In a Gartner report published in late 2020, analysts took a deep dive into the role Industrial IoT (IIoT) continues to play in the Industry 4.0 revolution. Topline, Gartner wrote that complex IT/OT integration is “accelerating as first-generation solutions evolve and trust develops in operations. CIOs must focus on the long-term potential of IIoT platforms in addition to near-term impact.”
Gartner’s strategic planning assumptions call for 50% of industrial enterprises to invoke industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms by 2025 to improve factory operations, up from 10% in 2020.
While there are many facets to industrial innovation, from the development of the physical equipment and plants to the use of sensor-based systems to improve efficiency, safety, production yield, quality, and the overall economics of the supply chain, Gartner defines the IIoT platform market “as a set of integrated software capabilities to improve asset management decision making within asset-intensive industries. IIoT platforms also provide operational visibility and control for plants, infrastructure, and equipment.”
Given the stunning case studies demonstrating the actual gains coming out of early and recent implementations, more and more industrial companies are paying attention to – and investing in – digital transformation projects.
IIoT platforms operate in parallel with legacy operational technology and are being adopted based on the ability for sensors to accurately collect high volumes of complex machine data from networked IoT endpoints, improving insights and enabling real-time control systems actions across a heterogeneous and often fragmented set of assets, by monitoring endpoints and events. With more and more data being collected, analyzed, and acted upon at the edge (without the need to ship data to the cloud for processing) and with innovation in applications, OT is positioned to improve asset management, extend the life cycle of equipment, and even build new revenue streams for manufacturers of equipment who can now provide remote monitoring, maintenance, and business intelligence.
We caught up with Hank Torbert, founder, and chairman of The Frontier Conference, a gathering launched in 2016 bringing together the pioneers and disrupters in industrial innovation to exchange ideas and build their ecosystem partnerships and asked him for his view on how IIoT has and will impact Industry 4.0 in 2021 and beyond.
“IIoT platforms, edge orchestration technologies, and real-time control system solutions are taking off, and while 2020 caused some uncertainty given the global health crisis, we are continuing to see a surge of investment in digital transformation in the industrial sector,” Torbert said. “With 5G coming online, in concert with open edge ecosystem, and with the movement to bring together IT and OT teams to solve big problems, asset-intensive industries are truly able to emerge as digital businesses.”
Torbert, who is an entrepreneur, investor, and industrial transformation leader, says that there are many large problems that industrial innovation can solve, not only in manufacturing plants and distribution centers and other “purely physical” domains but across any large-scale implementation, including Smart Cities, Smart Regions, public transportation and more.
“We have long embraced IIoT technologies, platforms, devices, cybersecurity software, and networking as a path forward with truly ‘industrial strength’ solutions that address the biggest problems on the planet, including the protection of the planet itself,” Torbert said. “When engineered to improve security, safety, and mission-critical needs in often complex and widespread environments, we have an opportunity to make large-scale systems better – microgrids, water systems, public transportation, government facilities, and more. When we think of these opportunities with an industrial innovation mindset, we can together develop important ways to address many of the most serious challenges we are confronted with, here in the U.S. and globally.”
Accordingly, Torbert has continued to curate The Frontier Conference as increasingly inclusive over the last five years, and despite the inability for the physical conference to happen in 2020 (in Alabama, the host state for the event), interest and engagement have grown in parallel with the steady curve of adoption by many of the world’s largest industrial companies, who are supported by the world’s largest technology companies as well as interesting start-ups.
Manufacturing and natural resources include the subsectors of automotive, consumer nondurable products, energy resources and processing, heavy industry, IT hardware, life sciences, and healthcare products, and natural resources and materials, according to Gartner’s topology in the “factory” space. Industry 4.0 is also having a major impact on transportation, which includes the subsectors of air transport, motor freight, pipelines, rail and water, warehousing, couriers, and support services, and utilities, which include the subsectors of electrical, gas, and water.
