‘The need for real-time data is dependent upon the application concerned’ – Prof Anthony Furness, Harper Adams University Speaker Q&A

Professor Anthony Furness, Visiting Professor at Harper Adams University will be speaking at the Smart Summit London on the 21st of September at the Olympia Conference Centre in London.

Harper Adams University, located in the heart of England, has a reputation for excellence and innovation. The university offers undergraduate, post graduate and lifelong learners in agriculture, agribusiness, animal, engineering, food, rural and land-based studies.

Prof Anthony Furness, who will be speaking about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and its potential impact upon future farming and food, took some time to answer our speaker Q&A:

1.       What do you consider to be the key benefit of Industry of Things for businesses and customers?

In recognising that the Industry of Things is concerned with the opportunities and innovations that technology and IoT is bringing to industry the key benefit may be seen to be in the potential it provides for interfacing and interacting with the physical world and yielding revolutionary and radical impact upon wealth creation, economic growth, development, education, training and social wellbeing. This potential is also seen to extend to the capabilities for tackling global issues, such as climate change, environmental protection, energy and resource management and food security. The potential is revolutionary in the sense that the sensory, identification, communication, networking, computational and other information-based technologies underpinning the IoT are relevant to virtually any sector of industry, commerce and services and provide almost unlimited potential for integration, innovation and derivation of further game-changing technologies. The potential is radical in the sense that when they are effectively applied they can yield significant improvements in productivity, performance and reductions in costs, and other associated benefits.

What is critically significant in considering these revolutionary features, as currently expressed, is their advanced position on their respective exponential growth curves (characterised by the so called Moore’s law and Kryder’s law descriptions of technological change) indicative now of very rapid performance gains and associated cost reductions, and with radical implications for growth in automation and the application of robotics, with attendant impacts upon employment and skills requirements. These are benefits that have ramifications with respect to unemployment, which in turn may be viewed as a challenge that may be accommodated through seeking new, IoT-based, employment and training opportunities and exploitation of game-changing influences of network developments, notably social network developments. Through such developments the prospects are presented for greater customisation and customer interactions in relation to product development, response times and customer services improvement.

Responding to this critically significant aspect of technological advancement requires profound consideration of the way companies manage technological and consequential change.

From a consumer standpoint, benefits of both commercial and domestic nature can be expected to arise from the exploitation of this potential. It requires some qualification as to what constitutes a consumer. Business consumers of infrastructure and architectural system providers may expect to benefit by exploiting these systems in new products and services and in generating ‘smart connectivity’ products for IoT applications in wide ranging markets, both domestic and commercial, the latter embracing everything from home entertainment  to advanced industrialisation. The domestic consumer can be expected to benefit from an ever increasing stream and range of products geared to exploit IoT capabilities and designed to support or contribute to virtually every sector of human activity, in the home, at work, social, travel, health, sport and leisure. The collective, exponential, advancement in technologies, geared as it is to the revolutionary thrust of industry 4, with its underpinning attention to cyber developments and artificial intelligence, is expected to have rapid impact upon industry and commerce, and the likelihood of precipitating a sea-change in attitudes to education, training and employment as well as more obvious influences upon the way we live.

2.       Where can money be made from Industry of Things – is there real commercial potential?

There is clearly money to be made from the Industry of Things, with real commercial potential already in evidence in start-up companies and technology responsive organisations that see significance in exploiting the pace in IoT related technological developments that facilitate product and system solutions that were hitherto non-viable due to lack of performance, cost or insufficient innovative capability.  Advancement in vision systems, data processing capabilities and games-based developments for gestured-based actuation and control supporting developments in warehouse automation and control present cases in point.  Advancements in sensor and actuator devices, wireless communications and network connectivity, coupled with low cost supporting electronics are providing greater potential for the ‘smart object’ foundations for process and service support of IoT applications. Prospects are presented for ‘smart’ design and production of ‘smart’ specialist sub-assemblies to fuel evolving design methodologies that support more rapid development and prototyping of products, systems and services.  Exploitation of Internet infrastructure and cloud-based data, information storage, rapid access and intelligent processing capabilities provide the basis for advanced remote services support for automation, robotics and process management. The impact and potential is being seen, not only in the more obvious areas of manufacture, but also in reshoring developments (in the wake of rising off-shore labour costs), warehousing and distribution, supply chain, retail, services - and even financial services.

