AI for IIoT: How Artificial Intelligence Will Take the Industrial Internet of Things to New Heights

Among the technological breakthroughs of the last decade or so, few will reach the level of impact that AI and the Industrial Internet of Things combined will have on the industrial sector.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

Before we delve deep into this subject, let’s hear what expert-level research has to say about both of these technologies:

  • The Artificial Intelligence sector will be a $190 billion industry by the year 2025. (Source: Market & Market)
  • 40 percent of the digital transformation initiatives in 2019 are powered by AI. (Source: IDC)
  • There will be more than 64 billion IoT devices by 2025, up from about 10 billion in 2018. (Source: Business Insider)
  • Business investment will account for more than 50 percent of the overall IoT spending in 2020. (Source: PwC)
  • IoT has the potential to generate $4 trillion to $11 trillion in economic value by 2025. (Source: McKinsey Global Institute)

We can keep on going with the many more remarkable statistics about AI and IoT, but these ones should be enough for now. The re-emergence of the decades-old technological ideas like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, at the right time and right place, has suddenly disrupted the traditional industrial norms – for the better this time. It has kickstarted a digital revolution that was only possible way back in the science fiction writings of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, or other masterminds of Sci-Fis. It has ushered the classical Industrial Revolution of the 18th century into the Industry 4.0 of the 21st.

The early proponents and experts of both technologies were simply ecstatic about the outstanding transformational possibilities a union between AI and IoT could produce. Fast forward a couple of years into the future, and here we are today witnessing the ever-increasing adoption of both AI and IoT in the industrial sphere, appropriately known as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). So, how does IIoT differ from the traditional industrial format? How will AI increase its performance? Let’s try to find out!

Industrial Evolution: The Age of IIoT and the Previous Industrial Ages

We all know that the industrial revolution began back in the late 18th century in England. This age was known as Industry 1.0 when people saw mechanical manufacturing for the very first time in history. Those primitive manufacturing machines were mostly powered by steam and water, a revered technology at that time. In that early period of the industrialization of business, textiles were the leading industrial sector. 1721 was the year when it all started with the world’s first water-powered silk factory in Derby, England.

Fast forward two centuries ahead, and we entered an age where industrial machines go electrical – welcome to the age of Industry 2.0.  While this industrial age started in the late 19th century – around 1870 – it wasn’t as impactful in the late 19th century until the electrification of industrial machinery in the early years of the 20th century spread from England, the USA and Western Europe to other parts of the world.

The introduction of electricity in the industrial sector was really the main catalyst of Industry 2.0 which has directly led to the foundation of modern industries and operations. The remarkable efficiency and automation factor which electricity has brought into this arena dramatically enhanced the speed and demand of innovation, and, within 70 years of its inception, the world was ushered into yet another industrial age which was known as Industry 3.0.

Industry 3.0 was the age when electrical power was enhanced and augmented by the coming of Information Technology (IT). Industrial efficiency boomed in this era with micro-chips, such as integrated circuits and transistors, making industrial machinery smarter, reliable, more efficient and less-dependent (automated). One big innovation because of which Industry 3.0 thrived, and made possible the transformation to 4.0, is the creation of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) in 1968. It’s now that the industrial processes of manufacturing and production can be controlled fully remotely with a programmed logical controller.

Industry 4.0 initially started back in the 1990s with early telecommunication technologies and the World Wide Web and is the age in which we’re currently experiencing remarkable revolutionary breakthroughs in the industrial sector. One of the major highlights of Industry 4.0 has been the Internet from which we’ve seen great breakthroughs, such as IIoT itself. And so, with the merging of real-world operations with the virtual ones, man and his industries are no longer restricted within physical or geographical boundaries. But, what role does IIoT specifically play in the age of Industry 4.0? Let’s take a brief look into that before we explore the remarkable relationship between IIoT and AI.

How Does IIoT Make a Difference in the Industrial Sector?

IIoT, or the Industrial Internet of Things, is the sub-branch of the Internet of Things (IoT). The term IoT was first coined by Kevin Ashton in an official presentation given at Proctor & Gamble, UK, 1999. However, the idea of adding smart sensors to physical objects initially surfaced during the 1980s, a decade before Kevin Ashton.

The ideology is simple in the industrial sector as well: making industrial machines smarter than humans at analyzing data in real-time and forming the basis of faster and better logical decisions. A connected machinery system of this capability ensures that management can pick up errors or inefficiencies in the system, formulate better solutions and implement them faster.

Making industrial processes smarter with IIoT also brings great environmental benefits to the table: better quality control, eco-friendliness, sustainability and better industrial waste management. IIoT also helps in supply chain management, the entire process of raw material conversion into a product and it’s upkeeping from the point of origin to the point of consumption.

In the Industrial sector, predictive maintenance and analytics aren’t possible without proper IIoT infrastructure, as well as enhanced asset tracking and energy management for better power utilization. IIoT manages and controls all these processes with an integrated system of smart and intelligent devices ensuring perfect maintenance and management with less dependence on human action.

That’s why no industry can survive this massive digital transformation brought on by the advent of Industry 4.0 without using the crucial help provided by the Industrial Internet of Things. But, how will the combination of AI and IIoT make the technology better for industrialists? Let’s find out about this core aspect in the final chapter of our narrative on AI and IIoT. If you’re interested in knowing more in-depth about what the Industrial Internet of Things is, here’s a good read on this topic from TechTarget’s IoT Agenda.

AI & IIoT: How the Combination of These Two Technologies Takes Industrial Processes to the Next Level

Now, the focal point for which we’ve all been waiting for thus far: how does AI dramatically enhance IIoT processes and eventually takes your industrial processes to new heights of efficiency and sustainability? In the age of Industry 4.0, industries mostly rely on operational technology (OT) and their proficiency: manufacturing, supply chain, energy management and human resources. These operational processes can now be enhanced and taken to a whole new level of precision by combining AI and IIoT forces. How it can be done? Let’s find out!

In an industrial complex, what’s the most massively generated thing? It’s the data. Data is everywhere today and everything today also runs on data, be it industrial processes or a home that’s managed by smart monitoring devices. While smart homes may not present many complexities with management, the industry is a different ball game. To manage this massive amount of data generated in an industrial complex, and for better management of the entire IIoT ecosystem, industrialists currently lack the skillful human resources and reliable tools to utilize the big industrial data productively. And that’s where artificial intelligence will come to the rescue!

AI has the power to manage itself as well as its applications independently and intelligently. This means that the utilization and optimization potential, which can be missed by the lack of skillful human resource or tools, can be sufficiently overtaken by AI. This is exclusively beneficial for OT-based industries that are using tools or software to collect, process and analyze data generated by the industrial machines that are managed and operated in an IIoT ecosystem. These types of industrial setups face critical issues of software-legacy, which, in turn, greatly hinders the interoperability factor.

By integrating AI algorithms in an IIoT infrastructure, the entire mechanical apparatus can be trained and automated to manage and run itself smartly and intelligently. The influx of data from an IIoT ecosystem of devices into AI-powered analytical models can significantly enhance the entire industrial procedure, not just the manufacturing department as is mostly spoken of.

Final Words

So, in the age of Industry 4.0, the dependence and reliability in which the combination of AI and IIoT presents are too good to ignore or overlook. This is a transformational and evolutionary stage that’s mandatory for the industrial sector to pass, and the survival is assured only to those who are gaining the most from the change.