Internet of Things is one of the backbones of the fourth wave of the industrial revolution (also known as Industry 4.0). With price of IoT sensors dropping to a historic low (by 200% since 2004) and off-the-shelf solutions available, it’s now easier than ever to increase the digitalisation rate in an Industry 4.0 organisation of any size.
In 2020, Deloitte surveyed CXOs working in the Industry 4.0 to understand what their challenges are and what type of projects they focus on. 72% of them agree that IoT will be the technology with the biggest impact over their organisation over the next few years, even though all of the ‘big four’ technologies in the sector (Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud infrastructure and Big Data) are becoming gradually more and more intertwined.
As Ram Jambunathan, SVP and Managing Director at SAP states in the report:
There is a strong correlation and dependencies between several Industry 4.0 technologies. IoT sensors will generate a ton of data that will be relevant for machine learning-based automation. Many of these technologies will be delivered and consumed in the cloud even as we see the emergence of edge computing. Next-gen robotics will see the convergence of IoT, machine learning, and cloud computing as robots start getting better all the time through cloud-based machine learning from data from IoT sensors in the robots.
With the dominant role of IoT and data collection in the sector, there’s one element of the IoT system that will be crucial for the further development of this area: the IoT hub. In today’s article, I’ll explain in detail what it is, what off-the-shelf IoT solutions are currently available and what’s the process for introducing IoT hubs on the organisational level. The blog post was written in collaboration with the Spyrosoft’s Lead Embedded Architect, Krzysztof Maciejewski.
But before we dig in, let’s once again specify what Internet of Things means in terms of industrial development.
Internet of Things and the Industry 4.0
Internet of Things allows for connecting device to the Internet. These devices need to be autonomous and they can use this connectivity to provide different services to the end users, e.g., remote vehicle monitoring including the vehicle location and its route. Another use case is a smart building with multiple devices or industrial machines managed using steering algorithms. IoT can be also used for data collection and that’s its most common use.
The term ‘Internet of Things’ is often used for a subset of small household appliances that are connected, but it can be used in the Industry 4.0 context where instead of these small devices, we have industrial machines and a plant. Regardless of how it’s used, the term refers to a case where the devices can gain additional functionalities thanks to the fact that they are connected to each other and to the Internet.
By placing IoT sensors on the devices, you can collect the data, i.e. about the temperature, air quality, etc., and it is then transferred to the cloud where it’s made available to different applications that can use the data and process it. Please note that the communication between the devices and the applications can be bi-directional: devices can be managed via external applications, i.e. for access management purposes.
What is an IoT hub
The main goal of an IoT hub is to store the collected data so it can later be used in data processing and management. This solution can be developed independently, but there are ready-made products that are available on the market - I’ve included a full list below.
IoT hub is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) managed service and can be used as a focal point that allows devices to be connected to the Internet. On one side, there are the devices that send their data from the sensors to the hub and/or receive the information from the hub. On the other side, there are applications that may or may not be cloud-based and that can manage the devices and process the data i.e. to visualise it.
In short, IoT hub serves as a mediator between these devices and applications that are used to manage the former and to collect data.
Recommended reading: IoT hub: what it is and how to incorporate it in your IoT system
What are the benefits of using IoT hubs
Most of the solutions available on the market have at least a few ways to manage who and what devices can access them, with the ability to build a device registry into the hub, distribute shared access signatures using access keys and security tokens and API integrations aimed at increasing the security of these solutions.
Full control over the process
Once you’ve completed the IoT hub implementation process I’ll mention below, you can precisely control what devices are interconnected, what data they collect and share (be it with each other or external applications) and where the data are stored and processed.
Regardless of how large or small your IoT networks are right now, by using an IoT hub, you can easily add new devices or even set of devices or limit their number. Again, with most of the ready-to-use IoT hubs available on the market, you can do it in a matter of minutes.
IoT hubs available on the market
- Azure IoT Hub,
- Google Cloud IoT Core,
- IBM Watson IoT Platform,
- AWS IoT Device Management,
- AWS IoT Device Defender,
- Trend Micro Deep Security,
- Cumulocity IoT,
- Scaleway IoT Hub.
What is the process of building an IoT system
The first thing to do it connecting all devices to the internet. If the device already has a connectivity setup installed; all you need to do is to bring it online. When you plan for data collection, you need to think about what data you may need to collect and then decide where to place the sensors, what type they should be and what software would be best to data aggregation and receiving requests. This stage of the process requires not only thinking about the electronics (sensors) part, but also about the mechanics behind the data collection and device steering process. The sensors can be also used to expand the functionalities of a device.
The next step is building a cloud-based application that will be able to store the data and can be used for steering and communicating with the devices.
Completing this process can be the foundational level for introducing Predictive Maintenance for the devices that are connected via the IoT hub. The latter can play a crucial rule in collecting functional data about the status of the devices and any failures that occur in their performance. It can help diagnose these failures and send the information necessary to fix those to a ticketing system or directly contacting people responsible for maintenance of the devices. It can be used for changing the setting for any of the devices and updating/replacing their software – all completed remotely.
Recommended reading: IoT hub use cases
What are the best practices for managing IoT systems
Once the IoT hub is implemented and ready to use, the next thing to do is to start managing your fleet of devices. Here’s a list of actions to take if you’re doing so from our Lead Embedded Architect, Krzysztof Maciejewski:
- Use automation as much as possible.
- Automatically discover any Internet access problems from the devices and improve the connection if needed.
- Automatically monitor the devices health and replace/fix them in case of any failures.
- Use device firmware updates over the air if needed.
- Easily scale up your solution - adding new devices, new functionalities, introducing usage of AI or/and extending cloud computing.
Over to you
At Spyrosoft, we’ve worked with multiple customers from the Industry 4.0 sector and we have a hands-on experience in building and scaling industrial solutions. If you’d like to know about our updated Industry 4.0 offering and/or you need a team of experts to support your IoT project, check more information on our Industry 4.0 website and book a no-obligation call.