IIoT- the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) explained

IT, OT, IoT, IIoT are different abbreviations that are all frequently used in combination with Industry 4.0 and digital transformation. To start at the highest level, Industry 4.0 refers to the 4th industrial revolution where factories, machines, and equipment get connected, (big) data is generated, analyzed, and used to make the process bright.

Digital transformation is using digital technologies to improve processes and customer experience as part of the industry 4.0 movement.

IoT or the Internet of Things is one of the technologies available to do so; it refers to connecting “things” to the internet to capture the data. When applying this in an industrial environment, the term IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is used. In IIoT, “things” can be seen as equipment such as pumps, valves, and also people through wearables.

IT and OT

In an industrial environment, IT and OT are often used; OT (Operational Technology) refers to the hardware and software used to change, monitor, or control physical devices, processes, and events within a factory or production facility. Examples in the process industry are Scada, DCS, and PLC systems.

IT (Information technology) refers to anything related to computer technology, including hardware and software. Access to IT programs and connected devices are typically less restricted than to OT devices.

The main difference between OT and IT devices is that OT devices control the physical world while IT systems manage data.

IT can improve OT operations

IIoT is a technology to easily connect devices and increase data points at a relatively low cost. Today this is mainly in the IT domain, and this data can be used to analyze the processes, monitor trends, or make processes smart through AI. In many industries, additional data can have a predictive and preventive impact on maintenance, safety, and the environment, which directly impacts OT; increased throughput and increased efficiency are the largest opportunities in industries like chemical, petrochemical, and refining.

For example, predicting maintenance activity rather than reacting to an issue and preventing accidents and environmental spills reduces downtime and cost related to these incidents. For example, adding sensors to pumps can monitor trends like vibration, or sensors on valves can alarm misbehavior like wrong valve operations.  

What it is not

IoT technologies are introduced to increase IT data and compliment OT; an OT system should not rely solely on IT data. For example, LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) wireless communication technology is so-called non-deterministic; latency cannot be guaranteed, which can be critical in the OT domain. Since IoT technologies are more cost-efficient, they could reduce costs, but that should not be the main driver.  Rather than replacing traditional OT, it should complement, enrich and improve OT data by creating more data points overall at a lower cost.