International standards are needed for the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to accelerate growth in industrial and manufacturing environments, particularly among small to medium-sized businesses.
"We need to get to global standards in the Industrial Internet Consortium [IIC]. Ensure the architectures are aligned and ideas and standards are being promoted at the same time," said Hans Jörg Stotz, senior vice president of IoT products and innovation at SAP.
Earlier this year, SAP announced that it partnered with Bosch to create a European IoT testbed to try to develop standards to connect sensors, machines, moving assets, and facilities to permeate all layers of the industrial IoT stack.
Other partners in the testbed are Dassault Systemes of France and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) of India. TCS is doing the data acquisition, and Bosch provides energy components, and is continuously collecting data from all the machinery in the plant, generating a stream of information about the electricity consumed in the process of manufacturing. Dassault 3D Experience Platform brings a multidimensional representation of all the plant's machinery and functions, and SAP provides a platform and database for predictive analytics and big data.
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Having international standards in place will mean that data coming from the IoT machines will be consistently identified, and mapped in the same way, whether that's data about usage, or when the machine needs maintenance. Right now, most companies are mapping data manually, and it takes so much time and costs so much in personnel labor that many small to medium-sized companies aren't able to afford it, Stotz said.
"We're pushing hard for semantic standards, so that machines identify themselves. The trick is at the end of the day to identify the vast amount of things out there which could at some point talk to the system," Stotz said.
Matt Jennings, regional president of the Americas for Bosch Software Innovations, said, "There are probably thousands of standards. I think as we look at IoT going forward, we want to eliminate some complexity of connectivity, and we need to discuss ways to do this."
Jennings explained that developing standards is really about "developing best practices," and the more complex standards are, the more it can cost a company to follow all of them, particularly in a manufacturing environment.
"Having common reference architecture for various types of industry use cases or solutions would speed up the opportunities for the organization to implement these types of solutions and it will make them less expensive to maintain," Jennings said. "I also think it will probably speed innovation because there will be a common way to look at things."
Nils Herzberg, senior vice president and global co-lead for the Internet of Things at SAP, said, "Most sensors are stupid. They do not describe themselves to the Internet of Things. Most cars do not say, 'I'm a Chrysler 200 and my serial number is...'. It would be helpful if the machines could volunteer this information, and the Internet of Things would describe itself to itself."
A standardized language would help make sense of industrial data. Sanjay Khatri, director of product marketing and IoT services for Jasper, which was acquired by Cisco earlier this year, said, "Those sensors and those devices that are being embedded into the industrial assets and all of the equipment that's being used in an industrial context, you want to make sure that those are standardized. If you're a car manufacturer like GM, you have manufacturing equipment on the factory floor, but you also have forklifts and you have various different types of other equipment within your manufacturing operation that you're using to run your entire operation. You want to make sure that there is some level of standardization so that when you collect all that data into a central repository you can get a consistent view."
While there are some standards in place, such as the OPC UA, an industrial M2M communication protocol, they aren't sufficient for international IoT use.
Stotz said, "What we are developing here isn't new and unrelated to all standards. OPC UA is a standard that could easily implement the ideas that are currently being discussed in the German platform industry. We believe that existing standards could extend and adopt the ideas being brought forward."
"From a Cisco perspective, we totally agree," said Paul Didier, solutions architect manager for
Cisco's IoT solutions group. "We're working really hard to make sure that those standards exist."
Didier said, "It's really clear there's a lot of value in IoT. A lot of people will say, 'f I had the data, I could do this, I could do that, I could do a lot of amazing things.' That first part of the sentence, 'if I had the data,' is one of the biggest hurdles. Many of these industrial environments are using segmented, proprietary networks that don't communicate with other networks. Anything in there is a challenge to deliver with industrial IoT networks if they remain unmerged."
"Even in sub-verticals like manufacturing for industrial IoT there's a lot of work that needs to be done about trying to simplify and make sense of all these different protocols," he said.
Stotz said, "At the end of the day, I think IoT will only become real if we have standards. Otherwise the small suppliers will not be able to enter the game."
Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:
- International standards are needed to fuel IoT industrial growth particularly among smaller companies.
- SAP and Bosch have partnered to create a European testbed for IoT to accelerate growth.
- Existing standards such as OPC UA could be modified and reworked to serve as a base for new international standards.
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.