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Impact of IIoT on automation systems design

28 May 2015  | Suhel Dhanani

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Successful enterprise software companies such as SAP enjoy about 30% operating margins.10 Automation companies make the devices that generate all the industrial data and they have the most expertise in understanding the data. They just need to develop the software capability to process, analyse, and display this data. So when talking about industrial automation and the IIoT, these automation companies are uniquely poised to dominate the emerging IIoT.

GE is the most aggressive player in this space. A few years ago, Jeff Immelt, CEO and Chairman of GE, hired Bill Ruh away from Cisco and effectively gave him $1 billion (US$) to rebuild his company's entire software and analytics approach.11 Ruh set up shop in San Ramon, just east of Oakland, California. In the course of 24 months, this team built a new software platform, known as Predix, and late last year, GE began to deploy it. Some of the financial numbers recently published by GE about their software business are impressive.

In his letter to share owners, Immelt writes:

We believe that every industrial company will become a software company.... Our customers want our assets to operate with no unplanned downtime and optimal performance. We call our data solutions "Predictivity," and so far, we have launched 24 offerings generating $800 million of incremental revenue. We expect Predictivity revenues to exceed $1 billion in 2014."12

GE is making considerable headway in setting up their platform as the first software platform of the IIoT


The IIoT drives system requirements
The two key system trends driven by the IIoT are quite evident in the proliferation of sensors and the growth in distributed computing.

 • Pervasive sensing. The cost of sensors and their interfaces continues to decline, enabling manufacturers to track more variables and types of data.
 • Distributed control. Moving process controllers (PLCs) closer to the machines that they control eliminates bottlenecks and improves manufacturing throughput and flexibility.

Sensors are everywhere
You can find some public reports that estimate the growth of the sensor market. BCC Research looks at the global market for sensors in various applications, including biosensors, chemical sensors, image sensors, flow sensors, and level sensors. Another company, Emerson, is largely looking at process field sensors.

 • "Sensor market was valued at $79.5 billion in 2013 and is expected to increase to $95.3 billion in 2015. This is estimated to reach $154.3 billion by 2020 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.1% from 2015 through 2020." BCC Research, Wellesley, MA, 2014 report.13
 • "Pervasive sensing expected to more than double the existing $16B measurement market by helping production facilities enhance site safety, reliability, and energy efficiency in new ways." Emerson Process Management14

Researchers have different estimates for the size and the growth of the sensor market. But it is clear that, as the need for analytical data grows, the need for sensors to collect this data grows as well. The broad sensor market is projected to rise at a double-digit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and this is increasingly true for industrial sensors.

The phrase "pervasive sensing," coined by Emerson and used above, implies that sensors are installed everywhere. It also means that the sensors enable, or will soon enable factories, refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities to gather more data about the processes being monitored. The aggregation of this data gives customers greater visibility to operate more safely, reliably, and profitably.

A byproduct of this astounding sensor growth is the expectation that the sensors must communicate more than just an ON/OFF signal. Industrial management needs real-time operational data... and this leads to one of the first system-level design trends that we can discuss.


The emerging IO-Linkstandard
Industry is witnessing an explosive growth of the digital IO-Link standard for factory automation sensors. The IO-Link protocol is the first open, low-cost, point-to-point serial communication standard based on standardised I/O technology worldwide (IEC 61131-9). It applies to communication between PLCs and sensors and/or actuators positioned anywhere. This powerful point-to-point protocol is based on the long-established 3-wire connection. The best way to think about IO-Link communication is like a USB for sensors—simple to use and implement, and capable of providing intelligent data from smart sensors.

The IO-Link protocol is showing explosive growth along with the rise of smart sensors. A Quest TechnoMarketing Survey of almost 200 machine manufacturing companies finds that by 2016, 47% of machine manufacturers—almost 1 in 2—will want to use IO-Link! This would triple the number of IO-Link users in the next three years.15

Of course, all sensors are not connected directly to the factory's PLC. This is increasingly true when you have hundreds of thousands of sensors distributed plant-wide and at external locations. To accommodate communication with this disparate array of sensors, they are aggregated via gateways.

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