Markus Spiske
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Will Your Technology Weather the Storm?

Feb. 26, 2020
As the number of connected products increases, manufacturers need to consider the elements.

Inclement weather is never fun. However, for manufacturers that operate outdoors, a rainy or snowy day wreak havoc, especially considering the amount of technology that is in the field as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to grow.

The outdoor environment can be incredibly rough on manufacturing technology, such as sensors, explains Aaron Kamphuis, data analytics and IoT practice manager at OST, business technology and IT consulting firm.  “A current pain point for manufacturers is determining the best way to implement new technology while keeping in mind that the technology that works best for indoor manufacturers, may not always transcribe the best when put to the test of outdoor environmental factors.” 

Fortunately, as Kamphuis tells IndustryWeek, advancements in additive manufacturing, battery, sensor and communication technology have expanded the ability to build and deploy connected products that operate in the harshest of environments. “This represents new opportunities to create products and services that meet manufacturing needs that weren't possible a few years ago, especially within verticals such as transportation, emergency services, smart cities, defense, energy and other heavy industries,” he says.

Big picture

It is not just a matter of considering how the weather can directly impact deployed technology,

The availability of common infrastructure items, such as “power and communication networks, and the availability of 3rd party applications that your service may be reliant on,” can also come into play, impacting availability and effectiveness. “Even if a manufacturer's own service may be up and running, they may rely on another data feed to make decisions, and if this feed is down due to weather, it will affect their entire service,” he says.

Knowing that connected products often hit the market under the “as-a-service” mantra Kamphuis recommends ensuring it meets a real need before sending it out into the weather impacted wild. “Manufacturers must understand the ecosystem their service will be participating in. The best way to do this is with a feasibility analysis,” he says. “Before jumping into full-on product development and implementation, be sure you’ve tested all of the biggest weathering obstacles. Consider if it is worth it to provide services in a harsh environment. Just because a manufacturer's services can handle extreme conditions, doesn’t mean they necessarily should.”

Being prepared

Kamphuis also recommends building continuous testing, triage and (if possible) self-healing as part a product or platform. “A manufacturing product may meet all testing requirements in a lab environment,” he says. “However, once these items are in the real world, these products will need to work in remote, harsh and complex environments.  A failure at a moment of critical need in a distributed environment can be a platform killer.”

It’s equally important for manufacturers to understand their position in the ecosystem, explains Kamphuis. ”Are they building an entirely new IoT ecosystem or participating in an existing ecosystem? Depending on the answer to this question, manufacturers can better understand their potential risk, expenses and their biggest barriers,” he says.

Conducing a Riskiest Assumption Test (RAT) is a key step. “This test helps to identify key dependencies and devises a way to test those dependencies,” he says. “For example, if a manufacturer needs to be able to sense pressure with high fidelity through a weather hardened enclosure, they can build a test harness and measure if their service will meet performance criteria.” 

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