How to avoid hidden IIoT costs in manufacturing

Author: Ben Jervis Source: EHSToday
How to avoid hidden IIoT costs in manufacturing
For manufacturers wanting to implement an IIoT solution to increase OEE and benefit from big data insights, the underestimation of the costs associated with connectivity, networking and maintenance of IIoT installations is a common occurrence. Effective IIoT product options are often overlooked, with ideal IIoT product solutions not being considered due to lack of a true understanding of what supporting an IIoT application truly entails. This lack of understanding can often create unforseen and costly headaches shortly after installation.
A real-world example given by EHSToday is one of a major transportation manufacturer looking to optimise their fleet of vehicles with the latest in IIoT connectivity. Shortly after implementing the upgrade, they received a surprisingly large bill from the mobile carrier, used to transmit data to the cloud. The reason, it turned out, was due to outages in the data carrier — the vehicles would attempt to submit the same data time after time, with each attempt unsuccessful, until the server came back up and the data was transmitted successfully. These attempts could amass to hundreds, and when amplified by an entire fleet of vehicles, the cost implications are huge.

What hidden costs can be incurred, and how do I handle them?

1. Unexpected connectivity fees

Due to the nature of the UK’s data infrastructure, there are many areas where cellular coverage is weak or non-existent. As explained above, server issues, poorly designed software and network latency can provide bloated cost levels, aside from the fact data usage is nearly impossible to predict due to the huge number of variables that go into transmitting from server to server.

The solution?

Manufacturers can negotiate fixed-fee data contracts, giving them a flat rate per month which covers all eventualities. Sure, you may be paying a little more every now and then, but gone are the shocking bills, and in their place a fixed fee that can be easily worked into a budget.

2. Cloud server maintenance and support fees

You may not have ever received one yourself, but cloud service providers have a nasty habit of sending unexpecting customers a nice bill for their service. Their pricing models are often convoluted and difficult to understand, allowing them to exploit loop holes and drop a fee on you that you’re forced to pay.

The solution?

The only way to be truly savvy when it comes to cloud service providers and the way they operate, is to employ experienced data engineers to manage them. They would ensure devices wouldn’t transmit any data that wasn’t required, implement filters and compression software to reduce the amount of data being transmitted, and develop scheduled jobs to delete any data that doesn’t need transmitting.

3. Surprise maintenance fees

Maintenance fees are probably one area familiar to any owner or manager of an industrial computing application, although with IIoT installations things are slightly different. IIoT products can’t typically be serviced by a general engineer as less specialised equipment can be, even down to simple procedures like reboots and updates. Outsourcing trained technicians can multiply the cost of ownership 50-100 times if not managed effectively.

The solution?
Automatic, over-the-air firmware updates on wireless networks that keep IIoT products fully updated without the need for a manual (and expensive) human touch.

In summary

The demand for easy-to-use, cost effective IIoT products and solutions is growing by the second, and not every manufacturer has the knowledge or infrastructure to deal with the implementation of these types of projects. Planning, investment and developing a deep understanding of the requirements at the beginning of an IIoT development are a must, and are likely to provide substantial cost savings over a 3-5 year project, as well as increasing the resulting data quality and allowing you to maximise revenue streams.

Big launches are costly, so bitesize is the way to go in the early stages of the transition into IIoT project development. Dylan Tack from Metal Toad says, “Don’t plan any big launches until you’ve taken one complete value stream (one customer, sensor, feature, data analytics report and any other necessary elements) all the way through the product’s full life cycle. Only then should you add additional elements.”

It’s about the long-term, and getting a solid infrastructure in place now is the key to a smoother and more strategic IIoT project development process.
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Sep 2021
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