IoT and Industrial Automation: How IoT is Being Used to Optimize Industrial Processes & Increase Productivity

IoT and Industrial Automation: How IoT is Being Used to Optimize Industrial Processes &  Increase Productivity
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The role of IoT in industrial automation is significant due to the numerous benefits and opportunities IoT provides for developing new technologies, improving processes, and increasing output. IoT enables the connection of electronic devices utilizing data plumbing on the Internet, such as IP, cloud computing, and web services. IoT devices communicate data from the field to local process control units and top-level SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) software, enabling automation at different levels. Leveraging tablet computers, smartphones, virtualized systems, and cloud storage for data also considerably impacts industrial automation.

Integration of IoT technologies in industrial automation has been slower compared to other sectors, but the representatives of industrial automation companies are now realizing the benefits. IoT is assertive for streamlining and creating effective system architectures, enhancing flexibility, and increasing manufacturing capabilities. Furthermore, IoT products simplify routine tasks in daily life and can be used in various verticals, improving business and consumer experiences.

It is difficult to consider IoT and automation separately because automation has become a tremendous driver for IoT devices providing applicable purpose to many IoT technologies. Such industrial devices as sensors, connectors, actuators, IoT gateways, interfaces, motion controllers, lightbulbs, locks, and others, are currently capable of sharing information about their condition and performance in addition to providing remote access and control opportunities. Cloud computing and advanced data analytics, together with automation IoT software, can manage these devices, and in case of new ones, they are adapted to be in charge of accommodating.

Integration of IoT in Industrial Automation

Firstly, IoT assures real-time data collection. IoT devices, represented by sensors and smart machines, for example, can collect a bulk of real-time data from numerous points in an industrial process. Secondly, the data collected by IoT devices is directed to a central system, where it undergoes analysis to derive meaningful insights. Advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms are capable of identifying patterns, trends, and anomalies. As a result, it assists in optimizing processes, predicting equipment failures, or identifying bottlenecks in production.

The important thing that IoT brings to industrial processes is optimization. Significantly, here it goes about automatic optimization, which becomes possible after deriving insights from data analysis. To clarify the procedure, a sensor can be taken which detects a decrease in the efficiency of a machine. Eventually, it assures cost savings by providing planned maintenance, avoiding unexpected downtime, and extending the life of the equipment.

IoT in industrial automation allows for another crucial function: remote monitoring and control of machinery and processes. Due to this, operators get devices enabling them to oversee operations from anywhere in the world just with the help of the Internet. As a result, flexibility is enhanced, and any issues get an immediate response.  

Best Practices in the Industrial Automation Industry

Business leaders must consider certain best practices before incorporating automation into operations. There are no stable standard rules on when and how to automate because owners and operators need to estimate the pros and cons of automation and choose what best fits their needs. Significantly, implementing automation technologies requires a sizable investment, so the return must be carefully estimated to support business expansion.

Automation integration has to enter all operational processes. The initial focus concerns minor repetitive tasks, for instance, manual data entry, yielding high volumes though significantly impacting business. Automating at least a couple of simple processes can deliver desired results and eradicate inefficiencies along the supply chain. In addition, the automation of low-value tasks can lead to reallocating human capital to other higher-value tasks.

Challenges and Risks Associated with Industrial IoT Devices

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) introduces a specific set of security challenges due to its critical applications in the manufacturing, energy, healthcare, and transportation sectors. Integrating operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) systems in IIoT environments creates unique security considerations. They start with the point that many industrial environments still rely on legacy systems lacking modern security features, which makes them susceptible to cyberattacks. Moreover, security breaches in industrial settings can have physical safety consequences for workers, assets, and the environment.

The working environment also needs to be improved to use IIoT effectively. Firstly, the necessity of IIoT devices to operate in real-time leaves limited processing power and time for complex security measures. Secondly, industrial settings can appear as harsh environments for IIoT devices due to the possibility of extreme temperatures, humidity, vibrations, and electromagnetic interference. In addition to its negative impact on overall device performance, it worsens security.

Long lifecycles make IIoT devices vulnerable to exploits for extended periods if not updated. Considering supply chain complexity, the risk of compromised components or software during manufacturing or distribution increases.

Common Vulnerabilities in Industrial IoT Technologies

IIoT devices often collect sensitive operational data, raising concerns about data privacy, storage, and regulation compliance. Inadequately secured IIoT devices can be exploited for unauthorized access to industrial networks and systems. Unauthorized access deserves separate attention. Weak authentication, unencrypted communication, and default credentials can allow attackers to gain unauthorized control over IIoT devices. Furthermore, attackers can intercept and manipulate data exchanged between IIoT devices and industrial systems, leading to data manipulation or theft. Industrial environments are also susceptible to malware infections and ransomware attacks that interfere with operations and demand ransom payments.

Considering physical access to IIoT devices, it can lead to tampering, unauthorized configuration changes, and the injection of malicious code. The opposite kind of attack is network-rooted. IIoT devices may be vulnerable to network-based attacks such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or network reconnaissance.

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive security strategy for IIoT environments, including network segmentation, strong authentication, encryption, continuous monitoring, regular patching, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and security assessments. Collaboration between IT and OT teams is essential to ensure the effective integration of security measures across the industrial IoT ecosystem.

Industrial Automation News

According to current research, total industrial cloud platform revenue in manufacturing is expected to surpass US$300 billion by 2033 with a CAGR of 22.57%. It will reach that point by means of solution providers enhancing platform operability simultaneously with expanding partner ecosystems for application development.

Outlining some of the latest news in the IIoT sector, Arrow Electronics company has officially established a new Robotics Center of Excellence (COE). Customers got an opportunity to accelerate time-to-market efforts regarding advanced automation solution developments. It particularly works for physical manufacturing sites, digital manufacturing, and other IIoT spaces.

A recent International Federation of Robotics report presented that robot and cobot (a.k.a. “collaborative robots”) density nearly doubled compared to the period from 2015 to 2021. Now it encounters more than 126 per 10,000 human employees in manufacturing. Given such an increase, the need for safely operated robotics as well as changes in their environment, has also increased.

In conclusion, IoT has a significant impact on industrial automation, enabling the development of new technologies, improving processes, and increasing productivity. It streamlines industrial systems, enhances flexibility, and provides remote access and control opportunities. The adoption of IoT in industrial automation is growing, and it is expected to play a crucial role in the future of industrial processes.