice president of strategy, Schneider ElectricGreg Conary

Greg Conary, senior vice president of strategy for France-based Schneider Electric's industry business unit, said the benefits of digitization IIoT companies and large global manufacturers can enjoy fall into one of three areas: smart manufacturing, asset performance management and augmented operators.

By having sharper analytics on plant utilization, Conary said, manufacturers can make better decisions on which plants to ramp up and which ones to pull back on.

"In the past, we did data mining after the fact, usually after the product left the factory," Conary said. "Today, we can have real-time analytics on the status of plants, which lets us respond faster to opportunities in the marketplace as they arise, as well as contributing to product quality and asset availability."

In one example of asset performance, Schneider Electric can provide IoT-enabled process drives that can monitor the performance of a pump.

"So, basically, the internet-enabled drive provides an intelligent digital wrapper to a nondigital piece of hardware," Conary explained. "Typically, pumps are not smart in and of themselves, but when they are connected to a digital drive, they become more intelligent."

Schneider Electric also focuses on augmenting operators. Conary said roughly half of the refinery workers in the U.S. will retire in the next five to seven years, and Schneider Electric has been exploring tablet-based applications to train younger generations. The tablets offer a way for plant workers to access process information, equipment health, technical manuals and any important information the site staff wants to make available to the operator.

"Engineers will be able to read the manual, process data, read or add notes and check the status of each device in the plant," Conary explained. "Just reading the manuals on the tablet is a big deal, because research shows that in a 10-hour shift, maintenance workers only spend 2.5 of those hours actually working on the equipment; the rest of the time is spent driving to and from the site and hunting down manuals."

Current, powered by GE

New IIoT company looks to use analytics to manage energy more efficiently.

Formed in October 2015, Current, powered by GE, has been proactive in trying to bring industrial IoT products to retailers, manufacturing plants, buildings, cities and the smart grid.

CTO Dave Bartlett said Current integrates GE's solar renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations and LED fixtures businesses into one company.

Dave Bartlett, CTO, Current, powered by GEDave Bartlett

Recent additions include the acquisition of Daintree Networks, which gives Current a building automation platform, and a relationship with Tridium, the company that markets IoT software. Bartlett said Current plans to integrate Tridium's Niagara Framework with GE's Predix to more effectively analyze machine data across commercial and industrial buildings. He added that a lot of the early action with Current revolves around its intelligent LED products. The LEDs embed cameras, sensors and other digital components into street lights and lighting in buildings and industrial plants.

Simon Property Group recently used Current's intelligent LEDs to measure the effectiveness of its snow-removal efforts. The company projected better monitoring and analysis may save the company more than 20% in annual snow-removal costs. It also hopes to use data compiled from the intelligent LEDs to direct shoppers to vacant parking spaces, highlight unusual traffic patterns and alert facility teams to disabled vehicles.

Bartlett said the IIoT company has also been working closely with numerous cities around the world to deploy smart grid technology, adding that Current can now take videos of traffic flows or identify if a gunshot went off in a crime scene, as well as deliver relevant data that will let the cities more effectively manage parking spaces and control traffic.

Honeywell Process Solutions

Global producer builds on strengths in refining and process industries.

Andrew Hird, vice president and general manager, Honeywell Process SolutionsAndrew Hird

Andrew Hird, vice president and general manager of the new digital transformation unit at Houston-based Honeywell Process Solutions, asked an important question: Why do manufacturers run plants at 88% efficiency?

"Customers seem to concede that 10% to 12% of the time, the plant site will be down, but it doesn't have to be this way," Hird said. "If equipment fails, too often there's no logical way to analyze what happened because there's not enough data, and whatever data they may have is not analyzed by the right people."

Hird added that his role in the digital transformation unit will help customers consolidate data across multiple devices and sensors, conduct analytics and keep data secure in the cloud. Honeywell aims to help customers improve manufacturing processes so they can reduce downtime and stay flexible as opportunities shift around the world.

Honeywell uses a variety of tools to help manufacturers get answers to questions about downtime. Honeywell engineers gather data from sensors installed on multiple systems -- including the distributed control system, vibration monitoring and plant environment -- and then take the information to build a process model with the company's UniSim Design software.

Customers seem to concede that 10% to 12% of the time, the plant site will be down, but it doesn't have to be this way.
Andrew Hirdvice president and general manager, Honeywell Process Solutions

For example, take engineers designing a more efficient way for a catalytic cracker to literally crack large hydrocarbon molecules into smaller molecules that can later be used to make gasoline, jet fuel and petrochemical feedstock. Once the new process is designed, they use UniSim Design to simulate the process. Engineers run UniSim as an operator training system to learn how to manage the new process, and use Honeywell Intuition to monitor operations once a new process goes into production.

"In taking an IoT approach, all the sensors will feed back through the lifecycle of the product so that in a refining situation, for example, the customer will now know where that barrel of oil came from, what happened to it when it was refined and where did it go after it was refined," Hird explained. "The ultimate goal is to have production runs go more smoothly so product doesn't have to be scrapped or blended to a lower grade."


Venerable manufacturer keeps pace with IIoT companies, digitizes its products.

3M welcomes the digital world so much so that the company plans to digitize many of its nearly 50,000 products.

Liu Qiao, director of research and development, 3MLin Qiao

Liu Qiao, director of research and development for 3M's software, electronic and mechanical systems, based in St. Paul, Minn., said in one example of digitization, 3M has installed sensors on its ScaleGard Blend Series of water filtration products. ScaleGards are typically used at restaurants to purify the water for soda machines. By digitizing the water systems, the restaurant managers receive alerts on their computers or mobile phones when a part on the machine needs to be replaced. The system also automatically sends an alert to 3M channel partners, letting them know when to deliver the replacement part.

3M's Active Safety software lets plant managers track safety issues on the production line. They attach an RFID tag to each piece of personal protection equipment, so managers can keep tabs of who's wearing what device, whether they are properly trained and if the equipment is in compliance with regulations.

The manufacturer has also digitized its Utility Cable Accessories products. These intelligent cables now track the current, temperature and voltage in electrical systems, so operators can monitor the grid more effectively. The cables have a GPS device that identifies the location so that in the event of an outage, utility companies can dispatch crews much faster to fix the problem.

Bosch Software Innovations

Manufacturer's industrial IoT arm covers a lot of ground.

There's a lot going on with IIoT, and companies such as Bosch Software Innovations prove what the fuss is all about.

Dirk Slama, director of business development, Bosch Software InnovationDirk Slama

Dirk Slama, director of business development at Bosch Software Innovations, based in Berlin, Germany, said the company serves as the IoT systems partner and platform vendor for Hubject, a joint venture that includes BMW, Bosch, Daimler, Siemens, RWE and EnBW. Hubject gives drivers of electric vehicles a single contract for access to any charging station that's connected with the Hubject network throughout Europe.

Bosch also has focused projects combining IIoT software with its industrial power tools business. Bosch Rexroth developed Nexo cordless nut runners with embedded computers that can track and trace torque. Whether it's for building cars or airplanes, the software and power tools can analyze millions of tightenings, identify the correct torque level for each process and recognize any process deviations in real time. The goal: Reduce product failure caused by poor tightenings.

"If there's an out-of-bounds event where the expected deviations don't match up, the engineers have a record of the ideal setting and can compare it to the failure," Slama explained.

Another development project Bosch is working on in Germany centers on the efficiency and quality of the driving experience. With Bosch's Connected Horizon, a car can go into sailing mode about one mile ahead of a roadwork location, slowing down from 65 mph and automatically locking to 50 mph, so the car can abide by the speed limit while going through the highway construction.

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