Exploitation of data related developments, characterised by ‘big data’ scenarios, also offer opportunities for commercial enterprise, but requiring judicious attention to developments that offer free  information and apps that would compromise such a venture. Given the IoT infrastructure and architecture commercial opportunities may be seen to reside at different stakeholder levels, but requiring attention to design and fabrication methodologies, existing and emerging standards relating to product and service developers, ‘winner-take-all’ commercial scenarios that may influence the success of new commercial ventures that exploit the Internet and evolving IoT capabilities.

3.       Are businesses prepared to transform sufficiently to maximise the Industry of Things potential?

The tenor of this question really suggests the need for an independent survey to determine the range and nature of responses on which one can assess understanding of the potential it offers, the change or transformation requirements to exploit the potential it presents for individual businesses. History tells us that there has often been reluctance to change in response to disruptive technologies and often with dire commercial consequences for those reluctant to do so. Some companies will respond appropriately, others will not, depending too on how well they understand the issues, the technologies and the competition. What is clear here is that faced with the current level of technological advancement that the IIoT presents there is a case for promoting technology change management based upon profound understanding of engineering, economic and S-curve analytics, developments in competitive response strategies and entrepreneurial factors.

4.       How can real-time data be used to maximise performance?

The need for real-time data is dependent upon the application concerned, as is the quantity, nature and rate of data requirements. From a process standpoint performance is generally determined by variability in process variables and data associated with these variables provides the ability to control and influence the process performance. Maximisation or optimisation of performance may be influenced by a number of factors and, depending upon the nature of the process and its influential factors, real-time data may be crucial to maintaining satisfactory performance.  For IoT process-based applications considerations of data integrity, availability, volume and rate are clearly of importance. In data-based safety- and business-critical situations the real-time data requirement is undoubtedly an imperative consideration. Making effective use of real-time data, or appropriate time-line resolution requirements, with a view to maximising performance resides in recognising the predominant performance factors and accommodating them accordingly. This may require attention to multi-factorial analysis techniques to determine an optimum solution.

From an IoT service standpoint real-time data, information, knowledge and know-how may again be of crucially important dependent upon the service concerned.  Considerations of data integrity, availability, volume and rate would also be important in deriving and delivering an IoT-based services. Developments in data communication, processing and ‘big data’ handling can be seen to be opening upon greater opportunities for IoT near-real-time data applications and cloud-based services.

5.       Are companies making the most of predictive capabilities?

This is again a question that prompts the need for an independent survey of companies, in which the predictive capabilities are clearly defined. With respect to data analytics predictive capabilities reside in the nature and robustness of the data concerned and the techniques that are used to analyse the data and derive predictive outcomes with appropriate statistical confidence levels. S-curve analyses, and other techniques, can assist in helping to predict the speed and consequences of technological change. Other techniques, such as OODA (observe, orientate, decide and act), may assist in achieving competitive advantages. With developments in ‘big data’ analytics and the handling of ‘messy’ data, other aspects of prediction and correlation will need to come into the corporate thinking where such data considerations are seen to be important in the development of a business.

6.       How should companies best position themselves to maximise the potential of the future hyper-connected world?

The short answer to this question of positioning undoubtedly resides in the understanding of the capabilities that such a connected world provides, the potential ramifications of these capabilities and the engineering, economic and entrepreneurial capacity to relate these capabilities to their own company requirements for development and competitive positioning. Change management may be seen as an important consideration in handling the potential that an evolving hyper-connected capability presents.

7.       How well are companies making the transition from product to service oriented company?

A question that again prompts the need for an independent survey of those companies engaged in transition and those seeing the need for a transition. How well they may make the transition will however be influenced by their understanding of the issues involved including those technological nature. Developments in social and professional networking will undoubtedly influence the nature and competitiveness of service-oriented companies and the extent to which they can customise and interact with the customer base.

8.       How are business models being re-considered?

While recognising that here too there is a prompt for an independent survey it is perhaps true to say that business models will be re-considered in relation to the potential and impact of technological advancement and the significance of social and professional networking.

