The Industrial Internet of Things

A new era is upon us, one full of promise

The digital transformation will create more efficient and profitable ways for industries to operate. That’s something we can get behind.

The Internet connected people in ways that revolutionized how we live. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is connecting sensors, chips, actuators, thermostats, cameras, embedded processors, microphones, computers, robots, GPS, drones and mobile devices into networks of cloud-based data that will revolutionize industrial production in the years to come. The potential of these networks to create “smart” manufacturing methods (also known as Connected Intelligence) will be a game-changer for industries around the globe. Early adopters will be poised to reap unprecedented efficiencies—and market share.

BAW Architecture has been at the forefront of solving human-machine interface challenges as they relate to complex workspaces for the past 30 years. We plan to be the architects of choice as our clients embrace the power of the IIoT. Aware, adaptive, and ready to respond—that is our credo at the crest of this historic tipping point.

A Historic Perspective

The IIoT is happening as we speak, has been happening in some ways for the past 20+ years, and yet it will soon take hold and transform society in ways no one can yet imagine, ways that will represent a new era in industrial production. To put this new era in historic perspective, it is useful to examine technological advances over the past 250 years. Simply put, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0.

As we shall see, each era gave birth to new architectural realities.

The first industrial revolution (circa 1760-1840) was centered in Britain, harnessed water and steam to mobilize the mechanization of production, and saw the birth of the factory. The second industrial revolution (circa 1870-1914) pioneered mass production and electricity; Germany and the United States were at the fore, and the conveyer belt became a central feature of the modern workspace. The third industrial revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, saw the introduction of computers and robotics, and was centered in Japan and the USA. This phase began in the 1970s and continues to this day. Control rooms became increasingly centralized and digitized during this period. The IIoT will see the integration of computation, networking and physical processes into cyber-physical systems. This represents a continuation of this evolutionary process, each successive iteration having been built on the past paradigm, but representing something so different in degree as to be different in kind. That is where we find ourselves at the dawn of the age of Connected Intelligence.

Architecture that is fit for purpose

The buildings that served each of these ages evolved as new technologies emerged. Old uses were adapted to new needs, and entirely new building types came into being. For example, the control building as a building type did not exist in the oil and gas industry until circa 1900—it simply hadn’t been invented yet. Those new spaces were imagined in response to a new need.

As BAW looks to the future, we will be challenged to create spaces that adapt to the new needs of a mobile-enabled workforce and a tsunami of cloud-based data. But no matter how these spaces will be configured—on new builds or brownfields—the same principles that have driven us in the past will inform our building designs in this new era: The architecture of the IIoT must address human factors to optimize performance, and it must deliver utility, durability, sustainability, value, and return on investment.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

The Industrial Internet of Things represents incredible opportunities for early adopters involved in the manufacturing, mining, transportation and energy industries—analogous to being the first to adopt mass production methods or computer automation in earlier eras. General Electric released a report illustrating its contention that a 1% increase in efficiency for the oil and gas industry would result in $90 billion of savings over 15 years. The opportunity to make this type of quantum leap comes along only once every few decades.

The case is clear: in the age of the IIoT your technology will need an upgrade. And while we are not talking rip and replace, companies would be well advised to consider human factors engineering (HFE) during the implementation of any upgrade, or risk compromising the return on investment. That’s where we come in. HFE is a BAW core competency, and no architectural firm knows more about optimizing human performance that results in reduced operation risk, which leads to a safe plant and safe workers. We have completed architectural upgrades for the oil and gas, mining and transportation industries around the globe, and that same experience will inform the next iteration of upgrades necessitated by the IIoT.

“In the next century the earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin ins already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies–even our dreams.”

1999 – Neil Gross in Business Week

Security—It’s on everyone’s mind

Mobile devices may change the way we work, but it is unlikely they will untether us altogether from a traditional workspace. That notwithstanding, data mobility presents a security challenge—it is not difficult to imagine a cloud-based hijacking that could turn a mobile device into a weapon. And while we don’t have all the answers at this point, we feel it’s important to be asking the right questions. Security has been a key component of our control building and control room design for the past 30 years, and during that time we have taken into account all possible manner of security breach potential, from bombs to sledgehammers. The architecture of protecting data is every bit as important—including security clearance considerations—as is factoring in the agility of decision-making that will be the new norm in the years to come. Having designed more than 100 control buildings and rooms that have been built over the last 30 years for clients such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Fluor, and Honeywell, BAW is at the forefront of industrial security issues as it relates to architectural design. Whatever space configurations are demanded by new technologies, we’ve got the experience to present workable solutions—and we’ve got your back.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”

1991 – Mark Weiser, Scientific American

The human element

The rise of the IIoT has led us to speculate whether we are entering a world where controllers and control rooms will become obsolete. If, for example, a sensor detects an oil leak, which transmits the information to a computer, which diagnoses the problem utilizing virtualization technologies and activates a drone, which carries a robotic arm to the pipe to fix the problem, what need is there for human intervention? Again, historic perspective may be of use. Up until the mid 1970s there were people out in the field, monitoring readouts on dials and pulling levers. The introduction of computers and automation in the 1970s largely did away with that field-based approach, efficiencies skyrocketed, and the payback was tremendous. People were saying that, taken to its logical conclusion, 100% automation was the wave of the future. By the 1990s we realized that was just not happening. And it may never happen. Until computers and robots have judgment, people will need to be on the scene. Smart people collaborating in a smart environment cannot be replaced by a smart device. People will need to interact. They will need to make the call.

We’re all living history, and it’s fascinating to behold. At BAW Architecture, we look forward to exploring the challenges, with industry partners old and new, as the era of the Industrial Internet of Things continues to unfold.

“Having been at the forefront of human-machine interface issues in control room architectural design for the past 25+ years, BAW Architecture is perfectly poised to imagine and design new control building features and configurations that may be demanded by the Industrial Internet of Things.”

Andrew Hird
Vice President & General Manager Digital Transformation
Honeywell Process Solutions

Find out more about why BAW Architecture is the global leader in 24/7 mission-critical control building design, or contact us for more information.

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