2020 was a year of greater disruption and transformation than most of us can remember. And whilst industrial and manufacturing organisations perhaps found their operations less overturned than service-based professions, they nevertheless had to adapt to radically different working practices.
What, then, can we expect to see over the coming months in the IoT infrastructures and ecosystems deployed in these industrial settings – the industrial IoT, or IIoT? Here are our key IIoT trends for 2021.
Trend 1: Health and safety monitoring
Clearly, health and safety is on everybody’s lips at the moment. Most industrial and manufacturing workers are unable to work remotely, so the onus is on managers to ensure that they can be kept safe and healthy in the workplace, both through social distancing and increased cleaning and hygiene measures.
IIoT sensors, for example, can track movement throughout an industrial environment, including through doors, which helps plant security to ensure that safe traffic patterns being followed and off-limits protocols are observed when specific areas are being disinfected. There are even possibilities for staff to be equipped with wearables which track movement, social distancing measures or even key health and wellness metrics.
Trend 2: Autonomous and remote management
Whilst key manufacturing and industrial operations need to remain onsite rather than being discharged to employees’ homes, as in many other sectors, the IIoT can increasingly enable such operations to be controlled and managed remotely. In turn, this increases operational resilience, ensuring that core functions can be carried out even when core people cannot be on the ground. It also reduces both unnecessary site visits and unnecessary movement throughout physical environments.
As such, 2021 looks set to be the year in which industrial and manufacturing organisations evolve from simply remote monitoring to remote management. This will include introducing more autonomous operational controls for selected processes, and combining the IIoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning for continuous improvement and optimisation measures. From the factory floor to the warehouse and throughout the shipping and logistics grid, we will see more autonomous guided vehicles and remote processes, all underpinned by a new class of industrial networking. The need for greater network bandwidth, zero latency and edge computing is going to grow and grow.
Trend 3: Securing operational technology (OT)
Increasing remote and autonomous operations will need to go hand in hand with an increased focus on cybersecurity and particularly the security of the operational technology (OT) environment. Traditional measures such as air gapping are rife with backdoors, and this will increase as remote access is required for updates, patches and simple day-to-day operations.
Many of the core principles of IT security also apply to OT security – visibility and control across the entire environment, proactive protections against an ever-evolving threat landscape – but, in particular, they need to identify and respond to problems whilst also maintaining core operations.
Trend 4: Big data analytics
IIoT, deployments, ike any other IoT ecosystem, enable the organisations deploying them to collect and analyse data in real-time. In turn, this unlocks more operational intelligence and informs smarter decision-making.
In a highly competitive, growth-focused yet economically scarred post-COVID world, such intelligence could truly be the difference between success and failure for many industrial and manufacturing organisations. As such businesses look to develop their strategies post-pandemic, the savviest will undoubtedly be looking for ways to capture new data from within their operations, and proactively harness existing information.