How will Internet of Things (IoT) affect manufacturing automation?

  • July 13, 2015
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic in technical and business circles, and many people predict significant benefits from IoT implementations. Prabhu Soundarrajan is one person with strong views about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will impact the industrial automation industry. Soundarrajan is an active International Society of Automation (ISA) member and currently works with the Honeywell Analytics business. He shared his views with on the topic:

Lydon: How do you define the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Soundarrajan: IoT to me is a technology trend that enables connectivity between systems - that were not IP addressable before - to generate new, measurable economic value, new ecosystems, platforms, and new business models.

Lydon: How do you believe IoT will impact manufacturing automation?

Soundarrajan: In every possible way that our imagination can take us, as long as we have the willingness to stretch our current boundaries. I do think the innovation will come from outside our industry domain. For example, Internet banking changed the world, so did Internet search (Google) and online payments (PayPal). These were blue oceans that were created by thinking beyond existing boundaries. I do not want to make predictive bets that any single application, vertical or technology will win in manufacturing. However, I do want to say the industrial manufacturing will benefit from outside the box thinking.

Lydon: How do you think IoT technologies will be used in industrial automation?

Soundarrajan: These technologies have been around for a while and they are really not a barrier. The technologies (connectivity, data science, analytics, etc.) are now mature and really affordable to generate economies of scale. It is the application of the technologies to solve problems that creates the economic value. automated CRM (Customer Relationship Management) - they looked outside what Oracle was doing to find a new value stream generated by the cloud and avoided on premise installation of software.There are several pockets in industrial automation that can leverage existing technology to create great economic value.

Lydon: You noted the technologies are now mature and really affordable. Do you believe the manufacturing industry is simply not applying them? What is holding industry back from leveraging these technologies?

Soundarrajan: If you look at the last 15 years, the consumer market adoption of technologies has driven the cost down for industrial market adoption. Wireless, mobile, M2M, security technologies have all become affordable and mature for use in industrial markets. It has been several years since these technologies are adopted into the industrial space. New Cloud, Big Data and analytics are vastly successful and are getting really affordable.

When compared to the consumer markets, the manufacturing industry is a risk-averse industry. I believe this is one of the reasons we have not been able to see the adoption of these affordable technologies into the manufacturing space. I think this is changing quickly. For example, the automakers are using technology to differentiate themselves and we are seeing more robotics on the manufacturing floor to increase productivity. It is not enough to “see and read” about the technology trends. Our industry needs to experiment with the new technologies that are mature and affordable around us.

For example, the multi-billion dollar value created by Instagram, Nest, Waze, What’s app, Uber, Airbnb are all the result of rapid experimentation and application of affordable technologies. I do think the next big wave of innovation and adoption will come from the manufacturing space.

Lydon: What do you suggest the automation managers in a manufacturing firm should do now relative to IoT?


1) Management should redefine competitive forces. They should be worried about the next innovator that can disrupt their market rather than competing on product benefits and channels.

2) Focus on ecosystem development as a competitive advantage (e.g. MS Azure opening up their platform). Automation management should realize that they cannot stay competitive by just building a better mouse trap, managing an effective P&L and sunk in innovators dilemma (if Apple had focused only on processes running a lean operation, we might have never seen the iPhone or iPad)

3) Be prepared to cannibalize yourself or someone else will (Steve Jobs words, not mine).

4) Management should encourage open work environment and employee innovation and productivity.

5) Award disruptive thinking - Incremental improvements in products and benefits is not a sustainable WIN strategy.

Lydon: Those are many items to consider. What do you suggest automation engineers in a manufacturing firm should do now relative to IoT?


1) Find opportunities, not problems.

2) Think beyond industry boundaries - think differently.

3) Institutionalize lean start-up methodologies; develop co-working spaces with colleagues.

4) Develop platform thinking (e.g. Uber) and ecosystem development (apps and iOS) rather than products and benefits.

5) Be prepared to experiment and fail. The learning in every failure is the step to the next billion dollar idea.

6) Stay hungry and take risks. Only the paranoid survive.

Challenge to Readers

The influx of new technologies including IoT, Big Data, and analytics are creating opportunities to improve industrial automation and result in the advancement of manufacturing. We are looking for reader feedback on this topic. Please express your thoughts, options, ideas, and questions in our LinkedIn Discussion forum.

About Prabhu Soundarrajan

Prabhu Soundarrajan is recognized as an up and coming young volunteer leader in the International Society of Automation. He serves in a number of capacities as a volunteer leader including Director of ISA's Chemical and Petroleum Industries Division (ChemPID) and Vice-President of Industries and Sciences in the Technical Assembly of ISA. Soundarrajan currently works with the Honeywell Analytics business. He lives in Silicon Valley and is active in the entrepreneurial, start up and investor community. He has a background in venture capital and private equity backed industrial companies. He spent the last 15 years involved with a variety of technologies and market adoption cycles including nanotechnology, fuel cells, smart grid, and wireless for industrial markets.

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