Back in July I wrote about the Internet of things (IOT). Since that article I was invited to sit on an IIOT panel at the Profinet General Assembly Meeting and wrote two follow up pieces that will shortly be published in a trade publication. My slightly cynical view has not changed but in talking with experts from the panel and after thoroughly digesting the subject matter I think there are a few topics that deserve additional discussion. In particular I want to cover Industrie 4.0 in more depth and talk about the intrinsic value of market buzzwords like IIOT.
IIOT vs. Industrie 4.0
Terms like IOT, IOE, and IIOT are simply different acronyms describing an Ethernet based technology trend. While there are groups trying to define these trends with tangible specifications these terms are currently agnostic and arguably useless when used as adjectives. Describing a device by saying it’s IIOT is as descriptive as saying it has an Ethernet port; no other function can really be assumed. Industrie 4.0 is different.
And no, that is not a typo. Industrie 4.0 is a specification created by the German government. It’s a formal name so you do not translate Industry. The German government brought together a real who’s who of the automation community. These were really smart people. People so smart their pets likely have more collegiate accreditation than I do. This group came together and defined a vision and specification for the future of automation, Industrie 4.0. At the heart of the specification there are some very strong recommendations for the use of Profinet and OPC UA. Industrie 4.0 is a specification that in great detail classifies devices, their roles, and the communication technologies that connect them in the IOT.
If we have Industrie 4.0 what else do we need?
Industrie 4.0 is a comprehensive idea written by some very intelligent people, but I have a really hard time drinking the Industrie 4.0 Kool-Aid for three reasons. I don’t think it’s an idea that will gain significant traction outside of Germany, it’s vastly over complicated, and it is primarily based on existing technology.
Germany has intense government involvement in creating efficiency in both the industrial and commercial infrastructure of the country. Having limited natural resources and virtually no petroleum based resources, Germany has made efficiency and energy independence a huge initiative. Think the T. Boone Pickens plan in a country where fracking has not created a huge influx on the energy supply.
Any new home built in Germany must rely on at least 30% renewable resources. These mandates are regularly monitored by government officials. In many ways I admire the Vulcan-like* acceptance of these mandates by German people as logical. The people in Germany generally don’t fight these mandates, they embrace them. Can you imagine the political suicide it would be to try and instill a similar policy in the US? Good luck! Be it the commercial or industrial side we don’t like Uncle Sam telling us how to do things.
The specification is also overly complex. Yes, it’s German so that might seem obvious but it’s a big deal in the market. Just like in the US, complex regulation and specifications are the golden tickets that big companies use to regulate market access. Make things complex enough to keep out small business. Seeing that Industrie 4.0 is backed by many of the largest players in automation, I can’t help but infer the connection. Innovation is still driven by the small companies these big companies regularly buy. If you make it a closed party, that potential innovation is lost.
Innovation is really the last reason I’m not jumping on the Industrie 4.0 bandwagon. When you define the industry of tomorrow with the technology of today (or yesterday) I don’t believe you are accelerating the evolution of technology. Yes our industry is slow moving, yes Industrie 4.0, if realized, would mark a phenomenal advancement, but we are still ignoring the possibility of a paradigm shift. We are somewhat closed to the possibility that the future may render inaccurate the idea that the factory floor is a unique environment requiring unique technology.
Don’t get me wrong, if I was designing a factory floor today, Industrie 4.0 would guide my design principle. It’s just hard to believe that making it a government mandate is going to lead to a better outcome than the free market would find.
The Value of Buzzwords in our Market:
I often and incorrectly disregard the value of the marketing buzzwords our industry comes up with. As a guy who lives in the trenches of automation applications, these buzzwords are a fluffy way to generically describe the hard work many of us are doing every day. To an integrator in the field, a term like IIOT is worthless. BUT, as I am reminded whenever I come out from under my rock, the world is not populated completely by control engineers, and few control engineers are sitting in the CEO’s chair at big companies.
We need any and every excuse possible to ascertain a little mindshare from the boardroom. A case study and a sexy term like IIOT (piggy backing on the consumer term IOT) are ammunition to engage management in automation improvements conversations. We need to use any and all tools in our arsenals to do this.
Is Industrie 4.0 the future? How are you getting management to discuss automation improvements?
Drop me a line – I’d love your insight.
RTA is at BOOTH #1287
Did we mention there is also FREE STUFF involved?!?
Stop by to receive your special RTA branded, crazy exclusive, limited run, collectors edition stress relief putty.
You asked for it! After significant reader feedback, the “free gift giveaway” survey results will now be a regular feature in each issue.
Quantifying the results:
Most people that appreciated seeing the results had follow-up questions regarding more details about the results. Here are the facts:
8,000 print 1,000 digital
45-200 people per survey.
The survey is taken by people interested in receiving the free gift. They fill out the survey and in exchange get the gift. The biggest factor in determining the survey response rate in a particular month is the quality of the gift. I believe the November cowbell holds big response promise!
With a representative sample size of less than 2% we are not claiming statistical relevance. Don’t go citing our data on your next white paper.
See the September results below.
Have questions you want asked? Email me with suggestions.
What do you think of IOT?
How many collaborative robots do you expect to see in operation within the next 5 years?
Does social media influence your purchase of automation equipment?
Which social media outlet do you use most often in your professional life?
If you could choose any famous place to visit, which would you pick?