Industrial IoT - It’s the technology, stupid

  • January 15, 2016
  • Feature

Bill Lydon’s Automation Perspective

By Bill Lydon, Editor

IoT is pushing functionality to the cloud and into edge devices. In many meetings and conferences with automation suppliers, top management and personnel emphasize how important IoT technologies are for manufacturing to remain competitive. There is an emphasis on the huge amount of opportunity that implementations of IoT will create, and if a company does not leverage these new technologies their competitors will bury them. This is emphasized by stating IoT is transformative and business models will change. These automation industry suppliers are far up the hype curve and very low on implementing IoT technologies in products. Specifically, most automation vendors are not embedding IoT technology in controllers and sensors.

It’s the technology, stupid!

This has been proven over and over again by companies that did not leverage major technological changes. Think of industry disruptions including film to digital camera, cassette to MP3, minicomputer to PC, landline to cell phone, analog to digital control, drafting board to CAD, and model shop to 3D printing. Smart vendors aggressively embrace and adopt technology. The losers prefer to focus on the business case and not discuss the technology since they are selling existing products that do not incorporate leading technology. Winners understand the business case and aggressively apply new technology to develop superior solutions that provide more value to customers using superior technology.The industrial automation supplier losers’ are not embedding IoT technology in controllers and sensors. These companies have few if any IoT products and try to put a “spin” (propaganda) on existing products, indicating that they really do fit IoT definitions. Industrial automation vendors hanging onto existing product architectures to preserve revenue and profit numbers are taking a short term view. This is holding users back and is the reason users are starting to use commercial IoT hardware and software to pilot implementations.  Commercial products are more responsive and lower cost than traditional vendor solutions.

Cloud Emphasis

A number of industrial automation vendors are starting to focus on cloud applications as satisfying the drive to IoT architectures. Cloud applications such as analytics and historic data storage are certainly part of the IoT picture.  However, IoT is much larger and incorporates intelligence using high-powered low-cost processors in edge devices including sensors, actuators, and other devices. Promoting the addition of cloud services to existing industrial automation system architectures certainly will perpetuate the existing automation architecture offerings but they do not deliver more value to customers.

Edge Computing

Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and Smart Manufacturing concepts are pushing decision making beyond the operator level or enterprise level into end devices, with analytics and rules-based processing in edge devices. Moving decision-making into edge devices is extremely important as the skills crisis grows.

Cisco has estimated that IoT applications will result in more than 50% of network traffic from devices. To achieve responsive systems, this will require data refinement and analytics to be pushed to the lowest edge level. Cisco has coined the term Fog Computing, which extends Cloud computing and services to the edge of the network to achieve reliable and effective system performance. Cisco, for example, is now offering an embedded application hosting platform for industrial IoT applications in network devices to host applications and interfaces with Cisco IOx. Cisco IOx brings together the Cisco IOS networking operating system and Linux to run edge applications such as data aggregation, control systems, and access control on Cisco routers.


The opportunity to improve manufacturing performance, productivity, and quality is huge but automation suppliers need to move beyond past systems architecture models and embrace new technology. We have seen this before with innovations by pioneers that introduced direct digital control, aggressive use of commercial off-the-shelf PC hardware, and Windows-based HMI software.


In the last decade, the consumer Internet has emerged and consumer businesses have been disrupted, devastating suppliers that did not adapt. The question is, who will disrupt the industrial automation industry to bring more value at lower cost to users? A few years from now will we look back and see the dead bodies of industrial automation companies that did not aggressively adopt IoT concepts and technologies.

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