Measuring IoT potential is a bit of dark art. Unlike other forecast areas in the tech world, where tangible products and solutions have SKUs, IoT is more about ideation around the future application of multiple existing technologies to current and new problems. Despite this challenge, IoT market sizing is an ongoing preoccupation, which is generating fascinating outcomes that command the attention of even the most hype-weary industry watchers: armed with multiple assumptions, for example, Wikibon reported in 2013 that the global investment in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will reach $500 billion by 2020 – a 2,400 percent increase over spending for 2012; an Accenture study has made extensive use of sophisticated modelling to conclude this year that the industrial IoT will lift real GDP by $10.6 trillion by 2030 in 20 of the world’s top economies; while still other analysts count the number of devices that will be in the field as the primary IIoT growth metric, even though “new and novel devices, and many ordinary objects, are also being reinvented with digital sensing, computing and communications capabilities.”
Even if actual potential in this area is half – or double – forecasting estimates, opportunity in the Industrial Internet appears clear. But if IoT is about creating new business models and use cases for existing technology, a key question that emerges is what is driving this growth and who are the key actors? On this question, recent research conducted by InsightaaS in conjunction with Techaisle Research offers some interesting new perspectives. A key finding in InsightaaS’ survey of 402 Canadian businesses this October is that the dominant drivers of expectations for IoT business benefit across the size spectrum are the improvement of processes and increase in productivity. Interestingly, however, when behavioural segmentation developed by Techaisle, which takes into account the respondents’ IT sophistication, is applied, a new IoT player cohort emerges. As the Figure here shows, while large and sophisticated enterprise organizations (as well as smaller, basic users of IT) remain focused on process and productivity improvements, midmarket businesses with advanced attitudes towards IT look to IoT to better manage risk, to increase revenue and to enable the development of new products and services. In terms of “seize the day,” it is this segment that appears poised to translate IoT hype to IT reality.
The critical role of the small but nimble, advanced IT actors in an emerging IoT ecosystem may also be demonstrated at a micro level. Consider the case of Fredericton, New Brunswick based, Eigen Innovations Inc., a new purveyor of “vision analytics for the Industrial Internet of Things.” Eigen technology combines traditional IT – sensors, cloud, analytics and network communications – but does so with IT savvy that translates the company’s Intellexon hardware/software solution into an IIoT platform that can deliver productivity enhancements not previously available to manufacturing entities. The Eigen recipe contains much ‘secret sauce’, notably the use of infrared sensors, which generate a rich and robust amount of data on the IR spectrum, the collection and aggregation of data from multiple types of sensors and the integration of IT and OT data protocols, use of advanced analytics and ‘Deep Learning’ to find patterns or anomalies in the data that human operators would miss, and the potential for continuous monitoring of plant floor operations and automated response to alert signals pre-defined by an operators via connection to programmable logic controllers (PLCs).
Aimed at reducing waste, improving operational efficiencies and quality control in industrial environments, director of product development for Eigen Innovations, Greg Picot outlined the Eigen process as follows: “there are other vision analytics solutions in the market, but what we do is a little different. We focus on digitized infrared data: we integrate into a series of automation cameras, and collect thermal data to look at product applications going through an assembly line, or any conveyance process. This is a very rich data set that is different from optical data sets. Every pixel that you are looking at has temperature values associated with it so you can see patterns or behaviours in the application that will tell you what’s happening with the product or the equipment, if you happen to be doing something like asset monitoring.”
The Eigen solution features the Big Data advantage – Picot estimates that the amount of data generated from one of the cameras is roughly 30 to 60 frames per second, or the equivalent of about 40 MB per second – as well as the associated Big Data challenge and more – a requirement for software and hardware infrastructure that can manage this high volume of data input, while surviving harsh temperature and other conditions in industrial environments. As example of Eigen applications, Picot described the company’s specialization in quality control monitoring in paper manufacturing; “paper moves at 4,000 feet per minute on an assembly,” he explained, “and we are reading the surface of that paper constantly, applying coatings onto the paper to detect build up in moisture which can put pressure on the paper roll – or even cause the roll to break.” Another sector that Eigen operates in is mining/smelting where IR data provides a very good view into the internal workings of a blast furnace, which Picot described as a “very complex and dynamic environment” that is prone to issues such as the buildup of an “attrition layer” that can cause channeling within the furnace.
