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IoT applications seen by some as more 'talk than action'

Some headway has been made when it comes to the Internet of Things in manufacturing, but businesses still need to figure out what to do with all that new data.

Maribel Lopez, founder of San Francisco-based Lopez Research, thinks manufacturing may have a head start on Internet of Things, or IoT, applications, but "it's a lot of talk and not a lot of action," she said. "First of all, the phrase 'IoT' is meaningless because it doesn't talk about anybody doing anything that's useful. Just connecting your stuff is not enough."

For IoT applications to be meaningful, several things must happen, she said. First, "things" must be connected securely -- hardly a no-brainer. It can be hard to get wireless connectivity into manufacturing facilities that are laden with concrete walls and heavy iron pipes and machinery. Because of that potential interference, the manufacturing process "may, in fact, need to be a wired IP network," Lopez suggested.

Provisions might have to be made for error-free data transmission if the application requires it. The data must get into workers' hands, perhaps in mobile apps on ruggedized tablets. "That's not necessarily cheap hardware," she said. "Once you collect that data, you have to process it somewhere. Do you haul it all the way back to the cloud, or do you process it locally?"

Maribel LopezMaribel Lopez

Then there's the debate about whether the data should be real time. Lopez explained, "Sending me an alert every five seconds that says the manufacturing plant is 25 degrees is not useful. Saying that the vibration is out of range is interesting yet not sufficient. Saying the vibration is out of range and if it continues for the next two hours, it's going to shut down the plant -- that's more interesting."

Lopez has noticed a distinct shift in favor of local data management and analytics over the past year. "You're going to want to do a lot more of that locally than you would have thought," she said. The terabytes of data coming from a turbine every day, for example, can't realistically be sent over a cellular data network to the cloud then back for analysis.

"You need to figure out how you're going to do some local processing of that data," Lopez explained, "and you need to figure out some rules around what matters and what doesn't when it comes to getting the analytics back. Think about right time versus real time."

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