Internet of Things - making every second count

Paul Boughton

Jonathan Wilkins ponders the Internet of Things concept and what effect it could have on automation processes, such as the repair and replacement of industrial components.

Did you know that the world's population spends a total of 500,000 hours a day typing internet security codes (CAPTCHAs)? If it were possible to eliminate at least some similar procedures and protocols from daily life, we would all have significantly more time for pleasurable activities. We are not advocating a descent into hedonism; we're just saying time could sometimes be spent better.

Others before us have had similar things in mind. Take for example, Kevin Ashton, who originated the Internet of Things (IoT) concept. The phrase initially referred to a network of uniquely identifiable physical objects and their virtual representations. In other words, IoT would mean that many physical objects would have an intelligent interface that allows it to communicate with other objects, users and environments.

The concept has captured the attention of individuals, organisations and governments around the world, some of which have offered their own versions of the IoT.

Since everyone is talking about it, we have also asked ourselves what the impact of this technology will be on automation.

For one thing, it would make process management much easier. If equipment could estimate and express when it needed repairing or replacing, the life of plant engineers would be much easier.

For automation, the IoT could have an extremely beneficial impact. Firstly, it would make warehouse facilities even leaner. Tagging, tracking and counting automation parts would be easy. An IoT regulated warehouse would reduce waste, loss and cost. An inventory of available parts could be created automatically and would also be able to constantly update itself without staff involvement.

If the IoT becomes a reality, system compatibility would not be an issue. Automation parts would recognise whether they are reconcilable with equipment or overall systems without being shipped to the customer. They would be able to communicate incompatibility or even suggest alternatives.

Finally, tracking automation parts in an IoT universe would be a breeze. Each one would be equipped with a GPS or RFID sensor which allows it to provide constant updates of its whereabouts.

Jonathan Wilkins is with European Automation, Stafford, UK.