To achieve this level of monitoring in real time, Eigen has deployed its analytics platform (which runs on either a Linux or Microsoft stack), on an edge gateway that supports local data processing to detect anomalies or defects, which are in turn communicated to the PLC for automated response or operator intervention. On the hardware front, the company chose to leverage one of the key tenets of IoT – an evolving ecosystem of suppliers that enable the rapid time to market of the complex, multi-component solutions that IoT represents. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Eigen Innovations chose to partner with Dell, which has developed a high performance, ruggedized gateway, purpose built to withstand industrial conditions and to integrate into manufacturing equipment, using its Edge Gateway 5000 series as the foundation for Eigen’s analytics platform.
According to Jason Shepherd, Dell director of IoT strategy and partnerships, Dell’s involvement with IoT was a natural extension of existing engagements in a lot of operations focused environments through its OEM business, and based on its ability to deliver core IoT capabilities in infrastructure, data integration and analytics. But in exploring IoT potential, the Dell team realized it was necessary to supplement its experience on the IT side with deep domain expertise and knowledge of (industrial) operational technologies. Dell began by building partnerships with ISVs and systems integrators with domain expertise in OT, but as Shepherd explained, “the further we got into it, the more we realized the need for net new products in our portfolio – that could be in the middle of the action, in harsher environments, running 24/7, ingesting the right I/O and uploading the network with analytics. We realized there was a big opportunity to bridge the difference between the Maker world with its Raspberry Pis and the boutique world (network and legacy players), where there are new products like controllers, but which are really expensive.” In Shepherd’s view, Dell’s differentiation in IoT edge processing has been built through leverage of the Dell brand and credibility in IT, but also through market strategy that allows “a minimum order in the quantity of one, providing flexibility in scale to allow companies of any size to have a foundation for their solutions.”
In terms of the alliance strategy, Shepherd explained: “Eigen is a great example of a partner that is doing really innovative work, with deep expertise in the operations side of the house, specifically with the video enhancement, which is highly differentiated in the market. We saw them as a really great compliment to the strengths that we bring. In fact, many of our partners are complimentary to each other in that they do things in different parts of the stack. IoT is not going to be done by one company on its own.” Dell’s goal, he added, is not to try to build an industrial automation company, but rather to enable experts to do their jobs more effectively: “by providing a completely new price point for edge analytics, we’re trying to find that value point between purpose built product and making the technology accessible, because that’s what the spirit of IoT is all about.”
As a local processor, Dell’s gateway enables the Eigen platform to deliver real time control automation on the plant floor. But it also serves as a conduit for the stream of IR data from the cameras to Eigen Innovation’s cloud platform for the application of ‘Deep Learning’ algorithms that further refine and optimize the analytics that are downloaded back to the gateway, a capability that Picot argued positions Eigen as “significantly different from every other player in the market.” But ultimately, the gateway provides the bridge between IT and OT that Eigen needs in order to bring the power of analytics to industrial environments. As Picot explained: “We are stepping into a lot of industrial environments in which historically there has been a divide between the operational technology team and the IT team. But we get to come to the table now with a device that is recognized and connects to plant floor equipment, has functional power supply and can talk to PLCs, but which also has familiar architecture and software on it that appeal to the IT team within these environments. We are seeing a lot more industrial environments become more receptive to the idea of connecting to the Internet of Things to optimize their performance.”
Technically a “startup” that has been operational for only a couple of years, Eigen Innovations has been generating solid market momentum through its ability to use data collected from industrial systems to demonstrate the real value of having a connected solution. A compelling piece of the company’s value proposition is Eigen’s ability to reach complex or higher speed applications that are not typically accessible by traditional, standalone monitoring systems. “We are very big on demonstrating value – what customers can do with a learning platform,” Picot noted, “and see the system sell itself when the customer is given a live camera view of potential issues, and what can be done to drive automation.”
Eigen Innovations CTO Scott Everett offered his thoughts on the next IoT wave – “The Internet of Smarter Things” – at an IoT panel which formed part of InsightaaS’ contributions to the DCD Converged event in Toronto this month, and the company has recently received additional market recognition: Eigen has been selected from 15 semi-finalists, and will compete as a “super six finalist” in the Cisco Innovation Grand Challenge at the IoTWF in Dubai this December.