In recent years, we are touching on the power of connecting objects in manufacturing or industry. This is why the Internet of Things, the backbone of Industry 4.0, is an area whose applications are multiplying and spreading at lightning speed. But what are the key aspects to focus on to reap the benefits of IoT technologies? Let’s find out and analyze them one by one.
Why invest in IoT technologies?
Before reflecting on the key elements of the Internet of Things, it is necessary to understand why this innovation is so crucial both in manufacturing and for companies engaged in the Digital Transformation journey.
The immediate answer is that without data analytics today, you are going nowhere. Thanks to new technologies, the level of production and business performance are reaching record highs. The only way to beat the competition is to have complete control over the data to plan new goals and to constantly monitor the areas that we can make efficient and those that could turn into bottlenecks over time.
Connecting “things” through sensors, software, and other technologies is the power of IoT, which offers the possibility of transmitting and receiving data in real time. Having thoroughly understood how IoT works and the benefits it generates for businesses, we can move on to an assessment of the individual components that will allow us to choose the solution that best suits the type of organization we work in or have started.
Hardware: how we connect “things”
Objects, devices, machines, and systems are the physical elements that enable us to acquire data through connections and information transitions. This flow occurs through sensors or actuators managed by control elements found in applications and often cloud-based. However, the prototyping and implementation of this interconnected system is not easy and can only be done by experts in hardware and network design.
You will also need to consider a variety of aspects when putting together such an interconnected system:
- the type of IoT devices to be used: the choice depends on the volume of data to be analyzed and classified. Based on these, devices that have a certain processing capacity (power, throughput, and speed) an SoC (system-on-a-chip), or a programmable array field gate (FPGA) will be selected.
- Device unit cost, which should be in line with the budget available and the total cost of ownership
- the structural and environmental conditions under which it will have to function.
Networking: connections to the network and between devices
Before we delve into connections, we need to design the communication flow we want to achieve and what path the information should take. These aspects are outside the strictly technical realm and fall more into strategic design.
One can choose between a connection:
- Machine to Machine (M2M): where information passes from one machine to another, and if these are equipped with Artificial Intelligence or connected to Edge devices initial processing of the data also takes place;
- Machine to Human (M2H): devices through reference software create a dashboard that will be processed by a resource in order to leverage the information in process optimization or as a guide for decision making;
- Human to Human (H2H): IoT devices in this case are simply channels that convey information produced by people. To date, despite the power of the technologies we have, the human mind continues to show its intuitive and creative superiority.
Increasingly fast Internet connections and increasingly flexible and customizable cloud types have created the ideal environment for IoT devices to reach their full potential. The evaluation in this case will look at the standards, protocols, and network technologies (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Lora, cellular, RFID technologies) to be implemented to achieve the set goals.
It will have to be a competent person to manage the volume of devices connected to the network so as not to risk slowdowns in the passage of information. For example, an expert knows that LPWAN (Low Power Wide-Area Network) technologies are best suited for industrial and large-scale IoT applications.
Integrated programming: the interaction between IoT and pre-existing systems
Although most IoT devices are embedded, there are cases where customization requires user interface design done by professionals who can enhance the user experience. They will indeed have to design the circuits, program the microcontroller, and understand the hardware communication protocols. It will be the eye of the experts to choose between platforms such as Arduino or single-board computers such as Raspberry Pi, or custom printed circuit boards (PCBs).
The interface of IoT devices can be embedded in the device itself or can be achieved through applications and software created specifically to enable human-computer interaction. An expert in IoT app development languages will ensure that the interaction with the device is as functional as possible for the resource using it. Commands can be voice, touch, or take advantage of the potential of augmented reality.
IoT is the backbone of Industry 4.0 if harnessed with the right technologies, it is the gateway to the world of data Click To Tweet
Data management: from analysis to forecasting
The main goal of IoT devices is precisely to optimize the data management process. The first step is choosing the sources from which to draw. Immediately after that, developers will have to create places to store, sort, and classify the large amount of heterogeneous data produced by connected IoT devices.
I will not elaborate further on this topic, having discussed it before with a specific focus, but it remains to emphasize the importance of defining a proper software training dataset and the classification of the data to be stored and the data to be processed in situ, perhaps relying on Edge device processing.
Security: how secure are IoT devices?
It is not easy to monitor the access allowed by the networking of IoT devices. In fact, if we think that even a simple smartwatch can be a gateway to archives we realize that only constant monitoring and network connection authorization protocols can save corporate data. In fact, all IoT devices need to be protected and constantly updated. With smartphones and computers, we do this automatically but we should remember to do it for printers and smart TVs as well. If you have time read what can happen if you don’t properly configure a smart TV on the corporate network.
Again, the advice is to rely on experts at least in the design phase of IoT systems to be clear about the risks and benefits of connected devices. But most importantly, to understand how to protect yourself from hackers and threats that are renewing themselves by becoming more and more complex to block.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: how they make use of IoT devices
When we talk about Big Data, we cannot ignore AI and Machine Learning, which enable the enterprise to take a real leap forward. It is important to generate, collect, store and classify data, but equally important is to train the systems so that they automatically perform certain actions and also have the ability to learn from the data itself.
Experts also make a difference in this field. Data scientists know what sources are useful in creating a diverse collection of data that takes in the various aspects of information useful for process optimization. Also crucial is the robustness and reliability of the data. The Internet of Things offers a great opportunity: to read data in real time.
This is important for predictive analytics, but it also allows for intelligent data monitoring with associated flow control. Reading the event history will reveal anomalies or efficiency losses on machinery, for example, that appears to be functioning properly.