Less than 5 years ago, when I told folks that Lantronix was a company that provided Internet of Things solutions, the common response I got was this:
“What is that?”
It’s amazing how things have changed since then. Nowadays, everyone seems to have heard of the IoT. Turn on the news, and you’ll hear about the IoT and see images of products like health trackers, robot butlers, intelligent cars and smart home appliances. So, today when I tell people that I work for a company that provides industrial IoT solutions, the typical response I get is this:
“What is that?”
Of course, the context of the question is a bit different. On the surface, it can seem like there would be little difference between a smart personal health tracker and a smart medical device sitting in a hospital room. Both types of devices provide a valuable service to consumers, include connectivity and must have the ability to collect and communicate personalized data (usually via an application). So why is the latter considered part of the “industrial IoT”?
If the password for your smart phone is stolen or hacked, it can be a painful and inconvenient situation for you. Now imagine that instead of your phone, the machines being hacked are connected defibrillators in a hospital, a connected smart grid substation or a connected jet engine.
Industrial IoT machines often operate in environments where their smooth operation is considered mission-critical and proprietary. In many cases, some of these machines are legacy devices that were built and deployed many years ago and have no security embedded in them or they may be running an embedded operating system that makes running a traditional security application (like a virus scan) unfeasible without disrupting real-time operations. This often means that the solutions and components that are attached to or go into these machines must incorporate high standards of security and provide mechanisms that can help deter against cyber security attacks. Even industrial machines (such as an industrial HVAC system) that don’t handle private data must incorporate higher security standards so that they avoid becoming vulnerable points of entry for cyber criminals.
The Nest thermometer in my house is used to keep things at anywhere from a nice and toasty 75 degrees Fahrenheit (me) to a cool 62 (hubby’s preference or when it’s a hot summer day outside). For industrial thermometers or heating and cooling systems, temperature ranges must be much broader to accommodate everything from data center equipment to sensitive lab specimens to hot manufacturing environments. This requires industrial IoT solutions and components to have longer lifespans as well as the ability to operate under a wide range of temperatures.
Ever had your home Wi-Fi go out? While it may be easy to simply move my laptop (and me) over to my local Starbucks, doing the same with an industrial IoT machine – such as a train or an industrial manufacturing robot or a POS terminal in a retail environment– is definitely not as easy or practical.
Industrial IoT machines must be able to connect and communicate in real time reliably. Also, in the few cases where connectivity goes down, they must be able to retain critical data for later transmission. For industrial OEMs, this means including certified connectivity technologies that are more robust and using IoT embedded or device gateways that can handle and protect sensitive data at rest and in motion.
Unlike consumer IoT products, industrial IoT machines – such as a connected train, MRI machine, or a smart lock on a commercial building – are designed to serve the needs of many users (and in many cases interact with multiple types of users, such as a doctor, patient, and nurse in a medical environment) versus an individual or a family.
This usually requires that industrial IoT machines be able to communicate via multiple applications and in most cases, at a higher or more rigorous frequency and duration. So while your home’s smart lock may only need to remember one or two combinations and be opened and shut less than a dozen times a day, an industrial security solution may need to process hundreds or thousands of interactions a day, as well as have different applications for interacting with a locksmith technician, the lock OEM, the building facilities manager or IT admin, and a building occupant.
While I definitely love the convenience of having my wireless Neato Robotics vacuum cleaner, the ROI on my Hoover is probably higher. Although consumer IoT products are increasingly perceived as delivering enhanced convenience and other benefits – most consumers who purchase these items do not evaluate these machines as a business investment.
For industrial OEMs and their end-user customers, the decision to build or buy an industrial IoT machine’s must translate into quantifiable business benefits – whether they are creating added revenue streams, reducing support and maintenance costs, increasing profitability, or improving productivity. Today, many industrial OEMs are finding that partnering with the right IoT solutions provider can accelerate their time to market and reduce TCO more so than going the DIY route.
–E.E. Wang is the director of corporate marketing for Lantronix, a full-time connoisseur of technology gadgets and she loves sharing stories about the many different types of industrial machines that Lantronix solutions help to IoT-enable. You can follow her on Twitter @IoTMarketingGal
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