The potential of IoT lies in the right approach, not just the right data

For many plant managers, the internet of things (IoT) can at times seem like an industrial get-rich-quick scheme. Sales people will tout an endless stream of benefits of an IoT-enabled device, from high return on investment (ROI) to enhanced operational insight, but this value is often exaggerated at best and businesses don’t experience the benefit. Here, Sean Robinson, service leader at industrial automation provider Novotek UK and Ireland, explains why the data from your new IoT device probably isn’t meeting expectations.

There are three main questions that many plant managers ask of themselves, their operations and the equipment underpinning their processes: what is the most beneficial thing I can invest money into, how can I make more money from this, and how can I get more value from the things I’ve already spent money on?

Power Plants - the power of IoT

It’s these questions that make the IoT such an attractive concept to plant managers. The idea that a plant manager can uncover unknown cost and energy savings, simply by attaching a wireless sensor to a piece of equipment, is almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be seen as the case.

Modern industrial plants are complex and contain hundreds of devices and pieces of equipment operating simultaneously. This is often managed by an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to oversee everything from a top-down perspective. Plant managers investing in a smart sensor for a pump aren’t going to get an effective solution to their wider problems. They’re going to get a sensor with equipment-specific information, which is useful but not in its raw, siloed form.

It’s understandable why plant managers invest in new equipment in this way. After all, a salesperson isn’t going to openly admit that their product isn’t a standalone solution and is instead most valuable when you take a holistic approach to digital plant management. The problem this causes is that plant managers begin to think of their systems as being completely independent rather than visualising how each device acts as a node in the wider plant environment.

Simply put, it’s not enough to have the right data being collected. Plant managers must have the right approach to the data collection and analysis process, looking at it in the context of its operating environment rather than as an individual piece of information.

This is where digital twinning technology proves its worth. For a digital twin to be effective, it must have defined data from multiple data sources. A sensor from a pump providing flow and pressure information alone will not suffice.

The digital twin also needs maintenance schedule information, model details for the pump, analytics from adjacent processes and data about the motors operating the pumps. This allows managers to have a comprehensive, valuable view of their operations that allows them to make genuinely valuable and useful decisions.

The way to manage this is by using an IoT platform, which collates and analyses data from all connected processes, that includes digital twinning functionality, such as GE Digital’s Predix platform. By reviewing real-time, plant-wide data on these platforms and running simulations, managers can identify correlation and causation between data sets, such as whether the operation of one piece of heavy equipment affects the vibration readings of nearby pumps or motors.

The IoT isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme where one purchase can promise a life of high ROI, operational excellence and energy efficiency. It’s a fundamental shift in how businesses can compete and operate that requires a shift in mentality, away from siloed equipment to holistic systems, to deliver on its promise. And it’s the plant managers that realise this, and handle the right data in the right way, that will prosper.