BehrTech Blog

4 Industrial IoT Applications Taking Off in 2020

The Internet of Things (IoT) has garnered significant traction in 2019, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Amid security concerns, complexity and technical challenges, IoT implementation proves to be unstoppable. According to a new study by Microsoft, 85 percent of enterprises reported having IoT adoption underway, with 88 percent of adopters believing that IoT is critical to their overall success. As IoT continues to drive innovation initiatives across business sectors, here are our predictions on the top four Industrial IoT applications that will take off this year.

1. Harnessing 4-20mA Industrial Sensor Outputs

Since a “rip-and-replace” approach to Industrial IoT is mostly infeasible due to the hefty upfront investment, 2020 will continue to witness concerted effort in gathering data from legacy systems. Sensors have been widely used in enclosed industrial networks to measure and report critical variables to a local controller for automation and control tasks. As such, hooking them up to the IoT will open immense possibilities for better operational oversight and planning, especially when it comes to remote assets and systems.

The 4-20mA current loop is a versatile analog signaling standard extensively adopted in brownfield industrial sensors. In a current loop, process variables (e.g. temperature, pressure…) gathered by the sensors are converted into a proportional current value between 4 and 20mA. These signals are then sent to the process controller via wiring to trigger responses on actuators. While versatile for process controls, the current loops pose the challenge of data silos as sensor outputs often stay locked within these loops. Manufacturers, therefore, fail to get a comprehensive picture of what’s happening in their processes.

A retrofit IoT solution could help overcome this challenge by adding wireless connectivity to 4-20 mA devices. An IoT wireless transmitter embedded with 4-20 mA interfaces can draw process data from field sensors and send it to a remote base station using long-range IoT connectivity. Besides minimizing cabling, such a solution offers the benefit of power independence, as the transmitter can operate on batteries that last for years. This allows companies to easily deploy it on a full scale to gather vast data from remote legacy assets and equipment – at drastically reduced costs and complexity.

2. Bridging IT/OT Gaps through PLC Integration

Connecting legacy Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to IoT is another versatile Industrial IoT application for brownfield facilities we expect to see more of in 2020. PLCs are an integral part of almost every modern industrial system to enable real-time process automation and control. Given their critical role, PLCs are here to stay and IoT-enabling these brains of industrial networks will drastically increase in importance.

At present, the majority of brownfield PLCs communicate using a myriad of vendor-specific protocols in a mostly captivated manner. The lack of interoperability across PLC models and respective SCADA networks makes it challenging, if not impossible to establish a unified monitoring and control system across industrial facilities. Adding to this challenge, altering the logic ladders of PLCs for data acquisition purposes is a greatly complex endeavor that risks equipment damage and hours of production downtime. For these reasons, manufacturers have been extremely cautious about any effort to integrate PLCs into IoT.

The emergence of plug-and-play connectivity for legacy PLCs is rapidly changing this landscape through simple and straightforward implementation without any hardware changes. Also, long-range, one-way data transmission allows connecting even highly isolated PLC systems while helping prevent malicious attacks on industrial networks through reverse communications. Marrying environmental sensor data with PLC data reveals important insights into hidden productivity losses on the factory floor and their root causes. At the same time, equipment and part failures can be early identified for maintenance to avoid serious damage and disruption.

3. Indoor Asset Tracking in Large-Scale Environments

Knowing the location and quantity of available assets is critical to maximize their effective uses, prevent losses and timely identify the need for maintenance and procurement. Nevertheless, in the absence of an effective asset tracking approach, it’s not uncommon for companies to lose sight of their tools, parts and critical equipment. Even today, many businesses still manually track their assets using clipboards or Excel sheets. Existing indoor wireless tracking solutions are highly instrumental in inventory management at small and mid-sized storage facilities. However, their applicability for asset tracking in large-scale, campus-style environments is often limited by costs and complexity.

Most nowadays’ asset tracking systems leverage RFID, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to detect asset location through signal transmissions. Due to the short physical range of these wireless technologies, asset tags must be in close proximity with the readers or receivers for signals to be received. This means in large, structurally complex facilities, you need a large number of receivers to sufficiently cover the entire area. RFID tags or BLE beacons are relatively cheap, but the receivers aren’t. Besides, since the receivers often use Wi-Fi for backhauling data to the cloud, they need to be wired to a constant power supply.

The increasing prevalence of Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) is poised to elevate indoor tracking applications on industrial and commercial campuses this year. Providing extensive range and much better penetration ability of the radio signal, a robust LPWAN technology requires as few as three base stations (i.e. receivers) to receive signals from distributed asset tags. Alternatively, LPWAN can serve as power-efficient, long-range backhaul connectivity for BLE-based receivers in use cases that demand high-precision localization. By streamlining costs and complexity, next-gen indoor tracking solutions will quickly establish their relevance - given the burgeoning demand for asset management.

4. Smart Buildings Applications to Enhance Facility Management and Insurance

With building automation predicted to lead the growth rate of connected devices in 2020, we expect to see widespread adoption of smart building technologies this year. Building management systems have long existed for HVAC control and video security. Nevertheless, the proliferation of smart sensors is set to enable a new level of facility management and insurance. Data granularity and timeliness alongside easy installation are significant added values wireless IoT solutions bring to the traditional, wire-based building control networks.

Rather than regulating temperature in a uniform and predefined manner, smart sensors enable micro-zoned, demand-based HVAC control leveraging real-time climate data inputs. Besides great energy efficiency advantages, granular HVAC control promises to greatly improve occupancy comfort and worker productivity. Smart sensors also help facility managers monitor water leak and fire risks round-the-clock to mitigate losses or better, prevent an incident from happening altogether. For example, they can monitor temperature trends at common fire sources like electrical enclosures to detect abnormal heat spikes due to malfunctioning components. This allows for timely intervention, even before any fire or smoke is released.

Space management is another smart building pillar attracting substantial attention and development effort. With wireless IoT sensors, facility operators can attain full visibility into traffic and usage at every space – even on a desk level. This opens innumerable opportunities to optimize space planning, energy consumption and maintenance schedules.

2020 is predicted to witness new important IoT breakthroughs, many of which are already well underway. To stay ahead of the game, companies must quickly navigate the digital landscape, sense innovations that are taking shape and timely act on them. As industrial IoT applications rapidly transition from futuristic visions to pragmatic, customer-focused solutions, those who can capture these opportunities will obtain significant unfair advantages to remain competitive on the market.

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