In order to profit from the Industrial Internet of Things, companies need access to machine-to-machine technology, a good cloud strategy and the right service provider, writes Dr Alexander Lautz, senior vice-president M2M at Deutsche Telekom

The concept of ‘Industrie 4.0’ began as a German government initiative and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has since become synonymous around the world with the digitalisation of manufacturing. The IIoT uses the cloud to link production equipment so that it can communicate via machine-to-machine (M2M) technology.

The Industry of Things World Survey Report 2016 makes clear that companies are expecting great things from these developments. Some 1,257 managers from leading international firms were asked what were the most important value drivers for IoT technologies in an industrial setting and here are their replies:

  • 65% said an increase in productivity;
  • 63% said a reduction of maintenance costs;
  • 42% said a reduction of total machine downtime;
  • 37% said increased forecasting accuracy;
  • 20% said decreased costs for inventory holding.

Networking their machinery and using cloud services helps companies to stay competitive. Moreover, IIoT makes firms fit for the future by creating new business opportunities.

Having the right partner at your side makes reaching these goals easier. The German ICT service provider Deutsche Telekom offers companies the ‘Cloud of Things’ as a ‘software as a service’-based (SaaS-based) solution for remote monitoring and control of their equipment.

In order to use this IoT platform, firms simply have to fit the machines they wish to network with a communications module. This M2M gateway with a SIM card collects the sensor data and status updates of the connected devices and transmits them encrypted via Deutsche Telekom’s wireless network into the Cloud of Things.

The platform then saves and prepares the information, so there is a clear overview of all important data. Users can monitor and configure the connected machines remotely, whenever and wherever they choose, with a handy web portal. All they need is a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone with internet access.

If desired, the data can also be fed into local systems using an API (application programming interface), so automated enterprise programs can react to warnings and adjust performance as needed.

Predictive maintenance for steam generators

The German company CERTUSS is a leading maker of steam generators. Moisturising, maintaining temperature and cleaning – those are the main tasks for CERTUSS steam generators. They are currently used for 90 extremely diverse applications, such as engine testing, humidifying air condition units, hotel laundry operations, cosmetics production and even cooking sausages for the meat industry.

Some CERTUSS generators are now fitted with sensors linked to Deutsche Telekom’s Cloud of Things. These sensors measure around 60 parameters, such as steam pressure, water levels and temperature and combustion conditions.

The built-in gateway sends the collected data into the Cloud of Things, where CERTUSS employees can monitor the machines – such as those operating in the United States – using a web portal. This enables so-called predictive maintenance.

CERTUSS uses the Cloud of Things data analytics to do forward-looking maintenance according to the interpreted information from devices. That means service crews do not have to make maintenance visits at regular intervals. Instead, they only have to be on location when truly necessary. Predictive maintenance uses M2M and the cloud to save considerable time and costs.

The data also show when customers use large amounts of steam, the most efficient operating temperature, and when they can run at a bare minimum. That way CERTUSS devices can be optimally adjusted to a customer’s needs.

For example, should a generator cross over a certain threshold or fail, the sensors will immediately trigger an alarm. The company can then respond quickly to malfunctions, which can potentially even be resolved remotely without having to send a service technician. This is extremely important, since steam generators are often installed in isolated locations like cellars, where it’s easy to miss possible issues.

Thanks to the intelligent networking of its steam generators and the analysed data from Deutsche Telekom’s Cloud of Things, CERTUSS can offer its customers new services like preventative maintenance and higher productivity through less downtime.

That increases customer loyalty and ensures a key competitive advantage: A study by the consulting firm Accenture shows that predictive maintenance can cut service costs by up to 30 percent and reduce unplanned downtime by up to even 70 per cent.

Container tracking with GPS and M2M

M2M in combination with the cloud can also help monitoring global cargo shipments. Some 90 per cent of all general cargo is now transported with container ships. The German shipping company Deutsche Afrika-Linien (DAL) has thousands of containers at sea each day.

