Executives are hearing plenty these days about the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to establish a clear business case for investing in these new technologies. Nonetheless, the momentum of IIoT remains undeniable, with pervasive sensing, real-time connectivity, and apps for nearly every business need becoming almost as ubiquitous as cellphones.

One reason for the cautious attitude on the part of many executives is that most scenarios for implementing IIoT technology paint a picture of complex data architectures and massive enterprise-wide investments, requiring extensive engineering and a long-term commitment. Executives facing these multi-million-dollar or larger investments are left wondering:  How do I know I’m investing in the right approach? How do I measure the value derived from my investment?

The popular business mantra of “go big or go home” certainly has its proponents, but when it comes to implementing IIoT, the opposite route may be the preferred approach. Companies such as Emerson are helping customers find finite yet scalable options to lower the risk of adoption while still reaping the benefits of the IIoT-- without a high-dollar ante.

Emerson’s approach is focused on helping industrial manufacturers gradually adopt the technology. Emerson is able to help customers leverage IIoT by starting with a defined business problem, enabling them to achieve early performance improvement gains. The key to this approach is a flexible technology platform called Plantweb, backed by Emerson’s deep domain expertise.

Plantweb, a comprehensive and integrated process control, safety and IIoT platform, helps customers leverage data, technologies and best practices to improve reliability, safety, energy management and overall operational performance. Plantweb consists of a robust network of sensing technologies, control and actuation equipment, a suite of scalable software applications, consulting services, integration, and remote equipment monitoring on an ongoing basis. Plantweb affords customers total flexibility and scalability in the way they adopt IIoT.

Many companies already have incorporated plant-floor technologies such as sensors and valves to enable them to monitor production lines and industrial processes in real-time. Typically, embedded sensors are deployed to measure temperature, flow pressure, valve opening and closing, vibration and other factors that could signal the likelihood of equipment failure. Both process and discrete manufacturers have significant investments in alarm systems designed to shut down machines to reduce the chance of catastrophic failure and extended downtime.

Emerson’s Plantweb Insight applications, which leverage Emerson’s Pervasive Sensing™ strategies, help plant operators and technicians instantly make sense of plant data. Pervasive Sensing uses the power of advanced sensing technologies to provide continuous real-time data.

Extending the Plantweb digital ecosystem into cloud based services, Emerson is working with Microsoft Corp. to help industrial manufacturers realize the business impact and value that IIoT can have on their operations. An example of this partnership is Emerson’s recently announced Plantweb digital ecosystem and Connected Services, powered by the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite. 

This real-time visibility into operational performance as well as predictive analytical capability allow users to make critical decisions about asset health, thereby reducing costly downtime and improving profitability. Using Plantweb Insight, plant managers can improve asset reliability and energy usage by identifying abnormal situations and the potential for equipment failure. The ability to track asset health to identify and prevent failures before they occur can be invaluable to achieving a high level of operational performance.

For instance, companies that are Top Quartile performers typically have more than 80% of their production equipment monitored for vibration analysis, compared to just 35% for Third Quartile companies. In addition, companies that depend on condition-based, planned maintenance have fewer equipment emergencies, resulting in 14% less downtime and 71% lower maintenance cost.

It’s no surprise that companies that achieve a high level of maintenance performance and depend more on asset health information spend less time on unnecessary preventive maintenance and have higher on-hand spare parts coverage.

Plantweb enables companies to further leverage their existing investment in plant-floor systems. For instance, oil and gas, refining, petrochemical and other companies can now more fully utilize their existing investments in instrumentation, sensors, and communication infrastructure to power new applications to improve reliability, energy management and safety. Emerson provides these applications as IIoT services, eliminating the need for in-house domain experts.

“Emerson and Microsoft have a long-standing relationship to deliver sensor-driven distributed applications to run plant processes safely and reliably,” says Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer of Emerson Automation Solutions. “By integrating Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure IoT Suite and smart device-driven Windows 10 IoT, we are able to offer the Emerson Plantweb digital ecosystem as cloud-based applications that can also be provided as a turnkey ‘connected service’ for the entire enterprise.”