IIoT And Field Apps: The Future Of The Industrial Connected Worker

This article was published on Forbes.com

Harnessing the industrial internet of things (IIoT) has arguably become the biggest strategic priority for industrial companies in the race to gain competitive advantage through digital transformation.

Through the implementation of IIoT systems, industrial companies are improving the speed and accuracy of decision making and corrective actions. This is achieved by having the correct information in the hands of the correct expert at the right time. The IIoT is ushering in a transformation that is enabling these companies to exploit their own expertise through technology like never before.


IIoT And The Digital Connected Worker

As Mendix affirms in its solution brief, “The internet of things (IoT) is a transformative force driving the convergence of the physical and digital worlds.” In the industrial space, this often means needing to access the data generated by the IIoT while out in the field. As many sectors within the industrial space move toward comprehensive digital transformation, more and more field-based employees are completing their work on digital devices. Field applications have therefore become commonplace in the industrial space.

These apps take many forms, whether it is to replace a paper form or an Excel sheet, automate an entire workflow, or track work progress or asset performance. The majority of these apps involve employees collecting data and uploading it to a central system. This is where the IIoT comes into play in taking industrial field apps to the next level.

The IIoT can change these field apps from being an interface to input data to a source of continuous information about the assets that a technician is responsible for.

As an example, the IIoT can close the loop on maintenance processes. With traditional maintenance procedures, data on assets is collected manually. The data is analyzed offline, and maintenance is performed on a reactive or scheduled basis. In a system where IIoT sensors are deployed and apps are linked to the IIoT system, data on the assets is continuously collected, and online analytics determines if the assets are operating normally. Any abnormalities are flagged and communicated to personnel who can act to resolve them through corrective actions. This changes the process from a reactive to a preventative maintenance model, potentially saving companies millions of dollars.

My company provides a low-code platform that allows industrial companies to develop custom field apps, and we are seeing increasing demand for incorporating streaming IIoT and SCADA data and exception alerts into field application workflows as customers aim to reap these major benefits.

IIoT And Field Apps

IIoT installations in the field are increasingly being linked with field apps to ensure immediate, real-time information on assets and processes is being fed to expert technicians, whether they are on-site or off-site. Here are a few examples:

Steam Trap Monitoring

With this solution from Emerson Automation Solutions (a customer of ours on other projects), an IIoT sensor determines whether a steam trap is in good health or whether it is failing. Within an app, technicians can view the recorded history and efficiency of each steam trap. The company is then able to track performance against expected objectives and make real-time decisions on maintenance – thereby reducing costs.

Performance Monitoring Of Power Distribution Equipment

Schneider Electric sensors are placed within power distribution assets where data on the performance of the equipment is gathered. Technicians are notified when there is a drop in performance, and from there, predictive maintenance can be performed. This reduces equipment downtime and increases ROI for the customer.

Warehouse Safety

Comarch’s sensor beacons are worn by workers in a large warehouse, with similar beacons placed on forklift trucks. Receivers placed within the warehouse monitor the location of every worker and forklift inside the warehouse. An alert is sent to an app if a forklift deviates from a specified route, or if a worker enters a dangerous or restricted area. This allows for better enforcement of safety protocols in busy warehouses.

Automated Water And Gas Meter Reading

ABB sensors installed on water and gas meters can allow for automated meter reading through a wireless network. This could decrease the need for manual readings by city employees, improving workplace safety. Technicians could also remotely monitor and control devices such as switches in electrical utility substations and pumps in water utility lift stations, eliminating the need for workers to travel to remote facilities.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it shows the tremendous potential of bringing together IIoT devices and field apps.

Staying Up To Speed

IIoT is expected to add $14.2 trillion to the world economy by 2030, meaning that it will play a very important role within the industrial space in the coming years. More and more companies will accelerate their pace of implementing large-scale IIoT systems and increase the flow of data between assets and technicians. This will bring several new challenges to the fore, including those of data security and the willingness of customers to share data with OEMs and partners.

In its report, Emerson speaks about a number of competencies that digitally transformed companies have. These include having automated workflows, using data analytics to implement actions and putting mobile devices in the hands of their workforce. For companies to achieve these competencies, they have to embrace the implementation of IIoT and field apps. IIoT is taking the value of field apps and, by extension, the enablement of the digital connected worker to a new level. Industrial companies need to get on board with investing in IIoT and field apps – or risk falling behind.

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