For those already attuned to adjusting your lighting and heating at home or letting people enter your house remotely, you may already have a glimmer of how automation via the Internet of Things can help your home and your costs.
So, if you can picture that scaling up to warehouses, industries, and between businesses, you may see how companies can make huge supply, cost, and time savings.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can help manufacturers and other organizations with environmental monitoring by providing real-time data on environmental conditions, identifying potential problems before they become serious, optimizing the use of resources, and reducing waste.
From environmental monitoring to health and safety monitoring, we dig into how IIoT is reshaping industries at scale.
Keeping Things Cool and Under Control
There are many ways that industrial companies can use the IIoT to monitor conditions, says Doug Roberson, chief operating officer at Shelly USA, a provider of automation solutions.
“Real-time data collection is essential because IIoT devices, such as sensors and cameras, can be deployed across various points in a manufacturing plant to continuously monitor environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, air quality, and the presence of hazardous gasses,” he says.
With predictive analytics, the data collected from these devices can be analyzed using advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to predict potential environmental hazards or inefficiencies, allowing companies to take preventive measures, he adds.
Roberson says IIoT enables the integration of automated control systems that can respond in real time to changes in environmental conditions.
For instance, if a sensor detects a rise in temperature, the system can automatically adjust cooling systems to maintain optimal conditions.
“Managers and relevant personnel can monitor environmental conditions remotely through IIoT platforms,” he notes. “The system can also send alerts in case of deviations from predefined thresholds, ensuring prompt response to potential issues.”
There is continued reliance on outdated, analogue methods for environmental monitoring in the industrial space, says Bryan Merckling, chief executive officer of Thinaer, a provider of IIoT asset-tracking solutions.
“This traditional approach restricts comprehensive data gathering, leading to decision-making based on partial insights and operational inefficiencies,” he says.
The real game-changer lies in embracing a holistic IIoT solution; however, it’s not just about installing sensors, Merckling says. Instead, it’s about integrating IIoT into a broader digital strategy for asset tracking and digital twins to fill “digital data blind spots.”
Merckling offers an example.
“Consider sensitive components stored in freezers – with IIoT asset tracking and digital twin, we can track not only critical environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity but also the locations of these materials,” he explains.
By combining this with extensive data about compressor vibration door open/close status, for example, organizations receive proactive alerts, preventing waste.
“This approach not only safeguards valuable assets but also extends their lifespan, exemplifying how IIoT transforms mere data collection into a catalyst for smarter, more efficient operations,” he adds.
“We have seen that filling data blind spots connected to industrial operations and making decisions with a completed data picture has reduced waste by almost 10%.”
IIoT Environmental Monitoring Use Cases
Roberson provides some examples of IIoT environmental monitoring use cases.
- Remote power cycling: Organizations can remotely reboot networks, computers, and other equipment rather than rolling out a truck.
- Energy management in data centres: Companies can measure environmental factors, such as humidity, temperature, and occupancy, to manage HVAC systems and use energy metering of motors and other equipment for predictive maintenance.
- Leak and flood detection: Companies can continuously monitor for the presence of water and enable pumps and water valves to shut off to prevent damage.
- Agricultural waste management: Organizations in this sector can use sensors to monitor conditions in waste storage areas, preventing overflows and leakage, thereby protecting surrounding land and water sources.
- Smart grids for electricity distribution: IIoT enables better load management, reduces the amount of wasted power, and enhances the integration of renewable energy sources.
When Storms and Natural Disasters Hit
Ian Itz, director of the global IoT line of business at Iridium Communications, a satellite communication company, also offers an example use case.
He says extreme, unpredictable weather patterns are increasing with the changing climate.
IIoT-connected monitoring devices that collect satellite data enable meteorologists to better predict the timings, trajectory, and severity of storms and other natural disasters.
“This level of insight gives local governments and communities a leg up on nature when preparing, mitigating, and responding to threats of extreme weather and associated impacts,” Itz notes.
