Automation Column IIoT

Embrace IIoT Technology

Gary Mintchell | February 16, 2018

Industry 4.0, IoT, IIoT, digital factory, smart manufacturing, and cyberphysical systems have become the backbone of today’s manufacturing operations because the technology facilitates efficiency and reliability.

While sitting in a coffee house recently, I was joined by an engineer acquaintance. The resulting discussion focused on what is meant by digital factory, smart manufacturing, cyberphysical systems, and Industry 4.0/IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things).

Our conversation actually had started with Internet of Things comments. My friend works for Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions, St. Louis (, manufacturer of HVAC and refrigeration compressors. We began talking about how they can use the internet to connect and monitor their compressors.

What would they monitor? The same things you all do within your plants. They can monitor performance aimed at developing a database to aid future design and evaluate components. Most of all, they can monitor reliability and maintenance issues—downtime, performance degradation, problem prediction. Oh, and they could possibly sell services.

The maintenance managers among you readers will recognize these issues. And you’ll recognize the tension among the many companies wishing to provide those services. Do you “own” the data and then use it for in-house maintenance? Do you contract with a distributor or integrator who is positioned between you and the OEM who might want to tap into this information trove and sell the services? Do you contract with the machine builder? Or do you go to the source and contract with the equipment builder?

The IIoT can be thought of as the end result of all the buzz words that I used in my opening statement.

Design is now done digitally. The CAD drawings, components, parts lists are all just digital files these days. The cyberphysical systems part of this means that you can have a digital (cyber) representation of just about everything in the physical world. And not just a database, but also motion, engineering, performance curves and models, and metadata of the parts and system. Potentially huge amounts of information.

This information can now be manipulated and studied. Dump it into a simulation application (maybe with virtual reality headset), and operators, techs, and engineers can “see” the process. This is great for training new operators or refreshment training for current operators. Suck the information models into an application with performance information and analyses can be made to predict problems or even prescribe solutions before problems crop up.

With all the information coming back from the system automatically, think of the cost savings and error prevention from sending technicians out into the field to manually record data. These concepts are more than just buzz words. They point to very real plant efficiency and profitability benefits.

Only four years ago I gave a talk at a maintenance conference where one of the audience members told me “engineering says this stuff doesn’t work.” Guess what? It does. EP

Gary Mintchell is an industrial-technology subject-matter expert. He can be reached at




Gary Mintchell

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