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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Why IIoT is Transformative - its not the technology!

OK so I am not going to bore you with "what is IoT and IIOT", a topic that has been talked, explained and debated at length and for some time now. What I do want to discuss is how and why IIoT is a  fundamental concept of the new industrial paradigm (aka Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, etc.). We tend to think and talk about IIoT form the perspective of the technology that is used to implement it, ie connectivity, sensors, software, protocols, etc. While IIoT undoubtedly involves cutting-edge technology, it's crucial to understand that it transcends mere technological advancement.

The premise of IIoT is that it can seamlessly connect the physical world to the digital realm to generate a continuous stream of data that empowers us to make data-driven decisions, optimize operations, and create an entirely new reality for the frontline operators. However there is something much deeper, and more novel in IIoT. It enables us to structure and restructure our manufacturing operations in a way that we have never imagined, ultimately providing agility and unseen before productivity improvements.

It starts with understanding the underlying concepts of what makes a device, app, sensor, machine, etc. IIoT? In other words what makes a "Thing", the T in IIoT. The thing has to be a node in a network - meaning that network dynamics are a core ingredient in IIoT. Nodes can be everything from a sensor to a machine, to an digitally enabled operator. And here comes the most important aspect, in order to be a node in this network the thing has to be both autonomous and collaborative.

Autonomous means that it has the ability to operate independently of a system or other nodes in the network. It has a set of rules that governs and control its operation, and it may also have adaptive decision-making. For example algorithms that allow it to analyze data in real-time and make decisions based on predefined rules. This could involve adjusting control settings on machines, triggering maintenance alerts, or even taking corrective actions within its capabilities. Another example are Apps (or digital content) that provide for uniquely integrated frontline operator experience. They provide a specific and unique operational environment in which the operator is connected with the equipment and can operate autonomously as a unit. They instrument the activity and operational processes by capturing granular data in the context of the operation. 

It's important to note that the degree of autonomy in IIoT devices depends on various factors, including their intended purpose, processing power, and communication capabilities. Some devices may operate within pre-defined parameters, while others can learn and adapt over time. Regardless of the level, IIoT autonomy brings significant benefits like faster response times, improved efficiency, and a uniquely integrated human experience or more precisely "augmentation". 

Collaborative means nodes can communicate with each other to achieve complex tasks. This could involve sharing data, coordinating actions, or dynamically adjusting to changing conditions as a collective unit. They interact and cooperate with each other, unlocking a new level of operational efficiency and intelligence. The key in the collaboration is working towards a common objective, be it optimizing production processes, enhancing safety, or predicting equipment failures. With some central oversight the nodes also possess the ability to analyze data and make autonomous decisions based on their local contexts

In the context of the frontline operation apps play a crucial role in a coordinated system to execute operational and business processes. They serve as the interface between the human operator and the IIoT network. They provide unique local business logic and rules they provide coordinated execution of production logistics and valuable business processes. They include process routing and material flow logic that is built into each app for its specific scope of operation. They augment operator activity with the execution logic that is seamless for the frontline operator.  By coordinating with other Apps using shared information they allow operators to make decisions and share information, including coordination with business systems to drive production logistics and quality information.

AI generated illustration of a Holon (aka Dynamic Network)

Its interesting to note that in order for IIoT to be autonomous and collaborative they don't necessarily have to be intelligent. The autonomy and collaborative characteristic can be easily achieved by a set of simple rules and logic. In the case of augmentation of frontline operators the intelligence naturally comes from the human. In most manufacturing scenarios the IIoT network will be a hybrid making for a much more powerful solution - one that is more adaptive and performant. The nodes in the solution adjust their roles, refine their responses, and even contribute to collective knowledge over time, leading to continuous improvement and optimization. 

IIoT device and app collaboration is not just a technological marvel, it's a paradigm shift in industrial operations. An IIoT solution as a system can exhibits intelligent adaptive behavior!  That is because there are two interesting and intertwined phenomena at play here, one is emergence and the other called "Collective Intelligence". Collective Intelligence arises from the combined capabilities and interactions of individual nodes, ultimately exceeding the sum of their parts. It's like a team where each member brings their unique strengths and insights, but through collaboration, they achieve more than any individual could on their own. 

Augmented Lean describes how human operators play a part in the IIoT network.

IIoT's significance lies not just in its technological prowess, but in its ability to transform industries from the inside out. It empowers data-driven decision making, optimizes operations, fosters innovation, and creates new business opportunities. IIoT is not just a technological fad; it's the driving force behind the current industrial revolution, shaping the future of how we manufacture, produce, and interact with the world around us. IIoT with augmentation, ie integrating the frontline operator into the network is even more powerful and probably also the easiest way to achieve collective intelligence. In fact even a fully manual manufacturing operations, one without or little technology exhibits these dynamics. Think how quickly you can transform and elevate performance in your operation by introducing augmentation with apps. You can transform your operation into an IIoT network nearly overnight, with unheard of performance gains - try it, it works!

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