What is an IIoT Platform?
IIoT platforms are systems for connecting front-line industrial processes with back-end information systems.
They include hardware and software and enable manufacturers to develop new applications.
Fundamentally, IIoT Platforms are tools for improving connectivity, control, and data analysis in industrial environments.
But what does that mean? What do IIoT Platforms Do?
You’re right. That’s a super dry definition of “IIoT Platform.”
You’ll find a lot of those online. That’s because it’s hard to define what a platform is, even if the definition of IIoT is fairly clear.
Here’s why all the dry definitions:
Platforms, by nature, do many things. They are enablers, tools for creating new connections and applications. They’re generative, meaning they’re useful precisely because they make new things possible. It’s easier to give a litany of features than to describe what IoT Platforms mean for you.
So what do platforms do?
Crucially, platforms give front line manufacturers control over their lines and processes in ways that were previously impossible. They enable engineers to design new applications (work instructions, inline quality checks, machine monitoring) specifically for their lines. And they collect huge quantities of data.
All and all, they unlock new potential for continuous improvement.
Core features of an IIoT Platform
Let’s drill down a little deeper. There are two phrases that are often used to define IIoT Platforms.
- “Platforms are both hardware and software”
- “Platforms are a middle layer in industrial processes.”
Here’s what both mean.
Platforms are Hardware and Software
If we think about what platforms do (connect humans, machines, and sensors; create new information flows; extend process control), it’s easy to see why platforms are both hardware and software.
In terms of minimal criteria that constitute an IIoT Platform, you have:
- Software (usually Software-as-a-Service) – the actual, base software product
- Gateway or Edge Device – these act as an intermediary, connecting the software “heart” and “brain” to the rest of the “body” in the physical world
- IoT Devices and Sensors – the tools for creating connectivity and bringing processes online
And yet, platforms are much more than this. In fact, they can encompass a huge variety of hardware and software features.
For example, platforms at once extend to hardware devices and physical objects like:
- Smart sensors
- I/O Gateways
- Edge devices
- IoT devices
- Industrial assets and machines
- Human machine interfaces (HMIs)
- IT infrastructure, as well as the software that enables connectivity, control, and application development.
They also include all of the software necessary to develop application integrate into existing systems of record. Platform software can include everything from:
- Operating system
- Cloud-based software (SaaS)
- Protocol converters
- No code app developer
- Application player
- Data visualization tools
- Data storage tools like tables
So as we’ve outlined this list of things that platforms are, you can see just why they’re hard to define. A given platform might include some, all, or many of the bulleted features.
Platforms are a Middle Layer
Platforms are also frequently described as a “middle layer” in industrial processes. The question is, What are they in between?
On the one hand, you have the IT backend. On the other, you have front line manufacturing processes.
Previously, these different layers existed in isolation. Or they were integrated manually at select points, like inventory consumption and work order generation managed through an ERP.
Platforms allow a direct line between cloud-based or on-premise storage and compute resources and the shop floor. By connecting the sensors and machines that collect data during production runs, they create a direct line between the places and times when data is collected, and the tools needed for analysis.
Further, IIoT platforms make it possible for different for shop floor machines to communicate with other machines (also known as Machine to Machine or M2M communication).
Benefits of IIoT Platforms
If the Internet of things increases convenience in everyday life, the Industrial Internet of Things creates value in the industrial world. These are three of the key benefits IIoT platforms can deliver to you.
Coordinating Your Connected Factory
The digital era is fundamentally about connectivity. It’s about bringing machines and processes online.
IIoT Platforms give you a way to coordinate your connected devices and processes.
Research shows that manufacturing is moving toward a microservices and applications model fast. This is because modern manufacturing, where conditions and requirements change often, requires an agile approach.
IIoT Platforms let you develop applications for your unique improvements and challenges. These applications can connect to your sensors and devices, collect data on the human and machine elements of processes, and eliminate the most common sources of error on the shop floor.
Better Insights from Data
You’ve probably heard the phrase “data is the new oil.” That’s because data is quickly becoming the most valuable good on the planet. Platforms collect data automatically, making a new level of visibility and insights possible.
Moreover, data is the key to the most exciting advances promised by Industry 4.0. Without good data, there’s no way to implement the AI machine learning models that make predictive maintenance and advanced process control possible.
Why it matters for you
Whether you’re an engineer, a plant manager, a machinist, or an executive, platforms have concrete benefits.
For engineers, platforms mean more control and fewer headaches. If you can imagine an improvement, you can design it.
For operators, platforms mean more efficient, safe, and human-friendly workflows.
And for management, platforms mean simplified reporting, more effective improvements, and a solution that scales from one plant to 10 effortlessly.