Monday, 02 March 2015 13:18

Interoperability the key to industrial Internet of Things, says consortium


The Industrial Internet is too broad a field for any one organisation to cover alone, so cooperation and interoperability is a must.

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was founded a year ago by AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM and Intel, and has since grown to more than 140 members including CSIRO and Telstra.

IIC CTO Stephen Mellor (pictured) told iTWire that with an expected 50 billion sensors around the world by 2020, there is a big opportunity for the Industrial Ethernet (essentially the non-consumer side of the Internet of Things) to make a difference.

For example, a 3% improvement in the fuel efficiency of cars would save billions of dollars, and connecting various pieces of hospital equipment can save lives as well as money, he said.

The IIC's goal is to help make this a reality by building an ecosystem of vendors, promoting interoperability, and providing testbeds to prove interoperability. Mellor's role is mostly concerned with interoperability.

"We're not a standards body," he explained. Rather, the IIC identifies where existing pieces do not fit together and then writes requirements documents that other organisations can use to fill the gaps.

The IIC works with "whoever and whatever" to achieve broad interoperability.

But this is an "absolutely huge job," Mellor explained. Although the founding members cover the entire stack (which is what brought them together, as they repeatedly collaborated in various projects where the same issues kept arising) the size and scope of the Industrial Internet means the IIC faces "a multi-decade effort."

As interoperability is achieved on paper, testbeds - experimental platforms that confirm to IIC reference architectures - are required to prove it has really been accomplished.

Last month Bosch, Cisco and Tech Mahindra announced the first outcome of their 'track and trace' project to control and monitor the use of industrial tools. This allows the position of a cordless nutrunner to be determined with sufficient precision to allow the automatic setting of the correct torque for the task and to record the torque that was used - and to prevent someone using the wrong tool for the job.

Bosch IIC

Track and trace has other potential benefits, such as the accurate recording of tool use so that service parts are replaced at the optimal time. Or the data received from the tools may hint at materials problems: if a saw blade meets with less resistance than usual, that suggests the metal is softer than it should be.

IIC members have also been working together on connecting oil and gas rigs for monitoring and control purposes.

While many IIC members are substantial organisations, Mellor pointed out that there are opportunities for smaller organisations with specific technology or domain expertise to network and partner with major players and perhaps participate in projects. There are some one or two person firms in the ranks of the IIC.

Collaboration is important to the Industrial Ethernet, he said. It is a massive enterprise that is set to make a big impact, and as no one company can do everything, it is important to achieve interoperability.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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