There is no doubt that the next generation of manufacturing will be driven by connectivity on a scale that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago.

Today’s manufacturers are beginning to leverage the industrial internet of things (IIoT) by embedding physical objects with the capacity to communicate with and sense the world around them. This is opening up new possibilities for safety, productivity, organisational responsiveness and, ultimately, profitability.

Building on the consumer model of the internet of things (IoT), companies like Honeywell are able to help industrial customers solve problems that were previously thought to be unsolvable. Technological developments have led to connectivity between people, sensors, controllers and devices that not only gather critical operational data, but analyse that data for better visibility into current operations. Using advanced predictive analytics, companies that have a deep domain knowledge of the industry can better reduce, or even eliminate, unplanned plant downtime.

Make no mistake, the IIoT is not so much about the amount of data that is being generated — there is already an enormous amount of data available to manufacturers. Rather, the true value of the IIoT is its ability to analyse data, and deliver meaningful information where and when it is needed most. The network is the delivery mechanism, channelled by an army of sensors and mobile devices that combine to offer control room operators new perspectives on the way a plant is run, improving safety and efficiency, and sometimes uncovering new revenue streams.

There are many definitions as to what the IIoT actually stands for, but the driving philosophy behind it is that smart technology is more effective than humans at accurately and consistently capturing, and communicating data. This data can enable companies to pick up on inefficiencies and problems sooner, saving time and money, improving safety and supporting business intelligence efforts.

Connecting the Middle East

In the Middle East, the IIoT is of particular significance due to the sheer number of oil and gas and petrochemical players across the region. At a time when we’re experiencing low oil prices, it’s more important than ever to be connected and efficient. In such a turbulent market, the IIoT could be the difference between success and failure.

In real terms, IIoT is an offshore oil and gas customer in the Gulf, who now monitors all its assets, connecting their people with real-time data using predictive analytics for problem diagnosis, giving them a total saving of $30 million per year.

The IIoT can also have a major impact beyond oil and gas. For example, a mining company that now optimises its operations in real time by connecting multiple plants to each other and their mine, is saving a massive $2 million a day. And a refining company that now connects data for better analytics and accurate KPIs can see savings of $4 million dollars, per site, per year. The saving potential that the IIoT brings is certainly not to be snubbed at.

A safe IIoT environment

Security of IIoT-based systems is of paramount importance not just from a safety perspective, but also in cases of the production of essential and strategically important goods and services. Think about it this way, if a plant breaks down for even an hour, millions of dollars could be lost, and beyond an hour, the monetary value lost is incomprehensive.

This results in more stringent security, reliability, availability requirements and the ability to continue operation with intermittent access to internet resources. When failures do occur, the system must continue operations where possible or degrade gracefully, deterministically, and safely.

All just hype?

While there may be a lot of hype about the IIoT today, there is no doubt that it is bringing real value to the process industries.

The emergence of the IIoT represents a digital transformation of manufacturing that shifts the source of competitive advantage away from physical machinery and towards information. As the pressures on manufacturers grow, the way in which data moves between people, and between devices, is increasingly creating the most value.

A productive operation relies on employees receiving the best available information in a way that is meaningful to them. The more relevant and timely the information, the more empowering it is, enabling employees at every level to make instant decisions that directly impact productivity.

Therein lies the power of IIoT.

The writer is the sales director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Honeywell Process Solutions.