Encouraging businesses to make billions of better decisions – now and in the future

In a survey of 700 decision makers from 12 different industries around the world, ABB found that just 35 percent had managed to implement industrial IoT at scale despite 95 percent understanding its importance. There is clearly an urgent need to make a stronger case for IoT to turn the dial from inaction to action. But how? Here, Sherif El-Meshad, Digital Lead, Electrification at ABB, looks at why businesses need to understand the benefits of digitalization both now and in the future to truly embrace the IoT revolution.

Energy costs are rising and energy security, particularly in Europe, is declining. As a result, some businesses may be considering for the first time the benefits of digitalization to help them resolve their short and mid-term issues with the energy and cost savings that are achievable with industrial IoT devices. But there’s more to digitalization than a quick energy fix, and we would be doing customers a disservice if we don’t show them what more there is to come.

It is time to inspire businesses with the benefits which will elevate their operations and lift them above their competitors in the next three to five years if they commit to a digital approach now.

Looking ahead to a low a carbon future

The digitalization of plant, machinery or equipment isn’t only about ensuring it runs more efficiently to save energy and money in the here and now. Digitalization is a key enabler for sustainability and helping companies on their journey to net zero, so it will become increasingly important as the 2050 global deadline looms large.

One way industrial IoT goes hand-in-hand with sustainability is because it can facilitate the transition to more onsite renewable energy generation. This may seem like something which is a long way off becoming a reality, but with a limited timeframe to reach net zero, there will be increasing pressure on businesses to hit their carbon emissions targets – and not only through offsetting.

Renewables, such as solar, are relatively straight forward to install onsite but the energy they provide is intermittent, so battery energy storage systems (BESS) must also be set up in tandem to store any excess energy for use later when generation dips. However, to effectively smooth out the peaks and troughs, digital tools are essential to analyse and manage generation and demand.

Digital is also the ‘regulator’ which allows renewables and BESS to connect to the grid, which we will see much more of in the future. With grid interaction, it is possible to earn additional extra income from selling excess generation back to the grid (balancing services) which also helps to maintain national grid stability.

As companies seek ways to support the energy transition – either to realise their own sustainability goals, to comply with tougher legislation or to become more self-sufficient - they will find that improving efficiencies, making money and saving the planet can be done simultaneously, and this is all enabled by industrial IoT.

If we master digitalization’s potential it could even get us to net positive but that is some way in the future, along with a lot of other exciting developments.

The digital revolution continues

There are many developments in the pipeline for industrial IoT, so if enabling the energy transition doesn’t inspire customers to make the move to digital, perhaps some of these new technologies and developments on the horizon will.

The first big development will be the wide adoption of 5G, which we expect to take place in the very near future once the infrastructure is ready to go. IoT requires a fast, strong and reliable internet connection, which fifth generation technology for cellular networks should be able to deliver. 5G is around 10 times faster than 4G and more than 30 times faster than 3G1. When running at its peak, 5G offers very low latency, so digital tools will benefit from being able to read and collect information and act in real time to the data being transmitted and received.

As well as getting faster, industrial IoT in the future will be smarter. Digitalization is always evolving and advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will move IoT systems on to the next level of functionality. Using these advanced technologies, a system can take a series of data, analyse it and establish its own baseline; it can then operate unsupervised by identifying different modes of operation and providing actionable insights when necessary, such as recommendations to turn off an asset if the monitoring system detects lead-to-fault conditions. And the best thing is that the system keeps learning and improving over time with more data flowing in.

Advances in AI and ML will work in tandem with advances in sensor technology in the future which will help us create a fingerprint for a healthy piece of equipment to give us the ability to implement predictive, preventative maintenance which will save users the time and expense of unscheduled downtime. Creating an asset fingerprint, we will be able to track changes so that any issues can be diagnosed before the problem becomes a major fault requiring the equipment to be taken offline for an extended period of time. By decreasing the cost of maintenance, we can effectively decrease the overall cost of asset ownership.

From predictive maintenance to remote maintenance, we now have technologies which allow engineers to maintain and repair equipment using augmented and virtual reality. These technologies can be used to deliver a range of real time support services including troubleshooting, guided repairs and maintenance, technical information on equipment operation, spare part identification, monitoring and diagnostic KPI analysis and installation and commissioning support. We launched the first set of our own AR services for handhelds last year, but we are at the tip of the iceberg for its roll out and there is so much potential for this platform to be utilized across a range of industries.

It won’t just be the technologies themselves which will evolve in the future, the way they are delivered is also set to change. Advances in edge and cloud computing and new business models will shift the emphasis from paying for everything upfront to paying for services on subscription. By moving from CAPEX to OPEX, these cutting-edge technologies will become more affordable which is guaranteed to increase adoption by lowering the barriers to implementing digital solutions. We will also see other business innovations come to fruition, such as energy as a service.

You have the power – why don’t you use it?

For businesses who are on the fence about digitalization, the overwhelming sentiment must be to act now. The industrial IoT technology they need is already here, they just need a strategy to figure out what they want it to deliver and how to put the ingredients together in a way that works for them. There is so much more to come from digital services, so the sooner you get on board, the better.

Ultimately, the steps businesses take on their industrial IoT journey today, will carry them into a more certain and assured future where they will reap the benefits that digitalization has to offer. It’s one better decision today, followed by many years of billions more.

1 https://www.itpro.co.uk/mobile/28081/what-is-5g

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