Building infrastructure for a smarter world at the Industrial Automation Conference

October 28, 2014

The IHS Industrial Automation Conference held in London in October 2014 demonstrated how the Internet of Things (IoT), smart factories, and the Indust...

The IHS Industrial Automation Conference held in London in October 2014 demonstrated how the Internet of Things (IoT), smart factories, and the Industrial IoT (IIoT) are creating smarter systems, factories, and cities.

Building on the success of last year’s inaugural IHS Industrial Automation Conference, the follow-up on 23-24 October, 2014 was held at the very site of King Henry VIII’s private bed chamber within what was historically Whitehall Palace, today directly opposite 10 Downing Street, a prestigious location for a prestigious event.

Split over two days, distinguished speakers from world-renowned industry behemoths waxed lyrical their vision of our connected future – made possible with exponentially increased embedded connectivity, including, but not restricted to, the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT is but a small part of this revolution, and revolution is what it is – so much so it has been coined the 4th Industrial Revolution, or “Industrie 4.0″. In the embedded arena you may well find terms such as “smart factory” and “advanced manufacturing” used in its place, and you will also increasingly hear “IIoT”, or Industrial IoT.

To demonstrate the growth potential of this emerging application for embedded technology, it was quoted that this year $336 billion expenditure was attributed to “IT for manufacturing” with an expectation to rise by 8 percent year on year to $480 billion by 2019.

We must overcome significant hurdles to reach this universally connected future. Interestingly climbing from 13th place to 3rd place in a recent survey by Lloyds is “cyber security”, which I detailed in an earlier article, specifically from protecting the ever-growing cloud to which 12 billion IoT devices are currently connected and is expected to rise to 50 billion by 2019.

What are these connected future visions and how far are we away from them?

The possibilities augmented reality offers were detailed in a video clip demonstrating a field engineer instantly informed of a stadium floodlight failure and automatically routed to the site via HUD satellite navigation. Once on foot, smart glasses using a 3D cloud map directed him to the faulty equipment, providing security clearances en route. Augmented reality provided a 3D representation of the faulty part and instant augmented and video chat instructions on how to resolve the issue – though of the audience surveyed, a mere two believed we are less than 5 years away from realization.

The integrated future factory floor itself excited many speakers, postulating a vision of connected machinery self-diagnosing faults and arranging even preventative servicing. Enchantingly for a conference pushing autonomous manufacturing, the human element wasn’t forgotten; in fact I was privileged to hear Toyota’s latest drive – if you’ll pardon the pun. Their philosophy dictates that a machine operator is considered a surgeon and recognize that virtualized top down manufacturing management without real world application experience isn’t best practice. They are introducing an intelligent operator feedback loop to drive improvement from the bottom level up.

Now, we talked about future visions and projections, but where is IIoT really making a difference today?

The beautiful European city of Barcelona has an equally beautiful tale, incepted from a traffic survey that discovered 40 percent of the city center traffic was simply looking for a parking space. Introducing smart parking with dynamic pricing not only reduced congestion, but naturally increased revenue – for the citizen it meant a live prediction of journey times to better plan their trip.

Buoyed by its “smart” success, this additional revenue was re-invested in smart lighting; this not only reduced energy but reduced crime by 30 percent in areas previously considered to have insufficient footfall to warrant lighting expenditure.

Consequently footfall to local stores and property prices increased, thus increasing property taxation and revenue to the government, which used this bigger purse to improve local services. They have also piggybacked onto the smart lighting network to provide their citizens with free Wi-Fi!

Individualized manufacturing was also a key feature, though equally a key challenge – autonomy of course works best when all things are equal! The ability for a consumer to specify customizations to a product and a manufacturing line autonomously produce it is an exciting one. Today a leading chocolate company employs this technology to custom build your own bar, selecting percentages of key ingredients – a similar service is offered by a muesli manufacturer.

Today we have the privilege of seeing but a few examples of the potential that can be unlocked with the connected future, what’s perhaps even more exciting is those we can’t even yet imagine…

Rory Dear, European Editor/Technical Contributor