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The IIoT versus Industry 4.0…What Sets Them Apart?

One of the most abundant resources of our age is, without question, data. Data flows through factories, offices, performance venues, amusement parks. It is omnipresent in organizations of all kinds, and it has changed them for the better. Think of all the machines in a hospital, for example, that keep track of a patient’s vital processes and then alert medical professionals when the patient needs immediate attention. Lives are literally saved because data is processed and analyzed by machines for the benefit of humans.

Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are intimately involved in the collection and harnessing of all this data. What are the IIoT and Industry 4.0? What do they have in common, and what sets them apart?

Industrial Internet of Things

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The Industrial Internet of Things is a blanket term used to describe the industrial part of the Internet of Things. If you aren’t clear on what the Internet of Things is, I recommend reading this article.

The IIoT extends to any business or industry where data is collected, analyzed, and utilized. It’s a pretty broad term used to describe network-enabled, data-collecting devices that use data to improve the way businesses run. The example in the introduction of smart monitoring machines in a hospital shows a practical application of IIoT technology, which is also used widely by gas and oil companies, factories, office buildings, truck fleets, event centers…the list goes on and on.

Much of the IIoT has to do with robots. A robot is simply a machine that can carry out complex tasks; it’s not necessarily a walking, talking being like C-3PO from Star Wars. IIoT robots do everything from track semi-truck shipments to perform industrial work to monitor those patients in the hospital. Some of these robots, particularly those used in factories, are highly sophisticated machines that can perform tasks like scheduling their own maintenance around the needs of their employer.

This is great news for consumers as well as businesses. Keeping a machine in good working order means it keeps making things. When a robot is out of commission, production costs go up due to the loss of its work, and guess who ultimately pays for that? The consumer (when the price of the product rises). Machine learning like this helps to streamline manufacturing, along with many other processes, using the power of IIoT data.

Here are some key things to remember about the IIoT as it relates to Industry 4.0:

  • The IIoT has many variations in industry. Just consider the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), a consortium of nearly 200 organizations that best represents the interests of the IIoT. The major players in that group are GE, AT&T, Cisco, and IBM, and its purpose is to “catalyze and coordinate priorities and [enable] technologies in industry, academia, and governments around the Industrial Internet.” In other words, the IIoT under this consortium encourages and enables the use of internet-connected technologies in all kinds of industries.
  • The IIoT offers a wider supply chain web that benefits all users, not just one in isolation. This interconnectivity can be used to do things like eliminate highly reactive “ripples” in inventory based on temporary customer behaviors and track quality issues better along supply chains.

Industry 4.0

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Industry 4.0 (I4) is another story. It has its roots in Germany, the home of great beer and sausages. The phrase “Industry 4.0,” or “Industrie 4.0” in German, was coined in 2010 to describe a nascent collaboration between the German government and manufacturing interests in that country. Government agencies in economics and research joined forces with science, industry, and research for the benefit of the people of Germany (and the world) to create opportunities and jobs for generations.

Industry 4.0 does have to do with connecting and integrating all that information flowing into and out of sensors, but in this case, it is specifically focused on German manufacturing. The overall goal of Industry 4.0 is to form cyber webs that will add value in manufacturing, reduce waste, or both. This is the “revolution” in how products are developed, produced, managed, and consumed both today and into the future.

And the rest of the world is taking notice. The High-Tech Strategy 2020 is the German government’s initiative for Industry 4.0, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has placed a priority on education and research. You can bet this involves those manufacturing robots that can schedule their own maintenance, which I mentioned in the previous section, along with many other intriguing and potentially revolutionary innovations.

Industry 4.0 and IIot have much in common in that both are concerned with gathering, analyzing, and then using the huge amounts of data collected to increase productivity and value. However, as you’ve probably surmised, there are some key differences. Let’s compare the two:

  • Manufacturing is the focus of Industry 4.0.
  • Germany’s government is part of the framework of Industry 4.0, with support and coordination driving decisions that extend to making manufacturing more efficient through technology. Industry 4.0 originated in Germany with the goal of maintaining German global competitiveness.
  • Industry 4.0 is made up of nine principal technologies, communicating among themselves and the humans overseeing them all in a “smart factory” setting to coordinate and monitor:

○ Autonomous Robots

○ Simulation

○ Horizontal and Vertical System Integration

○ The Industrial Internet of Things

○ Cybersecurity

○ The Cloud

○ Additive Manufacturing

○ Data and Analytics

○ Augmented Reality

Similar, But Not the Same

Industry 4.0 has been described as a cultural philosophy to increase production and remain highly competitive within the realm of manufacturing in a limited area. The Industrial Internet of Things offers the connectivity for that philosophy to work for the benefit of industry, business, and consumers on a global scale. And on an even larger scale, the Internet of Things connects our factories, our workplaces, and our homes into an increasingly efficient and interconnected web with limitless possibilities.


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