IoT solutions are going beyond the much hyped early adopters like automobiles, consumer durables, and smart homes. In an engaging interaction with Dataquest, Ashish Gaikwad, MD, Honeywell Automation, talks about how IoT is being deployed in process industries like oil & gas, mining, and manufacturing, and what have been some of the initial experiences in India
Q. Is Industrial IoT, which seems to be the buzzword at Honeywell, any different from the IoT that we know ?
IOT has driven the world in many aspects. This is because there is an increased appreciation for smart objects, which tends to make life easier. In recent times, almost every appliance we use, ranging from clothing, cars, to ACs, washing machines and other household electronics are being considered for some level of connectivity to the internet. Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) can be viewed as a systematic expansion of automation and a progressive improvement of how machines communicate to each other at the manufacturing sites. It is connects 3P’s, that is industrial plants; people in those plants with specific information or domain knowledge or specific expertise; and it creates processes which are efficient and business and people to interact and collaborate more. So connecting processes, people and plants is what is aimed at by the industrial internet of things. For instance IIoT has become a necessity for people working at very remote places such as off-shore oil sites and mines. In the past, we had to send people to work then which was very risky but with the help of IIoT the work will come to people. It will make life simpler and easy for them.
Q. So in India, are you seeing process industries adopting some new technology that you bring on the table?
Today it is very difficult to categorize between company that is telecom, industrial, IT, etc. It is all becoming a melting point. The people who will understand and leverage these changes will get more and more benefits. According to me, people should not do things for the sake of doing it but should really solve the unsolved problems by applying IIoT. We see that it’s a right direction. It still needs some time to grow as India’s IT market is growing very fast and the government of India is trying to push the skill of India, make in India, Cashless India. Eventually it will become IIOT. Therefore we remain very optimistic about it. Although it is not a new thing but is silently evolving in the background . Soon people will recognize and it will become a part of life.
Q. In India, who do you think would be some of the early adopters of IIoT?
IIOT is also like the internet which nobody controls but people find advantages of it, and it just gets adopted. In a similar manner, IIoT will get adopted.There will be challenges as there is nothing in the world without challenges. The more progressive the industry, like oil & gas, faster will be adoption, and then the rest of the people will follow suit. And this is how Honeywell will leverage current user of IIoT to get non-users to explore and experiment. Secondly, at Honeywell, we talk about connected people or connected workers, and there we want work coming to people and not people going to work. All these will naturally drive people’s interest, and that has an advantage because at some point in time the cost of operation will come down. IIoT should not become a burden, and as long as it solves problems, users will recognize that IIoT will increase efficiency and safety, and reduce liability and as a result provide profits.
Q. When you are presenting a case to your potential customers, who all are the decision influencers, specially for IoT ?
When we go to present our case, we see technology guys excited about these things. Decisions are taken on business case, as business heads ask what is it that I am getting by adopting these new technologies. What new problems are we solving and what is it bringing to my safety, reliability, efficiency and profitability. That’s why discussions always go to a senior level business decision makers. And we have seen faster adoption where senior people are also aware of this transformation. Some people call it digital transformation but unless it is understood at top level, adoption takes time.
Q. Do you have some kind of benchmark which you present to prospective customers in terms of the kind of investment required, the ROI expected, time periods for RoI, etc. Some clear tangible benefits. Do you have some statistics from previous deployment that some idea one can get?
Our style of working with customers is a little different. We first identify the industry and players within the industry who are willing to listen to us. This is important. We propose a consulting led study in terms of where all the IIOT components can bring about a change. A basket of few tried and tested solutions that we have from our other customers is shared with prospective customers. The idea is to let them experience the change in which they collaborate; or themselves address the problem they face in the plant and bring about agility to solve it faster. Can they, with the new solution, solve a issue related to plant in 2 hours, for which it took 4-5 hours earlier. We believe in one at a time approach rather than a big bang approach. Customers to customers are different and hence we first identify challenges and then try to solve it. This is the way we are doing the projects so far. We want to build the confidence and trust of the customers and hence we try to structure the program in a certain manner. IIoT is not about revolution, it is an evolution.
Q. What are some of the things which should be in place, or are basic requirements before an IIoT project ?
We have to make sure that the facilities or the plants are ready for connectivity. That is required for all IIoT type of solutions. We first look at what the company has and then we decide how to retrofit infrastructure, or put another layer over it to make it IIoT ready, so the company doesn’t have to replace or throw away old equipment. All these will have connectivity which needs to be secure. When it comes to IIOT, one cannot separate it from cyber security as the Internet makes the system open. So security is very important part of IIoT. When Honeywell started embarking about IIoT, a parallel part was cyber-security. Then we talked about ensuring the connectivity and plants to a level where there is abstraction layer, it does not matter what you have below that layer, it could be equipment from Honeywell or any other company from a totally different vendor. Once you make that layer, then you can take advantage of everything that is new and available. It could be cloud, mobility, data analytics because these things won’t care about brand or make. Most important it so ensure that the customer feels comfortable about it.
Q. What is happening on a standard front and is there some stability that is likely to come in because of that.
On internet, you cannot force a standard easily, unless lot of people take that. We all know that OpenSource and Cloud are a result of this. According to me, there is no enforcing body that would tell you to do things in a particular way. But there are components which will be standardized. When you are talking about plant equipment communicating with each other, one of the standards is OLE (Object Linking & Embedding) for process control. OLE was a term got by Microsoft 15 years back. If you are using MS Office, you can take a picture and put it into word file and take a word file into power point. So object linking and embedding into another one becomes easy. If you apply that to our industry, that is what is called OLE for Process Control, and that is OPC. This is an emerging standard which is gaining acceptance in the industry. More and more people are adopting OPC, and I am sure it will become a standard. Then there are standards emerging on how to store data in cloud, how to use that data and how it is distributed in a standard way. What we are imagining is when we create IIOT system for a customer, it is not only Honeywell who will make use of that data but many other technology users will also use it. You don’t have to be an expert in all the fields to make use of data and do analytics and decision making based on that data. And for this we need systems as open as possible. Standards are evolving and are open to market forces rather than agency forcing it.
Q. What has been your experience in terms of quality of telecom services, and do unreliable and inconsistent telecom services come in the way of using and leveraging IIoT?
I don’t think that has been a big challenge to us in the recent past. It is not because technology is changing but telecom is coming in a big way and is gaining airways rather than physical media. We believe in going wireless for a lot of things we do. It will help workers avoid dangerous areas. Because of IIOT we can track things as it has GPS. Therefore the infrastructure which was required for the connectivity in the past(copperwire/ fiber-optic) may become broken. Those hassle will go away and it will become more viable in terms of making people, equipment and processes to go wireless.