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IoT Blog

How Cellular Connectivity is Accelerating the Development of the Industrial IoT

by Matthew Wopata, Senior Analyst, IoT Analytics
Industry 4.0 – the newest iteration of the “industrial revolution” and the first to take full advantage of the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) – is changing the way products are manufactured, serviced, and sold. 

What are the “behind the scenes” connectivity technologies that are helping to make this transformation possible? Many Industry 4.0 use cases – such as remote service, predictive maintenance, and even equipment-as-a-service – are only possible when a series of connectivity challenges are addressed, including intermittent connectivity for remote access to assets, as well as permanent connectivity for remote data collection.

Cellular connectivity plays a strong role in addressing these challenges, helping make a variety of Industrial IoT (IIoT) use cases possible – a theme that was discussed in a recent webinar titled Industrial IoT Cellular Connectivity: Deployment Challenges, Solutions & Trends. Taking a closer look at four of these IIoT use cases shows why cellular is a good connectivity solution for them and how it can help accelerate the development of IIoT.

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Use Case 1: Data Driven Asset/Plant Performance Optimization

What if you could reduce costs and increase efficiency of industrial equipment via higher asset utilization?

This is the promise of data driven asset/plant performance optimization. For example, Atlas Copco – a leading global supplier of industrial equipment – connects their air compressors to mobile IoT networks using natively embedded cellular modules. These modules relay up-to-date information on the usage and condition of a customer’s compressor, helping minimize the costs associated with poor performance and the associated production loss. 

Since compressors – and other similar industrial equipment items – are investment products and typically tend to be in operation for more than 10 years, connectivity needs to be future-proof. Cellular, with its pathway to the latest broadband standards, is ideal in this respect. Additionally, cellular provides coverage in basements or rooms where there is a lot of metal – that is, in places where an air compressor is likely to be located – which can be difficult for conventional wireless networks to penetrate.

Use Case 2: Predictive Maintenance

Like data driven asset/plant performance optimization, predictive maintenance is concerned with taking a proactive approach to problems before they occur. This is just good business sense: according to IndustryWeek, unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion annually.

A typical predictive maintenance scenario involves monitoring an asset’s health in order to proactively perform upkeep that can prevent unexpected failure or damage to its components. For example, an elevator manufacturer might want to collect data on the actual stresses its elevators have been subjected to while in operation to better determine when the elevator needs to be serviced, preventing the asset from unexpectedly needing to be taken offline to be repaired.

Having equipment connected to the cellular network – instead of relying on whatever connectivity the customer has on site – means that the data collection is always online and active, and that there are no data gaps regarding the real-world stresses that an in-service item has experienced.

The result? Manufacturers can schedule maintenance according to need and actual wear and tear – not the calendar.

Use Case 3: Remote Service

As the name suggests, remote service is the ability to remotely service pieces of equipment. 

Think here of a rock crushing machine on site at a pit mining operation deep in the wild. Remote service allows the manufacturer to perform remote troubleshooting on this piece of heavy equipment. This capability lowers the cost associated with field service travel. It also increases revenue for the OEM by having higher value service-level agreements for customers that want to have quick response times for service calls.

Cellular is a strong enabler of this use case. For instance, a cellular modem can be used to remotely connect to the assets in the field rather than physically going out and updating all the controllers on the machines. Instead of a long trek into the bush, a problem can be fixed remotely from thousands of miles away.

Use Case 4: Everything-as-a-Service Business Models

Industrial OEMs are increasingly transforming their business models from selling “equipment” to selling “equipment-as-a-service.” This means that almost anything can potentially now be a service, from compressed air, to the gears that turn wind turbines, to engine power. Similarly, rather than purchasing capital intensive heavy equipment – like bulldozers and backhoe loaders, for example – customers can purchase these items as an ongoing service.

These service-based offerings have higher margins that can increase profitability for OEMs and provide a steady, predictable revenue stream, as compared to a one-time equipment sale.

Cellular gives industrial equipment providers the intelligent connectivity they need to fuel these innovative IIoT-enabled services. With these new service offerings, OEMs can differentiate themselves in the marketplace and better serve their customers while creating new revenue streams.

Continuing Evolution

The IoT connectivity landscape is very complex, due to the variety of different connectivity options available – from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to LoRa and sigfox – each with its own benefits. The landscape is also continually evolving, with new standards being introduced on an ongoing basis. 

Cellular is the ideal choice for many IIoT use cases and has the potential to play an even bigger role, particularly as new cellular technologies like Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) and 5G take off. With the right cellular connectivity technologies providing the foundation for innovative new IIoT applications, we can expect Industry 4.0 to continue to gather momentum. The sky’s the limit.

If you want to learn more about how cellular connectivity technologies can transform the way you manufacture, service and sell industrial products, check out the following webinars by Sierra Wireless and IoT Analytics:  
IoT Analytics also has several dedicated market reports covering these use cases, including the Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing Report 2018-2023.