“Production fundamentally impacts economics at the local, state, national, and global levels,” Torbert said. “It impacts jobs – the environment – the protection of limited natural resources – and quality of life, especially in fast-growing urban areas. “As the U.S. Congress and Administration move quickly to invest in the economic recovery, look for substantial dollars to flow into infrastructure improvement projects, especially given that our country is at least ten years behind others, according to many experts. Collectively, we can bring public and private agencies and organizations together to drive economic growth, educate an increasingly skilled workforce, and support the innovators who are passionate about solving problems with not only new technologies but new business models.”
Torbet, who speaks with the top leaders in the industrial space every day, explained that the transformative potential of technology in connected production systems is widely recognized; however, we still lack enough experience and investment in the precise configuration and reach of hyper-scaled systems.
“The new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have the potential to transform the U.S. and every country in the world when deployed in service of addressing and adapting to lessen the impact of climate change, for example,” Torbert said.
It has never been more important to build communities and to sponsor meetings of the greatest minds in Industry 4.0, Torbert explained, with a passion for The Frontier Conference, which he says addresses a two-pronged challenge.
“Our mission is building multi-stakeholder ecosystems, especially ones that enable local/regional economic development. By boosting innovation, we help to ensure the promise of both sustainable and equitable economic growth in all sectors of business and government, and what our participants bring to the table has direct impacts on quality-of-life for all citizens,” Torbert said.
The Frontier Conference provides a platform for leaders to assess the next wave of innovations that enable the success of their organizations.
Among the technologies in the spotlight this year are these “top 5” out of two dozen specific categories of thought leadership:
According to the conference organizers, those five main categories include:
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is no longer just another buzzword. It’s now become a full-fledged technology ecosystem in itself. IoT is what makes it possible to connect one device, or many devices, creating a virtual network that gathers and shares data about the environments in which they operate.
Cognitive Cloud Computing
Cognitive cloud is an extended ecosystem combining traditional cloud technologies and newer and cognitive computing technologies. Cognitive computing is the next big evolution in the IT industry. It converses in human language and aids decision-making by understanding Big Data’s complexities. It’s expected to generate $13.8 billion of new revenues in 2020 and is one of the top 10 trending technologies to consider this year. Big tech -- such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco -- have started implementing this next-gen tech into their products and services.
A myriad of smart companies has begun solving complex problems associated with processing and storing huge quantities of data – whether they be structured (in different ways) or unstructured. Most successful companies rely heavily on big data analytics in order to gain insight into their systems, their customers, and their competitors.
I-Apps are pieces of software written for mobile devices. They’re based on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. They’re aimed at making everyday tasks easier. The focus is on ‘simple tasks,’ such as organizing and prioritizing emails, scheduling meetings, logging interactions, content, etc. Some of the more familiar examples of I-Apps are Chatbots and virtual assistants.
Robotic Process Automation
Generally, any desk job in any industry involves tasks that are repetitive in nature and can be automated. RPA enables the automation of such routine and repetitive tasks. No one needs to write any code to automate repetitive tasks. In 2020, the use of robots powered by machine learning will skyrocket, which means RPA will become an invaluable tool for industry, government, and many others.
“At the center of our deliberations at The Frontier Conference this year, we will raise these topics and more with our assembled leaders. Debating our big two challenges will help us discover the principles which are essential to successful accelerating innovation,” Torbert explained.
“A new approach to building the innovation ecosystem demands a new strategy focused on developing the private investments and the public policies which encourage innovation. We believe that these choices – whether in the realm of investments or government policies – must be built on one simple assumption: it’s not only the presence of technological know-how that’s important but also the business climate and the level of cooperation between and amongst disparate stakeholders.”
The conference, which takes place virtually on April 13-14, will emphasize innovation based on the creation of new technologies and finding investment of hard-to-find R&D dollars. To raise such funds requires strengthening the ‘supply’ side of science and requires the successful dissemination (and adoption) of those R&D results, according to the organizers.
The conference will also emphasize cybersecurity and the urgent need to bring together IT and OT teams to ensure the protection of systems, especially mission-critical infrastructure systems, is embedded throughout each element in the value chain.
Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.
Edited by Maurice Nagle