The commercial refrigeration industry – a $9.4 billion a year business in the United States – is well-aligned for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and all the advantages it brings.
Smart, connected technology is starting to appear now in self-monitoring refrigeration systems that can make critical real-time adjustments based on their specific contents, hence reducing energy consumption and costs while preserving their precious content. In addition, these smart systems can predict costly operational glitches and proactively schedule maintenance to ensure continuous operation.
To bring about this evolution, refrigeration companies hardly ever rip out and completely replace their existing systems. Replacing hundreds or even thousands of industrial fridges, freezers, and delivery vehicles would be prohibitively expensive and threaten service continuity.
Instead, they are integrating new connected technologies into their existing ecosystems, establishing and bootstrapping a digital layer onto their physical world. As a result, refrigeration companies are able to better capture and analyze the vital data that already exists within these systems and extract it in a way that unleashes new true business insights and value.
The IIoT is often portrayed as a replacement of legacy technology, but its real potential lies not in a radical rip-and-replace overhaul strategy but through incremental smart upgrades and improvements. For IIoT adoption to increase, and for its value to be truly realized in the global economy, businesses will need to chart and follow a path of smart and systematic evolution, not revolution.
There is little doubt that IIoT is a major paradigm shift for companies as they get ready to digitize existing processes and develop new ones to respond quickly and dynamically to ever-changing customer and market demands. It is also very important that they control costs and clearly differentiate themselves in the market as industry leaders.
In the new IIoT world, networks of sensor-equipped smart devices and objects collect data, interpret and analyze (at times at the edge or in the cloud), and may automatically take action based on smart business rules. This enables predictive analytics, for example, to detect issues in an industrial refrigeration environment or reveal potential failure points on a factory floor, or even available factory capacity for increased production capabilities and revenues.
Beyond its value as a near-billion-dollar market by 2025, Accenture predicts that the impact of IIoT technology could bring as much as $14.2 trillion to the global economy over the next decade.
Though IIoT opens up a host of opportunities for cost reduction, quality improvement, and business growth, Accenture’s survey of more than 1,400 C-suits decision-makers showed that while 84% believe their organizations have the capability to create new, service-based income streams from the IIoT, 73% say their companies have yet to make concrete progress. Surprisingly, just 7% have developed a comprehensive strategy with project investments to match.
Understandably, companies tend to be conservative when it comes to deploying new technologies that may disrupt operations require specialized skills -- and IIoT may sound like one that brings a number of challenges and risks.
However, optimizing existing assets through an evolutionary approach to connected technology is a proven pathway to building an IIoT-powered enterprise. It is therefore key that companies start to better understand the best steps for success to begin this evolution, and where initial projects can be sponsored and successful within their existing business
There are three fundamental guidelines that companies should keep in mind as they embark on their IIoT journeys:
- Build the right team: One of the main technical challenges of IIoT is the selection, customization, and integration of the proper digital enablers. Thus, companies need experts who understand how to incrementally implement the crucial building blocks of IIoT in industrial settings. These specialists understand the software that collects and analyzes very large, high-velocity streaming data, as well as the proper deployment of edge and cloud computing configurations for ensuring performance, reliability, resilience, and security. They recognize that a coupling of IIoT with digital technologies such as cloud/edge computing, big data, blockchains, and AI enables seamless integration of smart, connected technologies with existing systems and will deliver enhanced business value.
It may be called the Internet of Things, but successful execution starts with the right people who have the right executive sponsorship.
- Test before deploying: Unsuccessful IIoT deployments can lead to significant production downtime, loss of sponsorship, and other detrimental effects on the business, which is what an evolutionary and systematic approach to IIoT is meant to avoid. Therefore, a different tact in pre-deployment testing is required, based on experimental facilities and pilot lines. Simulation infrastructures and applications should be fully exploited as best as possible to minimize the extent of live field-testing prior to production deployment.
- Develop a company IIoT Roadmap: The shift to IIoT is a strategic commitment and a long-term journey, rather than a single project. Companies and their technology partners should develop a roadmap specifying the various implementation steps, deployment milestones, and their timeline. This blueprint should lay out a phased approach to IIoT implementation and adoption, while prioritizing the implementation of the various use cases and illustrating the transition from existing processes to IIoT enabled ones. Key metrics can be determined per phases and incremental success should be shared and celebrated along the journey and across the company. It is important that early business wins are achievable and the visibility of change and evolution is evident across the business to ensure continued funding and resource allocation as required to support the IIoT roadmap.
By following these guidelines, companies can evolve toward IIoT ecosystems that balance innovation, cost-effectiveness, deployment flexibility, expandability, and technological longevity. Ultimately, if executed properly, the derived business value far exceeds the evolutionary investment. Start the evolution today.
Written by: Tom Canning, Vice President at Canonical Group Ltd., for Industry Week.