Interest in and adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gained a boost in 2021 due to the pandemic, as digital transformation accelerated across the board, and it shows no signs of slowing down. 

At the beginning of 2020, only around 10% of manufacturers had implemented IIoT, but it’s predicted that 50% will have done so by 2025. The global IIoT market was valued at $76.7 billion in 2021, and it’s forecast to reach $176.12 billion by 2029, growing at a CAGR of 10.95% in the forecast period. 

US IIot market

IIoT adoption is further driven by the falling cost of IIoT sensors, ongoing government initiatives for digital transformation, and the observable rise in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) that IIoT enables. As IIoT races across the manufacturing landscape, customer demand continues to fluctuate, and uncertainty still grips the markets, it’s useful to pause and examine how IIoT is evolving in 2022. 

Here are the 5 top IIoT trends for 2022 and beyond.

IIoT connections are speeding up

As plants implement more IIoT devices, they’re also gathering more data. The advanced analytics that are needed to derive the full value of this growing data mountain require faster, better connectivity. More powerful networks can transfer enormous datasets in seconds or minutes, rather than hours or days, making it possible for manufacturing companies to leverage near time or real-time insights into plant conditions. 

As a result, organizations are exploring various types of connections. Most are moving on from wired connections, and high-speed wireless networks are seeing increasing adoption. Industrial private 5G and 6G networks are arriving, together with edge computing that moves the compute function to the borders between cloud storage and IIoT networks. 

“The Edge AI concept allows AI computation to be done near the user at the edge of the IoT network, instead of a cloud. That helps bring real-time intelligence to industrial processes, increase privacy and enhance cybersecurity, at the same time reducing costs and securing persistent improvement of the manufacturing processes,” writes Oleksii Tsymbal, Chief Innovation Officer at MobiDev.

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Resilience is a high priority 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing supply chain shocks, manufacturing companies are applying IIoT in a number of ways in order to build resilience into manufacturing. In the overview to its report on the IIoT market, Grand View Research noted that “Businesses are looking forward to establishing resilience to ensure growth in the post-COVID age, as well as adjusting to remote working and automating their processes accordingly. As a result, they’re concentrating on IIoT adoption to entice customers, improve customer experience, and raise brand awareness.”

This includes using IIoT together with AI for predictive maintenance, which detects possible inefficiencies, bottlenecks, or imminent failure while they are still minor concerns. This can prevent small issues from snowballing to provoke unexpected downtime, and allow teams to schedule maintenance and repair at convenient times. 

Remote monitoring, cobots, and robotic process automation (RPA) draw on data from IIoT to enable operations to continue seamlessly even if staff are working remotely. IIoT-powered digital twins allow engineers to supervise operations, carry out root cause analysis, and often even to adjust configurations and carry out repairs from a distance. 

In a similar vein, remote quality assurance monitoring uses IIoT sensors, cameras, and AI to automate the process and ensure that quality remains high even when the workforce is largely remote, demand is spiking, and/or customer pressure is high (a trifecta experienced by many pharma brands during COVID-19, for example). In due course, IIoT may power widespread adoption of full lights-out manufacturing. 

IIoT is helping bridge the skills gap

The manufacturing industry has been struggling to recruit suitable talent for decades, and the twin levers of the pandemic-driven Great Resignation and the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer workforce exacerbated the issue. 

The shortage of skilled workers is a top concern for manufacturers this year, and many are turning to IIoT to help fill it, adopting more autonomous and semi-autonomous functions which can run independently until the technology raises an alert for human intervention. 

Some refer to “persona-based IoT”, in which all the relevant data and KPIs for every employee is accessible in a single location and across functions. Bjorn Andersson, senior director of global IoT marketing at Hitachi Vantara, told the Datamation blog that “this helps with the predicted shortage of skilled workers, both in terms of offloading existing workers of more routine tasks, but also to help new workers get up to speed quickly with expert assistance available all the time via digital means.” 

Digital twins are becoming more powerful

Digital twins have entered a flywheel of adoption, where plant managers notice the impact they have and expand their use and application in response. As IIoT devices become ubiquitous, the data they provide is combined with data from more powerful sensors to enable deeper insights and a greater range of perspectives on plant operations. 

“A mature digital twin/thread can create end-to-end transparency and traceability across the value chain and enable what-if modeling to adopt the planning based on the real-time scenarios. The real-time situation awareness provided by IoT data becomes a key source for such scenarios.“ Vishnu Andhare, a consultant with ISG, said to Datamation. 

As time goes on, new funnels of data will be united to create a more complete picture of the plant; 5G/6G and edge computing bring modeling closer and closer to real-time, and augmented reality (AR) headsets and advanced data visualizations produce new ways for people to interact with the digital models. 

Security is an increasing concern

With plant operations relying on IIoT and IIoT-enabled technologies to a greater and greater extent, their attack surface is expanding, vulnerability is growing, and concern for potential security risks is high. Fictiv’s 2022 State of Manufacturing Report found that 97% of manufacturing leaders are concerned about security for digital manufacturing. 

Today, IIoT connects vital OT infrastructure with IT infrastructures such as servers, routers, and computers, opening up a dangerous route for hackers to access and destroy or subvert plant operations. 

As so often happens, this challenge is driving a new wave of innovation, with experts developing new types of tools that can reinvigorate cybersecurity. Francis Cianfrocca, CEO of InsightCyber observed to Datamation that these are “effectively using tools like AI and ML, which are increasingly employed by the bad guys, to counter the new breed of attacks and, as a consequence, redefine security standards in business to become better and cheaper. The added bonus will be that these innovations can be transformative across other aspects of business beyond pure security.”

IIoT is driving the manufacturing plant of tomorrow

As IIoT gathers pace and industries see how IIoT enables and is enabled by other technologies, manufacturers increasingly appreciate the value of end-to-end solutions over isolated tools, helping drive the market for smart manufacturing. 

With so many connected technologies depending on IIoT, including digital twins, RPA, predictive maintenance, and automated QA, and the adoption of other technologies such as advanced cybersecurity and edge computing being driven by IIoT’s success, it’s clear that IIoT is a foundational technology for Industry 4.0 and the connected plant of tomorrow.