Is IoT an opportunity for the drives business?

IoT_FoDInternet of Things (IoT) was one of the hottest topics within the electrical, automation and manufacturing industries in 2014. It was also at the very top of the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. But was it all just hype? The next few years will reveal if the promises of connected devices, great added value for customers and the biggest industrial revolution since the computer can be fulfilled.

Increased productivity, minimized downtime and prevention of failures are common themes when discussing how to increase the profitability of the process and manufacturing industries – all themes where IoT can bring new tools. But, in order to succeed, new services and features based on IoT must add clear customer value and enhance their business.

Investment cycles in the process and manufacturing industries are long, and new trends tend to take time to develop. There are also clear security threats that must be dealt with if we are to move away from closed networks and automation systems into more open, and often more unsecure, global systems or connectivity. We need to be cautious, but also be bold and take small steps forward to enjoy the benefits that IoT can bring.

One of the main topics at this year’s Automaatio XXI – the Finnish Society of Automation’s most important process, plant and production automation seminar – was how IoT can best benefit the drives industry, and what role it will play in the automation community. This presentation shows the clear business benefits and implications of IoT with regard to variable frequency drives.

At Danfoss Drives, we are taking a practical approach to IoT starting from clear customer needs. Based on close co-operation with our customers, we have identified some initial stages that in themselves are not revolutionary, but are the first step towards the final phase of the IoT evolution, which is ‘autonomy’ of products. These initial stages already require development and design in new technology areas that have not traditionally been a focus of AC drive development. Full capitalization of IoT means new ecosystems and partnering for companies like Danfoss Drives. Our deep expertise in AC drives and understanding of industry and application requirements need to be coupled with our customers’ insight into their own processes and machinery. In addition, we need a wide ecosystem of connectivity, security, computing and data storage players that bring their expertise to the overall solution.

Skeptics say there is nothing new in IoT that has not already been provided by today’s automation systems. That is one viewpoint as drives, for example, have already for years provided data for process control through extensive measurement capabilities. We, however, believe that IoT will bring a difference to our industry as the capabilities of AC drives are now combined with enhancements in connectivity, data gathering and analysis. We, at Danfoss Drives, have already today live deployments utilizing the benefits of IoT where fault isolation and drive installation times have been significantly reduced after enabling remote management services.

To sum up, IoT offers plenty of new, interesting opportunities for the process and manufacturing industries. New innovations are inevitable as technical breakthroughs become more widely utilized in tomorrow’s products and services. The new era, however, will seize opportunities through concrete small steps that create immediate value for end users of products and processes – for which AC drives offer a perfect platform. As always, the revolution will become a commodity before we even notice that we are in the middle of a great change.

Article by: Tuuli Sarvilinna, Director, Global Strategic Customers, Danfoss Drives

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