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Industry Giants Collaborate to Drive Internet of Things Revolution

Posted By Paul Tate, April 01, 2014 at 9:02 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

One of the key limitations with any technological revolution is the speed at which the key players find common ground among their innovative new technologies so they can all operate and communicate with each other.

It happened with telephones; it happened with personal computers; and it happened with networks.

Now GE, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Intel, IBM and the U.S. government have launched a new industry initiative in a bid to accelerate the development of critical open standards for the next technology revolution of cyber-physical systems -- known as The Internet of Things (IoT).

Called the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), the powerful new group says it will focus on creating common standards for sharing data between machines and embedded Internet-connected devices in an effort to break down “the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds.”

“As leaders we have come together to drive the ecosystem and market development of Industrial Internet applications and ensure organizations around the world can more easily create better services, access better data, and most importantly, seamlessly connect all the pieces together,” said Bill Ruh, vice president, GE Global Software in a statement about the launch of the IIC.

The IIC aims to establish common standards and architectures for sharing and moving front-line performance, status and usage information between networks of sensors, embedded intelligent systems, analytics tools, personal computers, business processes, cloud systems, vehicles, appliances and thousands of other physical entities.

The new standards will not only include Internet communication protocols, but are also expected to cover metrics such as power levels within connected or non-connected machines, data storage capacity in IT systems, and data traffic control in large networks.

The impact on manufacturing could be enormous – from the way companies manage the arrays of sensors, devices and RFID tags in machine tools and production assets on the shop floor, to the intelligent, connected sensors and devices they choose to embed in their products to help monitor performance and improve customer value.

The U.S. government is already investing over $100 million a year in R&D related to cyber-physical systems, and partnered with private sector companies to develop a series of test-beds in areas such as healthcare, transportation, smart cities, and increasing the security of the electric grid. 

“By linking physical objects to the full power of cyberspace, the Industrial Internet promises to dramatically reshape how people interact with technology, “ said Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in a statement.

While the IIC is U.S.-based, the Internet of Things revolution is very much a global issue. The German government has already launched what it calls its Industry 4.0 initiative to help drive the development of smarter factories in an effort to help boost industrial performance. Many of the new Industry 4.0 technologies involved will be on display next week at the annual Hannover Fair in Germany.

Last month the British government also announced it is more than doubling its funding of Internet of Things technology research to over $120 million, while also establishing a joint venture between the universities of Surrey and Kings College, London in the UK, and Dresden in Germany, to develop a new generation of ultra-fast mobile networking technology called 5G.

As we’ve noted in previous posts on the Manufacturing Leadership Community website, IIC founding member and IoT proponent Cisco Systems has also been pursuing the development of common IoT standards for some time, including recent talks with Germany’s Bosch, Swiss-based ABB and South Korea’s LG. to create a common software platform and open architecture for domestic and residential IoT systems.

“Ninety-nine percent of everything is still unconnected,” noted Guido Jouret, vice president of Cisco’s recently established Internet of Things group. “As the world looks to connect more things over the Internet, it is creating the next industrial revolution. Cisco is collaborating with industry leading companies to break through the barriers of connecting things in industrial environments safely and securely, and paving the way for the Internet of Things.”

So when can manufacturers expect to see the first results of the new consortium’s work? No matter how many industrial powerhouses are involved, it still remains to be seen how swiftly these companies can work together to deliver the practical common standards the industry needs to support its next phase of cyber-physical development. 

It will also be interesting to see how the new U.S.-based IIC, and other country-based IoT groups, figure out how to work with their counterparts in other regions of the world to ensure that the Internet of Things is a truly global revolution.

Watch this space…

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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