Sustainability and the Industrial Internet

Jul 7, 2016

The Industrial Internet: What Is It?

Much has been written about the Internet of Things (IoT). If your car communicates to your dealer that maintenance is due, you’ve already experienced the IoT. The IoT is a network of interconnected items—anything with an IP address— that can communicate automatically and be made “smart” by embedded sensors.

By extension, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT or Industrial Internet) is the IoT in a manufacturing setting. Dave Turbide, an expert in industrial systems, writes that the Industrial Internet “is a logical extension of automation and connectivity that has been a part of the plant environment for decades, primarily in the area known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.”

The Opportunity

Smart equipment and devices can more effectively capture and communicate data. In a manufacturing setting, this means faster identification of potential quality issues and approaching equipment failure, according to TechTarget. An added benefit is greater visibility into a company’s supply chain.

A recent Forbes article highlighted the value of smart products. Manufacturers can use data provided by smart products to compare “manufacturing inputs and processes to spikes in warranty claims or product defects automatically detected when the product ‘phones home.’ Connected products can also inform the supply chain about things like predicted demand for aftermarket parts.”

The Industrial Internet could also enhance safety and operational efficiency, according to an article in Electrical Contractor magazine. By adding sensors to LED luminaires, buildings could have thousands of data points—providing information on space utilization, traffic patterns and air quality, among others. “For example, tracking forklift movement patterns can lead to optimal inventory placement and warehouse layout designs.”

Sustainability Implications

From a sustainability standpoint, the IoT presents the opportunity to decrease energy usage—and, therefore, greenhouse gas emissions—along with waste. For example, sensors that detect building occupancy can automatically optimize lighting and temperature. Proactively identifying potential quality issues would reduce wasted products.

However, adding sensors and components, along with additional data center requirements, to enable the IoT, has environmental costs in terms of resources, waste and emissions. An article in Sustainable Brands emphasizes the importance of evaluating the potential environmental benefits against the potential environmental costs of making a product “smart.”

Dave Mercier, Director of Codes and Standards at Southwire Company, LLC, says, “New IIoT technologies provide dramatically more opportunities for measuring and monitoring performance, enabling organizations to improve their sustainability performance over time. Larger databases provide the ability to see both immediate improvements and the long-term impact. Without data and long-term monitoring, many gains can be lost over time.”

IIoT Partnerships

Collaborations between manufacturers and technology companies are critical to the Industrial Internet. Companies will work together more closely to come up with more innovative lighting infrastructures and other uses of interconnected items that share data to increase efficiencies, improve quality and reduce waste.

Learn more about Southwire’s collaborations with other organizations in our Industry Partnerships page in our 2015 Sustainability Report.