For the June handbook feature Smart Technology: It’s closer than you think, Fluid Power World asked several industry professionals for their opinions on how the Internet of Things (IoT) is affecting the industry and how their companies are incorporating this technology into their businesses. As a continuation of that article, here’s the full Q&A with Ben Hoxie, manager, Engineering Centers of Excellence, and Alex Edwards, manager, Software, Electronics and Controls Center of Excellence, Eaton Hydraulics.
FPW: Is your company actively researching IoT? Why or why not?
Ben Hoxie: Eaton currently has products participating in the Internet of Things, and our Electrical Sector and Hydraulics Group engineers are actively looking at integrating the IoT across more products. The IoT is an important trend across many industries, including hydraulics, helping end users, manufacturers and engineers optimize component design and use. By capturing data that exists within components and systems and making it available, we can create not only information, but actionable knowledge—from when a hose will fail to how a pump can be run more efficiently.
FPW: Has your company developed any products, either for in-house use or distribution, that implement IoT?
Alex Edwards: Eaton’s LifeSense Hydraulic Hose Condition Monitoring system is a great example of an IoT-enabled product. Unexpected hose failure can wreak havoc on our customers’ operations. Consisting of a hose diagnostic unit (HDU), sensor, hose and web portal, LifeSense monitoring is available in a wireless configuration that electronically monitors the length of the hose assembly, keeping track of data in real time and interpreting the health of each assembly. In addition to transmitting operational data to a secure portal, the system will warn a user of impending hose failure immediately, providing time to repair or replace the hose before it fails.
By connecting a relatively basic hydraulic component—the hose—to the IoT, we have helped customers realize up to 50% more hose life, cutting back on wasteful preventative maintenance practices and keeping assets up and running.
FPW: What about “Big Data” and cloud-based software? What role do those play in your company, if any?
Hoxie: As historically “dumb” components become “smart,” the amount of data available is growing exponentially. Gathering and analyzing that data is changing how companies deliver information.
We recently launched our PowerSource tool as an open platform, available to anyone looking to learn about hydraulic products—with immediate access to information, customers can make well-informed decisions much more rapidly.
As software for machine control continues to develop, engineers are actively researching how future iterations of these products may be delivered through the cloud. With data available in the cloud, information can be better tracked and used, giving customers access to needed information, as well as providing companies insight to how customers are using products, allowing for innovative solutions designed based on real customer use.
FPW: Are certain components better suited or more compatible with IoT?
Hoxie: Components that are naturally more sensing, such as control elements, may be best suited to IoT connection. However, components that have not historically seen controls—such as hoses—can now be tied in and provide significant value. Where an IoT connection can provide value to an end user, components will become compatible.
Edwards: IoT enabling also looks different in industrial versus mobile hydraulic applications. In industrial equipment, the end goal is typically automation, and IoT becomes most important for simplifying configuration. In mobile applications, enabling IoT helps continuously look for component efficiencies as well as actionable items to make machine operators more productive.
FPW: What areas of fluid power are you currently seeing the most significant changes from integrating IoT?
Hoxie: The IoT is a new label on a continuum of change that has been happening over the past decade. This has been prevalent in large fleets of mobile equipment. The data mining capabilities of the IoT are helping fleet managers remotely manage equipment and spot problems before they occur.
Edwards: The IoT is also growing rapidly on the industrial side. The continuum of data becoming information and information becoming knowledge can help end users; knowing the energy consumption of an industrial machine, for example, can help customers make design changes to maximize efficiency.
FPW: What do you think are the advantages of integrating IoT? Are there any disadvantages?
Hoxie: There are huge advantages in having information—vast quantities of data, in fact—at your fingertips. Machine designers, engineers, manufacturers and end users know more than ever about how machines are operating. Data for the sake of data can be overwhelming, though, and customers need to know how to use that data to realize value from integrating the IoT. There are risks when adding complexity and cost to components, but the key is adding it where it will be valuable without distracting from what is important.
Edwards: There are also real and perceived concerns over the security of products, which customers can mitigate by ensuring that security measures are taken as integration occurs.
Finally, training is key to getting the most out of an IoT integration. Technology is expanding rapidly, and it is important to train staff to handle the increase of software and electronics on these products, and the data and analytics they provide. This will allow customers to take true advantage of the opportunities the IoT offers.
FPW: What aspect or prediction (for lack of a better word) about IoT do you think is overblown by the media?
Hoxie: The IoT may not be as overblown as some think. It is a significant, long-term trend, one which we may not fully understand the impact of until we are using the next generation of hydraulic products and components.
FPW: How do you foresee IoT affecting fluid power by the end of 2016? In 10 years?
Hoxie: Fluid power is typically a slowly changing market, so the changes the IoT makes may not feel sudden and dramatic, but rather steady and continuous. As adoption of intelligence continues to grow, we may begin to see vastly different machine architectures, as wireless communications and distributed intelligence become the norm. Through steady changes, hydraulics will continue to play a prevalent role in providing high power density to industrial and mobile applications.
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