Internet of Things (IoT)

As we enter the modern industrial age of Industry 4.0, technology has drastically changed the landscape of manufacturing. Whereas humans once had to perform every technical step of the manufacturing process, many tools are now “smart” enough to run pretty independently. These tools are most often spread throughout the industrial environment or as components in bigger, more complicated machines. This is known as the Internet of Things, or IoT, for short.

Key Takeaways

  • IoT devices need to have an internet connection

  • IoT devices can connect to four things: other devices, the cloud, a gateway, or back-end data systems

  • Cybersecurity and interoperability are major concerns

What is the IoT?

The reason why humans are able to administer tools so much easier now is because those machines have sensors and programs that have the ability to connect over the internet to other devices. Because these devices connect through an internet connection instead of being soldered together or plugged in, they are able to communicate across large distances in fractions of a second. This instant sharing of information is far greater in scope and complexity than any human could attempt with using manual methods.

The early adopters of IoT technology stuck Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors on devices. This may be familiar technology because it is currently used in workplace ID cards and debit and credit cards, for example. IoT technologies since then have come a long way in both expediting manufacturing and in raising the theoretical ceiling for technological innovations. Sensors and processors are oftentimes built directly into devices’ hardware for easy setup.

Is the Internet a Thing?

Not quite! The internet is not a device, it is a network which we can tap into by using devices like computers or cellphones. This network is everywhere, all the time, because it is composed of many paths of potential communication that allow for the instant flow of information.

We can tap into this ever-present network and utilize its collective reach and top-level processing power. The internet allows for devices to “tune in'' to certain “frequencies” where data can be instantly shared regardless of physical location or time frame. If you take a minute, you could probably name at least a dozen different Things, or devices, that interact with the IoT across virtually all industries, from healthcare to infrastructural maintenance to aerospace.

Here's a few examples we thought of:

  • Smartwatches
  • Streaming hardware like Roku
  • Gaming consoles and wireless controllers
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • Automatic car key fobs
  • Smart Home devices like Alexa and Google Home
  • Routers
  • Chromebooks
  • Smart street lights
  • RFID chips and motion sensors
  • Smart health tech like heart transplants and breathing monitors
  • Baby monitors and security cameras

If you can imagine a device that can use the Internet, you can imagine a Thing!

The trick is to decide what to Thing-ify. The goal is not to eventually make everything automated with its own device. Instead, it’s to see what aspects of your business could be optimized through automation and cross-referencing.

Okay, but there’s so many Things! Can’t we break it down further and give them different names to make it easier?

Internet of Things network

Types of IoT Devices

There are four types of devices as defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF):

Device-to-Device

This is a device that operates like it is on a closed circuit with another device, and the two interact with only each other.

  • Eg. Smart light bulb connected to a specific light switch.

Device-to-Cloud

This is the most popular type used today, in which a device connects to an application hosting service that stores data safely outside of your own server. Saving your data to the Cloud means that you have almost unlimited space and that your data can be accessed anywhere instantly.

  • E.g. Gmail accounts can be accessed from any device using the Cloud.

Device-to-Gateway

This type is used mainly for wearable IoT devices, and involves an interconnected gateway to the internet by the service provider. It allows for intermittent internet access for devices that do not need to be constantly in sync with other systems in real time.

  • E.g. A Smartphone with Wi-Fi and a data plan can refresh information as you pull it up.

Back-End Data Sharing

This type is mainly applicable for IIoT technologies. It allows for users to draw extended data from data warehouses at the heart of application service providers.

  • E.g. Allowing third parties access to your personal or business data for compilation analysis.

So What's the Catch?

The biggest concern for users of IoT devices is cybersecurity. Because devices are connected to the internet, they are vulnerable to cyber attacks that can steal or corrupt data. Therefore, you should update your system planning regularly and pay close attention to technological improvements.

When IoT devices started to become popular in the consumer market, they were pricey. A full Google Home or Alexa setup for a single family home could cost hundreds of dollars and constant, expensive upkeep. The same was true for the manufacturing sphere — for a while.

As technology has improved, costs have gone down, and the overall effect of investing in IoT technology is a decrease in costs over time due to higher quality control, processing speed, and instant customer communication. In today’s current market, businesses new and established alike benefit from enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs). Cost should not be the first concern, as IoT benefits almost immediately cover the cost of investment (and then some!).

Interoperability is a growing concern in IoT technology as more and more devices are invented for automated processing. Interoperability is the ability for IoT device communication between devices that rely on completely different processing frameworks. When IoT data is compiled to show an overview of the whole system’s maintenance process, sometimes devices that are programmed one way run into problems when interacting with newer IoT equipment with a different internal architecture. This is why, when you are beginning to automate your manufacturing process through IoT, you must discuss the limitations of your internal systems.

Internet of Things capabilities

What About IoT Large-Scale?

More and more manufacturers of all types are using IoT technology to speed up production and automate processes for higher quality control. Consequently, execs have learned that they did not have enough manpower to interpret thousands of individual data points from all the different IoT devices. To solve this problem, manufacturers have invested in data-based architectures that synthesize and report aggregated data on systems of IoT applications. This network of applied Things specifically for data analysis is known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The Internet of Things is rapidly expanding with every new invention and upgrade in technology. So what does this mean for future Things of the Internet? Well, we have quickly realized that IoT is massive, and certain devices can be integrated with other devices inside certain networks to make a mega-system. Since these situations are highly varied, they often fall into different categories of industries, like manufacturing, aerospace, mining, rail transport, and others.

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