The National Fluid Power Assn. recently hosted a special webinar on the Industrial Internet of Things, and how the underlying technology relates to fluid power. In the presentation, “IoT, are we there yet?” Jeremy Drury, vice president at IoT Diagnostics, based in Cincinnati, walked attendees through the current landscape and offered a cautious but upbeat look ahead.
The state of IoT, and how it relates to fluid power, is most certainly still in flux, he began. “But I can give you some good news, even though we’re not quite there yet, I believe we can see the destination. We’re beginning to understand how it will all play out for fluid power—in a positive way.”
To date, the melding of Industrial IoT with fluid power has been chaotic with lots of headaches, he said. “But I believe that you’ll start to see in 2019 and 2020 things really shift to where people will have largely more positive experiences with the Internet of Things than negative ones.”
Drury noted that IoT is still a work in progress. Part of the reason is many organizations are missing opportunities for strong synergies that comes with a corporate vision for IoT. How will operations and maintenance personnel utilize IoT? How does it integrate into an already overtaxed IT department? Where do subject-matter experts fit in? “These are conversations that, unfortunately, I still see happening in a lot of silos that need to really open up and have more conference table conversations,” he said.
And he cautions that we may be losing the cybersecurity battles right now. “I know we’re fighting very, very hard but it seems like there are new paths to hack and infiltrate organizations arising every day, and IoT is going to be no stranger to the new inroads when it comes to cybercrime, so that still needs to have its build-out. And frankly, IoT doesn’t happen without its complimentary ecosystems like better wireless connectivity, better cellular connectivity, and better ways to manage and analyze data quickly,” he added.
On the bright side, none of these barriers are insurmountable and interest is absolutely rising, he stressed. User demand is forcing machine builders and their suppliers to plow through these obstacles. “End users want IoT. They want smarter operation, they want connected products and assets and processes. And I will tell you we learned from the B2C space that demand is a driver, and demand will continue to force us to drive as heavily into this as we move forward.”
As an example, Drury offered a vision of IoT from the standpoint of a typical reliability engineer. Currently, it’s all about corrective maintenance—reacting when a machine breaks down. But adding sensors to machines, connecting them to smart devices and integrating with IoT networks can shift operations to the realm of predictive maintenance. Taking it a step further into IoT-driven production, trusted fluid-power suppliers could join in. Connected devices become part of the IoT network to track and report performance, quality, and other critical data into a larger knowledge base. That leads to smarter assets that perform better and fail less, resulting in time and cost savings, and lets engineering focus more on value-added parts of the business.
In this context, Drury is an IoT purist. “I believe that the Internet of Things/Industry 4.0 is not possible unless there’s this open trusted network among suppliers, OEMs, and end-users to see those visions throughout.” If it’s just local machines talking back and forth within a plant, that’s Industry 3.5, he added.
Given the potential benefits all around, why has the Industrial IoT been so difficult to achieve? Drury expanded on several key roadblocks:
Disconnected connection. In the early days of the Internet a number of different search engines fought for dominance, he explained. “Now it’s pretty much just Google. Well, all the big companies right now are trying to become the Google of IoT when it comes to networks and platforms, and that means they’re not really playing nicely with each other.” This makes it difficult for end users who don’t want to deal with many different unique, custom products. “So at some point whether it’s mergers, acquisitions or a mandate for more open-source on protocols, you’ll hopefully see some shifts in that area.”
Selling ahead of delivery. With any hype cycle the marketers come out in full force, he said. However, many companies can’t clearly explain how these devices work and perform. “Make sure even though it looks good on paper, start to ask the tough questions about how to get underneath that,” he said.
Emerging pricing models. Straightforward capital purchases could be going away in the not-too-distant future. In fluid power, Drury related, machine learning and data analysis requires heaps of data. That, in turn, means lots of devices will need to be installed. “As far as capital expenditures, it’s tough to convince small to medium-sized companies to spend a quarter of a million dollars on sensors.” But a vendor might supply a thousand sensors for some fee per month that could be more palatable.
The trick of this is shifting to a pricing model based on outcomes rather than assets. If one considers uptime as a service, the vendor wants a cut. “Here’s the problem. As the IT department deals in absolutes, so does finance. It becomes really difficult to build a financial plan for a business on a floating target. Good luck trying to find CFOs that are going to run a bunch of scenarios to understand exactly what the budgets going to look like as uptime figures and different performance outcomes float throughout the year.” It could be a long time before we see a major shift.
Cloud management. “Some companies are developing their own unique cloud versus the behemoth clouds like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS. People say, ‘Well it’s going to be our cloud with our products, so we’re going to have a more intimate relationship with you, and it’s going to be more secure because it’s not big.’ Okay maybe, but imagine the amount of resources that are being poured into securing the Amazon AWS cloud. Cloud breaches are inevitable, it’s just the nature. Who do you think could address that better and faster? A smaller company with their proprietary cloud or a big company like AWS that has infinite resources in order to manage and mitigate any sort of breach responses?” Drury asked.
Lack of trust. For fluid power companies looking for IoT partners, it’s essential to find out what fits best for them. “There’s been an understandable lack of trust when trying to find the right platform partner because there are almost 800 IoT platform providers in the market right now. That’s a lot to choose from and sort through, and there’s just bad advice coming from many third-party platform providers.” He cites one provider planning to do firmware updates through thumb drives. “I’m sorry, but no IT manager is going to have anyone walk through their plant with a thumb drive pushing it and pulling it out of a bunch of assets, that’s just not going to happen. That’s a really bad picture for IoT providers.”
Do it yourself. “So ultimately what we’re finding is that a lot of companies just want to do it themselves due to data concerns or security concerns and fears, and that’s a big problem. We find time and time again they miss the bigger ecosystem that is working behind the scenes for IoT.” They build out their system, do it well, only to find out that that some supporting architecture that they were unaware of has changed, and then all the time, effort and money spent building their own IoT platform no longer works or doesn’t work as it should.
Beyond these roadblocks, Drury offered some timely advice on how to build and take advantage of an IoT system. We’ll address that in an upcoming blog.