When people think about the Internet of Things (IoT), it is usually in terms of a thermostat that automatically sets, a fridge that can tell how much food is in it, or lights that automatically turn on and off. So when people talk about the importance of it for our future, many greet the idea with skepticism.
However, the truth is that the real power of IoT will not initially be in how it is used by regular consumers, but instead how companies can use it on an industrial scale.
One of the industries that is already using this to great effect is oil and gas. More than almost any other business, aside from perhaps water and electricity, they need to maintain equipment over the largest area. Unlike the others where a water leak might cause a puddle, or a break in electrical lines might short circuit a neighborhood, if there is a fault in an oil line, it can create a huge environmental disaster.
There are around 100,000 miles of oil pipelines in the US alone and trying to manage this through traditional means is hazardous, time consuming and wasteful. However, by using the IoT, companies can maintain control and view potential issues from a central location and send maintenance teams when needed. It also allows them to take pre-emptive action to either block the pipeline in the case of an emergency, or fix problems before they occur.
Mel Christopher, Senior Director of Gas Systems Operations at Pacific Gas & Electric told PTC about how they used the IoT to avert a potential disaster: 'In late September 2015, three huge fires, the Valley, Butte, and Rough Fires, were close to our pipelines and facilities. We used TAMI to monitor the movement of the fire lines and the wind direction, and it provided alerts whenever the fire line was within a certain distance of a facility. This would trigger an isolation plan we had already built using data from TAMI [their IoT data system].'
Other companies are already taking advantage of the new technology, with Thames Water in the UK being a prime example. The company were an early adopter of the technology and having embarked on a data driven, sensor led programme are reaping the rewards. Now they can find and repair leakages in half the time they could previously, and have reduced leakage from their network by a third.
It is not only in the utility sector that the IoT can have a significant impact, it can has significant positive implications for many industries across the world. Research from Accenture has shown that predictive maintenance alone generates savings of up to 12% over regular maintenance. This then leads to a 30% reduction in maintenance costs and 70% reduction in down time.
The development of the industrial IoT means that sensors are being created to track almost anything, from the emissions of a lorry through to the wear on factory machinery. With this kind of data available, it also means that more can be stored and mined to find improvements for the future, decreasing the errors of margin and creating a more efficient system.
The initial reaction to the consumer IoT may have been muted, but we are increasingly seeing that its use at an industrial level is already having a huge impact. The beauty of it is that the more it is used the better it will get, so who knows where we could get to in the future.