IIoT: Where do we stand?     

The United States and Germany: two advanced manufacturing locations that have embraced the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on a wide scale. What impact has IIoT had and what are current trends? We spoke to two engineering experts on both sides of the Atlantic to get answers: Dr. Dagmar Dirzus, member of the Technology and Science board at the Association of German Engineers (VDI), and Dean Bartles, President of the North American Manufacturing Research Institute.

IIoT: Where do we stand? What’s got you excited?


Dirzus: Modular designs. Let me explain: Technologies are coming at us at different paces. Let’s consider mechanical elements, like a pump in a process industry installation built to operate for 30 years or longer. In the same plant, we have IIoT technologies that change much faster, maybe every few years or so. The challenge is to bring these different innovation cycles together. I think modular designs will be a great lever.


Bartles: A clear advantage with IIoT is shortened lead time. Companies can start profiting more quickly when new products are introduced to the marketplace. Digital twins is another area. A digital twin is basically a digital representation of the final product; a record of every screw and all deviations from the original plans. The advantages are really clear with complex products like an airplane. If at some point there’s a quality issue, it’s easier to get to the source.

Different committees are working on interconnectivity standards. What’s on your radar screen at the moment?


Dirzus: In Germany, work is progressing with Reference Architecture Model Industry 4.0 (RAMI 4.0). The ultimate goal is an international standard. This needs to be more than a German solution for it to be successful, so the organizers are reaching out to engineers in other countries. First and foremost the USA, followed by China. 


Bartles: An open-source solution called MTConnect, which is being developed by the Association for Manufacturing Technology. MTConnet is getting adopted more and more in the marketplace and gaining a lot of headway. There are so many initiatives running side by side, so it will be a matter of time until we know what emerges as the standard.


Cyber security is a concern everywhere. Is the fear justified?


Dirzus: Yes and no. German manufacturers are extremely sensitive about cyber security. There have been advances, but you have to remember, there is no 100% guarantee for anything. I would go so far as to say that cyber concerns could cause the German industry to miss the boat on some IIoT technologies.

Bartles: Of course. Hackers can do great harm, which isn’t always apparent at first sight. A professor at Virginia Tech collected programming assignments from his students on a 3D printing project. During the review, he built in a void, on purpose. The only student who caught the void was the one who stood by the 3D printer and watched the piece being printed. Imagine if that was a sensitive machine part? And it was noticed only when it was too late?

The challenge is to bring these different innovation cycles together. I think modular designs will be a great lever.
Dagmar Dirzus

What do you think needs to be done now for better cyber security?


Dirzus: Attention needs to be on secure cloud IT infrastructure. The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation has come up with Virtual Fort Knox, a platform for secure cloud IT infrastructure. Different centers have been set up across the country where manufacturing companies can test out different possibilities for cyber security solutions.


Bartles: The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is working heavily on cyber security. I think manufacturers could make better progress in cyber security if the highly secure encryption technologies used in the defense sector were made available to protect advanced manufacturing.

In the face of IIoT, the required skillsets in engineering are changing. How can young engineers arm themselves for the future?


Dirzus: Today teams are more interdisciplinary than they ever have been before. That requires good communication skills and the ability to think outside of the box. Of course, competence in software is essential – I’m not saying engineers have to study computer science on top of engineering, but they do need to have basic knowledge in writing code.


Bartles: Engineers will have to learn to write and understand code, because every new product being developed includes IIoT to some degree. Another issue that comes up is that people are afraid of jobs being lost to robotics and IIoT. I don’t see that being the case. Of course, some lower-skilled jobs will be lost. But for each lower-skilled job lost, I believe that there will be a net increase in higher-skilled jobs.



Much as China did some 30 years ago, many emerging countries around the world are setting up an industrial base of their own. What role do you think IIoT will play for these countries?


Dirzus: I think we’re going to see a very fast learning curve. In some ways it will be easier in these countries because they are starting out with an IIoT mindset, instead of trying to transform already existing industrial infrastructure.


Bartles: If these new industrial bases want to keep up with manufacturers in the United States, Europe and many parts of Asia, they are going to have to introduce IIoT from the very beginning.

Smart materials. It’s amazing what some of these materials can do. I think they’re going to have a big impact in the future.
Dean L. Bartles

Looking into the future, what should manufacturing experts keep an eye on?


Dirzus: More smart services. Manufacturing companies will own less and less, and will instead pay a monthly fee for the assets they need. Take the aviation industry, for example: airlines are paying to have turbines at their disposal, they don’t actually own the turbines they use.


Bartles: Smart materials. It’s amazing what some of these materials can do. Some can change their properties according to external stimuli, like temperatur


Picture credits: getty images/BeeBright (1) / VDI/Dr. Dagmar Dirzus (2) / Dean L. Bartles (3)

Dr. Dagmar Dirzus is member of the Technology and Science board at the Association of German Engineers (VDI), responsible among others for community voluntary work in the VDI division Measurement and Automation Technology. She holds a doctorate in engineering from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany, and has worked in various engineering organizations. Her areas of expertise include smart automation, robotics, Industry 4.0 and business model innovation for the digital transformation.


Dr. Dean L. Bartles is a leading figure in US manufacturing. He has served on many advisory boards – for example in 2016 as the President of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and this year as the President of the North American Manufacturing Research Institute. He also has over 40 years of management experience in various companies. Bartles holds a PhD in technology management from Indiana State University and a doctorate in business from Nova Southeastern University.

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