What are the differences between Industry 4.0, Big Data and the IIoT?

A few buzzwords seem to dominate today’s manufacturing trade press. Big Data, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and Industry 4.0 are a few of the big ideas that are currently crowding out other topics. Unfortunately, all too often these three terms are being used interchangeably and that routinely results in confusion.

While related these terms represent three different concepts. Following is an overview that touches on the similarities and differences between Big Data, IIoT and Industry 4.0.

Big Data: Transforming data into value

Big Data is a term that’s not limited to manufacturing in its use. Rather, it’s a term that describes large, ever-growing data sets that are stored digitally and available for analysis. Included as Big Data are any combination of structured and unstructured data types. Think beyond data that’s typically warehoused in an organized database to other sources of unorganized, textual data like journal articles, internal wiki-articles and any image on the internet. Lightening quick computers equipped with advanced analytical software are used to tap into these disparate data sources for the purpose of identifying non-obvious patterns and trends.

Growing numbers of manufacturers are using Big Data today to uncover hidden opportunities for improving their supply chain as well as for enhancing production efficiency and quality. Common examples of Big Data applications include predictive analytics and control loop performance monitoring (CLPM) software as well as digital twin simulation solutions. These applications allow manufacturers to discover non-obvious insights that have the potential for significant reliability and performance gains.

Big Data allows manufacturers to create new value by finally putting all of that data to work.

Industrial Internet of Things: An industrial data superhighway

Like Big Data the Internet of Things (IoT) is not a concept unique to the manufacturing industry but it is equally critical to the industry’s future. IoT describes the vast network of Internet-enabled devices that facilitate the transfer of information from one location to another. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) represents a subset of the IoT. With more widespread deployment of sensors and computer networks across the manufacturing sector there is an ever-growing pool of data available for a manufacturer’s use.

IIoT is a current day operational reality for many manufacturers and for multi-site manufacturers in particular. It’s commonplace for such manufacturers to incorporate device diagnostics into their larger plant KPIs at each of their facilities. By comparing the KPIs of one plant versus another those manufacturers can distinguish their best performer and adjust their standard operating procedures (SOPs) at lesser performing facilities. From the initial receipt of raw materials to the shipment of finished products, IIoT provides manufacturers with better to improve supply chain management.

The IIoT is a superhighway that makes it possible for manufacturers to transport their data.

Industry 4.0: Automating the plant of tomorrow

Industry 4.0 is a term that refers to the current and fourth industrial revolution, and it fosters a vision of the ‘smart factory’. To a large extent Industry 4.0 has been enabled by the collection of massive amounts of data, development of advanced Big Data applications, and the nearly ubiquitous nature of the IIoT. With a futuristic orientation Industry 4.0 is transitioning manufacturing to a semi- or fully autonomous mode of operation where production staff will increasingly be relieved of their responsibility to perform unsafe, physical and repetitive tasks.

While Industry 4.0 may seem futuristic it’s unfolding all around the manufacturing realm in systematic fashion. Consider that robotics has long been an automation staple within the automotive and other manufacturing sectors. Similarly, recognize that the cloud has enabled any number of remote monitoring and diagnostic capabilities, and advances in artificial intelligence help manufacturers to predict equipment failure most every day.

Industry 4.0 is equipping manufacturers with new technologies for automating production.

While the terms are related they address different aspects of modern manufacturing and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Doing so will only confuse the conversation. So if you’ve invested in a data historian, then your plant has already started its Big Data journey. With data accessible via the cloud then you’re also in the IIoT game. Hopefully you have some advanced diagnostics that automate decision-making and can check the Industry 4.0 box too. If not, then Control Station can help.

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