When It Comes to the IIoT, Start Small and Choose Wisely

The IIoT can be a powerful tool, but only if you understand who’s going to consume the data and how it’s going to help them.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can be a powerful tool for manufacturers or machine builders. But first-time users would be wise to implement it in small steps, an expert will tell engineers at the upcoming Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.

Matt Negaard, director of IIoT business development at Banner Engineering, contends that users of IIoT concepts too often focus on vague goals of data collection and end up wasting time and money. “The knee jerk reaction is to say, ‘We need to put all this intelligence on here and get the data, and the data will show us the way,’” Negaard told Design News. “Well, the data won’t show you the way. You have to know who’s going to consume the data and how it’s going to help them. And then you can back into all the bits and bytes.”

Matt Negaard of Banner Engineering: “Sometimes, it’s better to start with a ‘check-engine-light’ type of application, and then migrate to big data after you really understand your needs.”  (Image source: Banner Engineering)

The key for new users of IIoT concepts is to first dip a toe in the water, Negaard said. Instead of a big project costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, users should start with a small, experimental application. If, for example, a manufacturer wants to know more about the throughput on a production line, there are simple, inexpensive solutions. “You can take peel-and-stick sensors for $5,000, put them on your products, and broadcast the information up to a remote dashboard or a crow’s nest,” Negaard said. “And you can do that within your engineering budget.”

Doing so makes sense because users of so-called “big data” often don’t know which data is going to be most important. Therefore, spending $100,000, rather than $10,000, could turn out to be a massive waste of money. “I guarantee, whatever you think you need or want, it’s going to shift,” Negaard told us. “It might not be a dramatic change, but there is going to be a change. So there’s no reason to go out and spend a boatload of money because eventually, you’re going to want to modify it.”

A few years ago, such misunderstandings were commonplace, largely because early adopters didn’t fully understand the IIoT. Billion-dollar companies often spent millions of dollars on the concepts, only to get little or nothing back for their efforts. Some found they were overloaded with data and didn’t know what to do with it. As a result, many were hesitant to do it again.

“Sometimes, it’s better to start with a ‘check-engine-light’ type of application, and then migrate to big data after you really understand your needs,”  Negaard said.

Today, many of those same companies are being judicious about the way they approach the IIoT, he said. They often ask for assurances up front that their money is being spent wisely. That’s why an inexpensive proof-of-concept application is a good way to start, Negaard said.

For most, that approach ultimately leads to a better understanding of the true value of big data. Moreover, it often leads to larger, more fruitful applications in the future. “We’ve migrated from the idea of 7 to 10 years ago, where everything had to be connected to the IoT,” Negaard said. “Today, we’re finally reaching the point where we know which are the right things to be connected.”

Negaard will discuss How to Get Industrial IoT Initiatives Funded by Driving Immediate Results at the Anaheim Convention Center on Wednesday, February 6th.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

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