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Designing for Success with the Industrial Internet of Things
April 14, 2020 Blog

Authored by: Janet Ooi, Industry Solutions Marketing Manager for IoT, Keysight Technologies


We have crossed a threshold where there are now more things connected to the internet than there are people.  Connected things now pervade our lives in all areas – they are in consumer products, medical devices, electrical power management, automobiles, smart buildings, and industrial IoT devices are important to the development and growth of Industry 4.0.

While consumer-level and industrial-focused IoT devices share many common attributes, there are critical differences in their design, installation, and operation, as follows:

Power Management: A consumer device has its own power supply. The same is not always true for industrial devices like sensors, especially when they are deployed as part of a high-speed production line. These sensors might exist deep within the workings of industrial equipment or in a location that makes wiring difficult. In these situations, battery-driven sensors are a must, even though frequent battery changes are impractical. This challenge drives the need for a class of devices that can run for up to ten years without a battery change.

Other Industrial IoT devices are hard-wired for power, such as warehouse inventory tracking tools, smart meters, security systems, HVAC systems, and other fixed pieces of equipment. These kinds of devices may also be hard-wired for Ethernet to communicate with their control systems. In contrast, the things in this infrastructure will almost always be wireless and typically, power-constrained. Designers must evaluate and test these devices at a system level to assess both endpoint behaviour and behaviour that is stimulated by the access node. Access node behaviour may drain battery life, even though battery life is not a critical parameter at the access node.

Accessibility: Most consumer devices offer accessible, user-friendly form factors designed to augment the human experience, while Industrial IoT devices have different design parameters. In a production line, sensors, actuators, and other key IoT components may be inaccessible, or at the very least, difficult to maintain or replace. In fact, losing a single IoT component can result in downtime for the entire system. Shutting down a production line to replace a part can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the IoT part itself. Gartner estimates that the average cost of industrial downtime ranges from $300,000 to $540,000 per hour.[1]

Reliability: The flip-side of accessibility is reliability. If you cannot access the device, it may be impossible to fix. A minor outage in a consumer-based IoT device is an inconvenience, but an outage in an industrial-based IoT device may severely impact a company’s bottom line. For that reason, industrial IoT devices require self-regulation and must be long-lasting.

Physical Environment: IoT devices can live anywhere. Industrial IoT devices may exist miles underground, high in the atmosphere, or even in outer space. They may experience extreme heat or cold. Developers need to design and test devices to ensure they will run in and can endure extreme conditions and environments.

Technological Environment: Users seldom deploy IoT devices in isolation. These devices need to withstand interference from devices around them, and designers need to ensure that they do not produce wireless interference for the surrounding devices. This extends to the physical level, as well as higher up in the technology stack.

Internal Environment: A typical Industrial IoT device consists of a power management unit, sensor input and output, the sensors themselves, a processor, and at least rudimentary flash, and some communication apparatus for reporting. The integrity of the device depends on the correct operation of all these components.

Cost: A typical at-home IoT device might cost a few hundred dollars and perform multiple functions. In contrast, operators deploy Industrial IoT devices in high volumes. These devices usually perform a single function and have lower price points so operators can deploy them at scale. To meet these requirements, designers aim to create efficient designs and leverage standards while maintaining quality. At the other end of the scale, large-scale industrial equipment may have hundreds or thousands of sensors and actuators and may cost millions of dollars. This too comes with increased expectations for efficiency and reliability.


Design With the End Application in Mind

Design engineers need to design to meet usage criteria and requirements. And to ensure customer satisfaction, designers must have a good handle on how an IoT device will perform under less than ideal conditions. To deploy an industrial IoT device with confidence, designers must ensure that they deliver consistent performance under different conditions,   they must be continually aware of developing industry regulations and standardization efforts and how they can impact a given design, and they must properly test for interoperability to avoid issues once a design has been manufactured and is in operation.

To realize IoT design success, device designers should plan to analyze and test aspects such as power, EMI/EMC, real-world traffic, wireless interference, and many more. Doing so is the only way to truly accelerate device development and realize the vision of Industrial IoT devices.