9.       How are customer relationships being revolutionised?

Once again the need may be seen for an independent survey in order to answer this question more incisively. However,  it is evident that social and professional networking are having a significant impact upon customer relationships and may therefore be seen as the catalyst for revolutionising those developments, particularly in unison with the application of new and evolving technologies including automation, robotics and cyber related issues.

10.   Are concerns about cyber security delay IIoT growth?

This is a question for the cyber security, infrastructural and architectural specialists to respond to in respect of concerns. From a more general standpoint the situation can be seen to be complex with wide ranging security considerations being necessary at differing corporation and application-specific levels. In recognising the diversity of needs, legislative and technological support factors (eg the need for appropriate cryptographic solutions and security layering) a possible approach to handling such issues and allaying concerns may be through security-by-design, founded on sound security principles but crafted to meet particular application, corporate or customer needs.

11.   What work must be done to enhance open shared standards for interoperability?

Standardisation is seen as an important consideration in developments of this kind and with a lot of attention to the needs of interoperability. At the core of this standardisation are identifiers and while Internet protocol (IPv6) and Universal Object Identifiers (UOI) feature large in these considerations there still remain needs for accommodating legacy identifiers, identifiers relating to other aspects of the smart object genre of devices and services, and non-IP smart object technologies. Further review of existing interface and interoperability standards in the various sectors of industry to establish there bearing upon an enhanced open standards for interoperability may be seen as a useful endeavour.

12.   Where do new opportunities lie with Industrie 4.0?

The industry 4 revolutionary foundation can be seen to relate particularly to intelligent cyber-physical systems, influenced by exponentiation of existing underpinning technologies for the IoT, innovative technological developments of relevance to manufacturing, including three dimensional (3D) printing techniques and of course manufacturing robotics. Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber-physical interaction are facilitating enhancements in the design, prototyping and manufacturing processes and support for self-functionality in systems and devices, such as self-awareness, self-diagnosis and self-assessment, self-optimisation, self-configuration and prospectively self-maintenance and repair. Coupled with cloud-based developments prospects are emerging for more flexible, cost-effective, rapid response manufacturing and impact upon the manufacturing value chain and associated supply chain functions.  Here in lie the opportunities for smart factory developments that, exploit the real-world – virtual world capabilities to achieve world-wide competitiveness in response to demanding technological and social change.

13.   How are artificial intelligence and robotics driving the growth of the Industry of Things?

Both can be expected to significantly impact upon the growth of the Industry of Things and have attendant significant implications for employment. The developments in AI and robotic support technologies, such as vision systems capabilities, laser assist functions, actuation design and cloud-support data processing and evidence-based knowledge support systems are providing an unprecedented set of platforms for advancing automation and robotic systems. The exponentiation position of these technologies indicate that they are set to impact significantly on performance and cost, as well opening up new opportunities for applications in different sectors of industry and commerce including, for example, clothing manufacture, retail vending, food preparation and delivery outlets, healthcare and agriculture. Moreover, prospects may be seen for OEM and SME developments that exploit opportunities for specialist ‘smart object’ sub-system developments for supporting the design and production of advanced automation and robotic systems. Consequently, they may be seen as key components in driving the growth of the Industry of Things. 

14.   How will increasing LWPAN deployments contribute to more diverse IIoT applications?

Identification and wireless networking can be seen as core to the developments of the Internet and IoT, with radio frequency identification (RFID) having a legacy status within the IoT developments. Developments in low power wide-area networks (LWPAN) that allow wide area wireless communication and low bit rate support for data acquisition through sensors can be seen as an imperative in supporting IoT developments and indeed more diverse IIoT applications. Cost effective deployment of sensor networks in industrial systems, including agricultural, horticultural and aquaculture industries, is opening up for greater precision and control, supported by greater scientific insight into target needs.

The IP addressing capability of LWPAN clearly places it in a strong position for IoT object identification and increasingly diverse applications as the IIoT evolves. The choice of identifier technology is invariably determined by the nature of the applications, with other automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technologies, including linear and two-dimensional bar codes, available to meet particular application needs.  RFID can be seen as a strong contender in many applications and LWPAN must be considered alongside other technologies including non-IP supported devices.

 

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Smart Summit is a 2 day conference and exhibition covering the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem and its impact on the digital society.

With 3 in-depth event tracks and over 160 leading speakers, no other IoT event covers the Smart Home, Smart Cities and Industrial Internet of Things in as much detail.

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