The Industrial Internet of Things FEATURE NEWS

As the IIoT Advances, Testbeds Generate Hype-free Insights

By Cynthia S. Artin November 01, 2017

Earlier this week, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) released an impressive compilation of results from their first testbed program. Summarizing what many consider to be the world’s most successful and influential industrial IoT organization today, the IIC’s initial array tested applications, workflow processes, integrations and product and service blends, summarized in a ten-page report with links to more detailed data sets and portals where participants can research and contribute to ongoing learnings.

For those of us who continue to cover everything IoT, there is a collective excitement combined with a collective fear as companies move from “POCs” to massive and distributed deployments whether in smart factories, smart cities, smart grids, smart transportation systems, smart schools, and more. While we understand the tremendous gains in productivity, profit and new product development, and are deeply enthusiastic about the opportunity to clean up the planet and make public places safer, we also fear the risks associated with a growing attack surface in a more digital and hyper-connected world.

The IIC’s CTO, Stephen Mellor, provided a sobering set of four of the biggest challenges facing the IIoT community today, while providing some additional color on the first testbed results. When asked for the three top concerns (problems the testbeds are helping to solve through a scientific approach), Mellor couldn’t help but list all four:

Security: “Hacking into a chemical plant could have devastating consequences, for example: establishing comprehensive security frameworks is critical to ensuring safety – lives are at stake.”

Connectivity: “We’re not just connecting brand new, next generation factories; we are connecting equipment which could be years or decades old, and it’s challenging to address all the various protocols including network types.”

Analytics: “We need to train algorithms properly to make analytics and advances in artificial intelligence work effectively; frameworks for machine learning will allow IIoT deployments to produce accurate and useful results.”

Reference Architectures: “It’s important for all organizations like ours to work together, which is why we’ve developed partnerships with standards bodies, open source communities like EdgeX Foundry, engineering organizations like IEEE, and adjacent communities in telecom, security, software, hardware, and more.”

“IIC testbeds provide a feedback loop from concept to reality and back to innovation,” said Dr. Richard Soley, Executive Director, IIC, in the organization’s news release. “They help uncover the technologies, techniques and opportunities that are essential to solving important problems that benefit business and society. This is the reason member companies agree to sponsor and own their testbeds but will also share progress reports.”

The first seven testbeds covered in the inaugural report include:

  1. Track & Trace Testbed – Initially formed to trace process tools, the team deployed sensors that provided information about the location of tools and assets in use. It was expanded from tools to logistics equipment, specifically forklifts.
  2. Time Sensitive Networking Testbed – Time-sensitive networking (TSN) enhances Ethernet to bring more deterministic capabilities to the network, including time synchronization, which schedules traffic flows and manages central automated system configuration. This testbed applies TSN technology in a manufacturing system with a wide range of automation and control vendors.
  3. Manufacturing Quality Management Testbed –This testbed will improve manufacturing quality by retrofitting outdated factories using modern sensory networks and analytic technologies. The initial success was shown using the welding section of the air conditioner production line in a factory. Prior to the process, the quality control was based on the noise detection by an experienced examiner.
  4. Communication and Control for Microgrid Applications Testbed – A microgrid combines generation and storage into a local power system.  It allows more reliable use of renewable sources like solar or wind power in conjunction with, or even isolated from, the rest of the power grid.  Near-term uses are for limited areas, such as a campus, corporation, hospital, factory or residential area.  Someday, the microgrid architecture will enable deeper use of renewables throughout the main grid.
  5. INFINITE Testbed – The INternational Future INdustrial Internet TEstbed (INFINITE) uses software-defined networking to create virtual domains so that multiple virtual domains can run securely on a single physical network.
  6. Condition Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance Testbed – This testbed provides insight into the health of critical assets. It leverages advanced sensors that automatically predict equipment failure and notifies a person or system so that pro-active steps can be taken to avoid equipment damage and unscheduled downtime.
  7. Smart Factory Web Testbed – This testbed networks a web of smart factories to improve order fulfillment by aligning capacity across production sites.

You can read the results of the first report here: Why We Build Testbeds: First Results.

There are currently 26 approved IIC testbeds, and we look forward to sharing continuing news as more results are published, and to generally following and sharing the important work of the IIC, and its partners as they walk the walk.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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Contributing Writer

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