Back in 2008, The Big Bang Theory amazed me in the episode “The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarizationus” (Watch Episode Here). In the episode, the gang of nerdy physicists finds a way to connect their apartment lights to the Internet and then use the Internet to send signals across the web to turn the apartment lights on and off. At the time, this was an amazing notion. Following that airing, Google trends show an upward trend in the number of IoT searches (See Google Trend). The year 2008 was also when the concept “Internet of Things” (IoT for short) itself was born, in response to the first time in human history when the number of devices connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people in the world.
But even with the help of The Big Bang Theory to push us towards the idea of a connected world, Internet of Things didn’t really take off until 2011. Why? That year marked the launch of IPV6 protocol. Before this, all we had was IPV4, a 32-bit address space which only allowed approximately 4.3 billion unique IP addresses. That was a wall to the dream of an Internet-connected world. With IPV4, we wouldn’t have nearly enough IP addresses needed to connect all the devices worldwide. IPV6 brought down that wall, with an address space of 128-bits, allowing ~340 undecillion IP addresses (~42 undecillion for the public Internet). To put that number in perspective, we have enough IP addresses to cover hundreds of earths.
Ever since, Internet of Things (IoT) has taken over the globe, growing in popularity and become a big-time term across all industries. The Manufacturing industry is finally picking up on this too, and thus is born the term “IIoT.” First off, there is an important distinction to be made between “Internet of Things (IoT)” and “Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).” IoT applies to the consumer space, including thermostats (Nest), self-replenishing fridges, connected light bulbs, and driverless cars. Meanwhile IIoT applies specifically to smartly connected operations within a plant.
What is IIoT really? In a nutshell, it’s a concept about how to have different devices on the manufacturing floor talking together to make smart decisions. There are challenges to overcome to achieve this. For one, up until now, equipment was never designed with connectivity in mind. The other challenge is that the existing infrastructure that needs to be connected has a diverse number of communication protocols, such as HTTP, REST, SOAP, MQTT, OPC, DDS, MTCONNECT, FOCUS, the list goes on and on. What IIoT will really do is bridge all of this diversity and create standardization. Why is this important to Manufacturing? IIoT will bridge the connectivity gap that exists today. This in turn will lead the way to Smart Manufacturing, which is also known as Digital Enterprise 4.0.
I’ve been working in Manufacturing for a decade, helping companies integrate their manufacturing floor to provide visibility and control. I understand the challenges that IIoT needs to overcome and the advantages that IIoT brings. While IIoT isn’t really a new concept, it gives a name to the concept which helps the industry push forward in in the wild frontier of connected Manufacturing. If you don’t get on this train, you will be left behind.