But simple GPS tracking is not enough anymore: the company’s customers expect to know exactly where their goods are during the entire journey, as well as whether they will be delivered safely and on time.

For a long-term test, DAL fitted a number of containers with M2M modules that have GPS, a wireless modem and even Bluetooth. Once mounted, these so-called ‘smart container devices’ operate service-free for 10 years thanks to a reliable battery with a backup and a solar panel.

Diverse sensors monitor both the container and the goods inside. For example, should a temperature limit be crossed, the container is opened without authorisation, or the module is removed, it automatically triggers an alarm. The module sends data regarding the position and condition of the cargo by wireless connectivity into the Cloud of Things.

DAL can access prepared and visualised data in real-time from any number of devices, enabling the company to tell its customers precisely when their goods will arrive at the port. It also has a completely documented delivery chain for insurance purposes, should anything be damaged during transport.

This allows DAL to provide its customers with complete transparency regarding the location and condition of the goods it ships, which is a true advantage over the competition. The investment costs are determined by the number of networked containers and remain – thanks to special M2M data rates – constantly under control.

But it is not just about speeding up operations to react faster to customer demands and market changes, or reduce costs. In order to truly take advantage of digital change and profit from it, companies need to re-evaluate their business models and reassess their product offerings. This is often a difficult thing to do for older and larger corporations.

Over the years and decades, operational procedures become set and products established. Why change what’s working? The answer is simple: In the age of digitalisation, stagnation means failing behind.

Overcoming hurdles: costs, security, data protection

Still, many companies find their path to joining Industrie 4.0 blocked. It is hard to find qualified IT personnel and accounting departments are reluctant to invest in the necessary hardware and software. Plus, networked machinery has to be able to communicate with each other: but depending on the manufacturer, age, or region, equipment can speak completely different machine languages.

Asked what was the biggest challenge to implementing IoT initiatives, some 36 percent of the managers in the aforementioned survey said security issues, 20 per cent named network connectivity and 17 percent privacy concerns – after all, both sensitive company and customer data need to be saved and processed in the cloud.

The Cloud of Things naturally offers solutions to these challenges. Thanks to its SaaS concept, wireless data transmission and SaaS from the cloud, no access to a company’s IT systems or investments in new hardware are necessary.

The costs remain predictable, as users are offered a variety of payment models. In cost-based pricing for example, users pay per connected device, in value-based pricing, the cost for the Cloud of Things is defined primarily by the added value it generates for the customer. And the Cloud of Things ensures machines can communicate with each other by using the most common global protocols: Modbus TCP/RTU and CANBus.

Deutsche Telekom addresses the issue of security with encrypted communications technology, its reliable networks and highly secure ISO-certified German data centres that offer IT availability of 99.999 per cent. Additionally, strict German data protection laws safeguard customer privacy – something international companies also value: Microsoft chose to entrust Deutsche Telekom with the data for its cloud services Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online.

To make the IIoT journey for companies easier, Deutsche Telekom offers two entry-level solutions. The ‘Cloud of Things Starter Kit’ is a universal plug-and-play solution consisting of a GSM gateway, a sensor logger with magnetic, gyroscope, humidity and temperature sensors and access to the Cloud of Things management platform. With this easy-to-install starter kit, users monitor and locate assets like containers or construction machinery on any device and are notified when alarms occur.

A further ‘Cloud of Things Pilot Package’ contains, at a fixed price, individually tailored hardware and software to connect machines and to read out measuring data, to show users the true potential of what is possible.

Author: Dr Alexander Lautz, senior vice-president M2M at Deutsche Telekom O'RiordanTechcomputing,internet of Things,software
The concept of ‘Industrie 4.0’ began as a German government initiative and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has since become synonymous around the world with the digitalisation of manufacturing. The IIoT uses the cloud to link production equipment so that it can communicate via machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. The Industry...