The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is a much-hyped subject. But while practical applications are still few and far between, three Nordic companies are putting sensor data, smart machines and connectivity into real-word use.
Konecranes: Industrial internet a strategic choice
Automation, remote control and even machine-to-machine (M2M) communication are not new in the manufacturing industry, but IIoT is taking them to the next level by incorporating machine learning, big data technology and the internet of things (IoT).
Finnish company Konecranes specialises in manufacturing and servicing cranes and lifting equipment. It decided four years ago it would adopt the industrial internet as a core part of its business strategy.
“We decided a few years ago to equip – whether the customer was interested in the opportunity or not – all our machines with sensors and the ability to communicate,” said Konecranes chief digital officer Juha Pankakoski. “This means machines out in the field would be smart enough to observe their condition, their surroundings and also to communicate their observations.”
While cranes today are packed with sensors and probes helping them to move around with minimal control to make the actual lifting safer and more efficient, what IIoT systems have enabled Konecranes to do is to use the collected data to better understand, control and guide the cranes.
“We can apply the information collected during the lifting process to better manage the entire material handling process,” Pankakoski said. "The crane doesn’t only observe the lifting of the load but what and how much is lifted.”
Both Konecranes and its customers can see what a specific crane is doing, and how it is functioning both remotely and in real-time. Furthermore the crane has the ability to communicate possible faults or defects. The customer benefits from improved safety and dependability as well as better management of maintenance needs, while Konecranes gets access to valuable information for enhancing its own services and products.
Kemppi: Bringing sensor data to welding
Similarly, another Finnish firm, arc welding equipment manufacturer Kemppi, has made data an integral part of its systems to take welding processes into the digital age.
Demanding welding projects – such as oil rigs and power plants – require several welders, hundreds of procedure specifications and thousands of pages of documentation for the welding itself. Traditionally the welder would have learnt the specifications and after finishing would write the job details next to it with chalk.
“With our system documentation and information regarding every individual job, they can mostly be automated,” explained Kari Kemppi, director of welding management solutions at Kemppi. “We can also see if the procedure specifications have been followed. Previously this was done using random checks.”
The system, which connects a cloud backbone to small handheld device attached to welding machines, not only improves efficiency but also reduces faults by detecting whether a welder is following the specifications of a seam. If they are not followed or the system detects any other issues, the welder and his supervisor can be notified.
And, instead of chalk, welders use their handheld devices to record the details of the job which are automatically uploaded to the cloud and assigned to their specific seam. Furthermore, the device can be attached to any welding machinery, not just Kemppi’s own.
“If a customer decides to use our system, it’s of course their data. We provide the facilities for storing the data and keeping it safe,” Kemppi said. “The system can also be connected to the customer’s closed network if they prefer.”
Ericsson: A provider point of view
The last company is a familiar face. Swedish giant Ericsson is applying its telecommunications, connectivity management and service enablement technologies to create IIoT and IoT systems for the transportation, utilities and public security sectors.
“Many of our customers are looking to have near global coverage, seamless mobility of cars, ships and the devices they carry around the world,” said Ericsson driver of connected industries Alejandro Ferrer. “We are providing technology for service enablement. It handles the devices, the configuration, and captures and manages the data for use in different applications.”
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A typical example is Ericsson’s container management platform for shipping companies such as Maersk. The platform is used in big cargo vessels to monitor containers on board, analyse their data and trigger alerts if there are problems, such as rising temperature in a refrigerated container.
Similarly, Ericsson’s technology is also behind the connected car cloud service of Volvo. The safety system enables a car to identify dangerous situations and immediately alert other cars. Initially this works only with Volvos, but the long term aim is to share the data with all cars and road authorities.
Security check for all
As promising as all these sytems sound, when collecting and sharing vast amounts of data there is one common challenge: security.
Pankakoski at Konecranes sees data security as an integral part of IIoT systems and believes the realities of security threats need to be built in the core system architecture.
Speaking from his own experience with Konecranes, he said: “On the security side the premise needs to be that no matter what kind of solution you are using and how well it is built, it is not impenetrable. There are always vulnerabilities somewhere.
"The focus should be how the architecture is built, what control can be included in the machinery itself using remote controls, what kind of information is transmitted and what has to be kept locally at the premises."
Ferrer at Ericsson agrees that security is one of the major issues for IIoT.
“Now that we are opening all these interfaces to many players, it is not possible to create only perimeter safety – it is also about detecting when the information has been accessed and when it has been changed,” he said. “We are working with our own technology and also with partners to secure that.”
The importance of security will only grow as IIoT systems start to reach their full potential. For Pankakoski the industrial internet is still in its first stages and it will take time and the further development of M2M communication before we see truly horizontal IIoT systems.
“If IoT takes off rapidly on the consumer side and good communications platforms and sensors are developed, it will help the industry side. But the demands on the industry side are harder,” said Pankakoski.
“I do believe that in five years [IIoT] will be a tried and tested technology which won’t have any novelty value. But the development of solutions that are related to machine networks, entire production networks and logistics networks will continue for the next 10 years,“ he added.
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