“Awareness of these patterns can also serve workforce safety by providing timely updates to mitigate the impacts of dangerous weather on workers in oil and gas, mining, and transport industries.”
Energy generation is another way industrial companies can use IIoT to monitor environmental conditions.
“For example, power plants are increasingly using a mix of renewable and traditional energy generation, says Young. “During low demand periods, excess energy is stored in batteries and used when demand is high.”
With IIoT, teams can connect predictive weather services to energy generation sites to dynamically adjust each for optimal energy generation and storage.
“Additionally, monitoring environmental conditions for solar, wind, or hydroelectric, for example, helps plan for optimized renewable generation while minimizing the use of fossil fuel generation,” Young adds.
Failure Is Not an Option
Daniel Young, senior manager of product standards at Toshiba America, notes that industrial companies can use IIoT to monitor environmental conditions with equipment monitoring and maintenance.
For equipment monitoring and maintenance, teams can connect sensors, i.e., heat, vibration, noise, etc., to equipment, i.e., motors and pumps, which can feed the sensor data to the edge or cloud network for data collection, he explains.
“During normal operation, teams can save and use the collected sensor data to form a baseline of normal equipment usage,” Young says.
“Sensors also allow for easier equipment monitoring, and over time, team members can alert leaders of anomalies outside of normal equipment usage.”
In addition to equipment monitoring, sensors can monitor environmental conditions that can strain equipment, such as heat. The technology can then automatically adjust the operation to reduce stress on equipment components.
“Using sensors can also help teams follow a predictive maintenance approach to their equipment with artificial intelligence (AI),” he says.
“AI models can take existing data and predict future abnormal behaviour, including when a failure might happen.”
Bryan Saunders, director of IoT industry consulting at AI and analytics provider SAS, says that IIoT, powered by AI and advanced analytics, is a critical tool to optimize processes, improve quality, reduce waste and emissions, improve equipment performance, and monitor environmental conditions.
As organizations continue their journey to more data-driven decisions, there has been a strategic focus on understanding the operational influence of changing physical and environmental conditions across their facilities, he says.
“In addition to changing raw material properties, weather, temperature, and humidity can affect product quality and operations,” Saunders notes.
“So analyzing the data gathered from sensors throughout the manufacturing process can deliver important insights and help drive increased agility to transient changes across operations.”
Ensuring Worker Safety
Workers who operate in dangerous or equipment-heavy environments, for example, those who work on the assembly line in a manufacturing facility, are often at risk for on-the-job injuries, according to David Ly, chief executive officer and founder of Iveda, a provider of AI and digital transformation technologies.
“The Industrial Internet of Things can help manufacturers identify potentially hazardous situations and bolster on-the-job safety and security,” he says.
“With IIoT solutions, businesses will be able to identify flaws in their systems and can exchange information to perfect workflows by measuring critical data.
“In turn, these insights can be translated to a centralized source of information that will continue to learn and improve over time.”
He explains that deploying IIoT technology that is constantly learning through everyday use can alert workers and employers of potentially hazardous situations before any harm is done, keeping personnel, property, and equipment more secure.
For example, implementing systems that can actively monitor the levels of carcinogenic chemical compounds, electrical wiring, and welding inspections can alert workers when anything looks amiss.
This becomes especially useful for industrial workers by enabling IIoT to take historical knowledge to the next level, allowing the business and its people to work smarter, not harder, Ly says.
Roberson concurs that early detection of hazardous conditions, such as leaks or toxic emissions, ensures worker safety and compliance with environmental regulations.
Industrial companies can reap many benefits when they use IIoT to monitor environmental conditions, Young says.
One of the most significant advantages for industrial companies is that IIoT enables them to implement a predictive maintenance strategy for their equipment to prepare and help prevent catastrophic failures before they happen.
“To successfully use this strategy, companies must monitor the environmental conditions the equipment is operating in, in addition to monitoring the equipment’s components,” he notes.
If data is power, then collecting that data and having it actively monitored — autonomously — is a tool that can pay dividends when artfully deployed.
If you know your environment very well, you can operate at your best within it.