Q&A: IIoT, Big Data and the future of IA with Uwe Grundmann

Mr. Uwe Grundmann, GM of ARC Advisory Group’s European Operations, recently visited Japan to give a presentation at the ARC Tokyo Forum. Mr. Grundmann’s presentation, The Information-Driven Enterprise for the Connected World, focused on the impact that the Internet of Things (IoT) will have on industrial companies in Japan and elsewhere.  Following the Forum, Yokogawa Advanced Solutions had a chance to sit down with Mr. Grundmann at Yokogawa headquarters in Tokyo to discuss the topic as it applies to Industrial Automation. A summary of our discussion follows:

Q: From your perspective, can you provide a brief overview on how the IA industry has changed over the last 30 years? 

Uwe Grundmann: Major innovations in process control and the creation of the DCS changed the industry back in the 70’s.  Unfortunately, innovation lagged a bit in the subsequent thirty years, with only incremental advancements hitting the market.  In the last seven to eight years, however, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount and velocity of innovation to hit the IA space.  This has been driven largely by advancements in commercial information technology (IT) such as virtualization and the cloud, and consumer technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and virtual reality gaming. 

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot of buzz today around the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in manufacturing and automation sectors.  What does IIoT mean to you?

Uwe Grundman: For me, IIoT means connecting often previous “stranded” data from sensors, devices, machines, and other smart “things” with cloud-based analytics and other applications to help industrial users make sense of this Big Data and gain value from it.  In essence, IoT involves bringing IT to the plant floor; to the industrial world.  By applying widely used technologies from our personal lives such as remotely controlled security systems, entertainment systems, smart buildings, smart cars, etc., we can create big opportunities for improvements in the industrial space.  Obviously, a strong business case must be developed for applying these types of general-purpose technologies in an industrial environment and appropriate measures employed to ensure the safety and security of industrial operations.

Q: Can you explain the concepts of Big Data and Industrie 4.0 and how they relate to each other?

Uwe Grundmann: Data are constantly being fed to private cloud databases by businesses and the internet. These data grow continuously, often without structure.  In contrast, Big Data is the valuable information that comes from organizing, structuring, and analyzing the stored data.

Industrie 4.0 is a government-sponsored project in Germany intended to try to use digital technology to improve manufacturing production within the country. Other governments sponsor similar efforts as well, all with different names. Industrie 4.0, which shares many of the same concepts and objectives as IIoT, is the name of our project in Germany.

Q: What challenges do you see in advancing these efforts and IIoT as a whole?

Uwe Grundmann: Collaboration between different domains will be a big challenge. Cooperation and mutual understanding between experts in automation, production, and information technology will be the key element. After that, there will be a need for creative talents. Just as Apple, Google, and other companies are creating a constant stream of new “apps” for iOS and Android smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, we’ll need to have specialists continuously creating new innovative, value-adding applications on the industrial side.

However, there is a difference between innovations intended for our personal lives and usage on the plant floor. The graphics and human interface itself are very important. When an app is released for the iPhone, most everybody knows how to use it since the app is designed to be inherently intuitive.  In the manufacturing arena, new applications tend to be less-than-intuitive and people don’t always understand their purpose and how to leverage benefit from them.  This makes training important.

Q: How difficult would it be for, let’s say a 30-year old plant, to safely introduce IIoT?

Uwe Grundmann: With today’s technologies, bringing Ethernet and mobile devices to the industrial arena would be fairly simple. Therefore, getting IIoT under way in an older plant should not be an issue as long as the basic infrastructure is in place, appropriate management support is present, and there is not excessive cultural resistance. Of course, there will be early adopters and late movers, but I feel that we will see high acceptance early on in mobile devices for plant floor maintenance. This new technology will be easy to implement and make maintenance positions more attractive as well. I feel this is coming pretty soon, across old plants and new.  One potential stumbling block is the need for cost-effective mobile devices that are appropriate for use in industrial environments.

Q: Will the return on investment be worthwhile for a 30-year old plant?

Uwe Grundmann: The owner of a 30-year old plant will need to do this eventually or there will be no chance to survive. The plant owner needs to think about who will be running the plant in the near future – i.e., the younger generation.

Plain and simple, something will need to be done because the workforce will demand it. IIoT will be the standard, not the exception, in the near future. Just as 20-year-old DCSs are outdated and there are very few people today with the know-how to operate and maintain those systems, 10 or 20 years from today there will be very few with the know-how to operate a plant without IIoT. No matter how old the plant is, if you don’t incorporate the systems as they progress, or at least parts of them, you will not survive – because the competition that does will be safer and more efficient, and the upcoming workforce will not want to join an outdated plant.

Q: How do you see the real or perceived security threat dampening the growth potential of IIoT or Industrie 4.0?

Uwe Grundmann: Customers are pushing back somewhat because of concerns about cybersecurity.  They look to their suppliers for a solution.  Suppliers will need to identify potential vulnerabilities, educate customers about the potential threats, and support their customers with safety and cybersecurity consulting services to help speed up the process. More than just the platform, consulting and education are critical for successful implementation.  The internal security strategy is crucial because, as we know, most cybersecurity threats are internal. Pushback from customers will not dampen the innovation. In my mind, the shift to IIoT will continue, driven by the need to obtain and utilize data to improve plant and business performance.

Q: Do you find the rate of technological change that we are experiencing in both our personal and professional lives exciting, or daunting?

Uwe Grundmann: When I see so many younger people today sitting on the train looking at their smartphones rather than talking to each other, I feel that we are losing some of our interpersonal communication skills. This is an important piece of the puzzle. The way we communicate in the future will be very different than today.  I can’t help but ask myself if this will be the right way for our kids. How will humans interact in 100 years? Will we talk to each other on phones, or will it just be SMS like we see today with WhatsApp and other communication apps?

The whole industry is changing because the new workforce is already different.  Generally speaking, IoT is already happening.  People are already using remote-controlled entry systems, Bluetooth speakers, and air conditioners and soon the entire workforce will expect it.  You either have to accept IIoT, or get left behind. This is a definite. Why would a bright, young operator, technician, or engineer want to work for a company or at a plant that does not incorporate the new and innovative technologies that are quickly becoming the standard?

Q: From what we can tell, OT and IT are still very much separated.  Will IIoT help close this gap and eventually enable OT and IT to converge?

Uwe Grundmann: Generally speaking, yes. This is the “long range” vision that we see.

Q: So how will this change how companies run not just the operations side, but also the business itself?

Uwe Grundmann: ARC believes that information-empowered operations and automation people will take on more responsibility for the business. At the same time, IIoT will create transparency, enabling plant managers to see the specific contribution that automation has on the plant and the business. IIoT will definitely change the business model of some customers entirely, as well.

With products delivered as a service replacing conventional hardware or software, different business models will be created and responsibilities will change. In the past, the IT department was responsible for providing safe and reliable infrastructure and not much more. Now they are more responsible for the business, and will continue to gain responsibility.  The same will happen in automation.

Yokogawa Advanced Solutions would like to thank Mr. Grundmann and ARC for an informative conference and interview. Please feel free to email or share your comments on this topic below.