By Bill Briggs
Over 80% of large companies around the world are adopting IoT solutions, stoking an “invisible revolution” that will reach 94% of enterprises in two years, according to a new Microsoft survey, IoT Signals.
But that widening commercial embrace of the Internet of Things is occurring even as 97% of business and tech leaders acknowledge they have security concerns about their IoT implementations, Microsoft’s research found.
“IoT is often a gateway for businesses going through digital transformation – it’s not the end but rather just the beginning,” says Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft. “IoT is becoming mainstream.”
The survey spanned nearly 2,500 business and IT decision makers – as well as 737 developers – working at companies of 1,000 employees or larger in the U.S., Germany, Japan, China, France and U.K.
Consumers increasingly rely on IoT-enabled products to simplify their lives and smarten their homes, from lighting and temperature to security, cooking and cleaning.
Similarly, as more businesses connect their machines and equipment to the cloud, they are creating new data sources that drive astute, real-time decisions. And IoT is helping many of those same companies evolve as they add solutions built with artificial intelligence, edge computing and, soon, 5G, George says.
“IoT is having a profound impact on things that I think of as invisible IoT – things like elevators becoming more reliable, water pumps that never break down, agriculture that uses 30 to 50 percent less energy and water,” George says.
“Manufacturing also is becoming orders of magnitude more efficient and profitable while using less energy in the process, again due to IoT. There are just thousands of examples – all invisible to consumers day to day – that are having GDP-impacting results across the world,” he says.
The survey also showed:
- Companies that deployed an IoT solution have had, on average, a 25% return on investment – and those respondents expect their ROI to grow to 30% in two years.
- Among IoT adopters, 38% cite complexity and technical challenges to using IoT as a barrier to further their IoT adoption.
- Lack of available IT talent and training present challenges for half of IoT adopters, with 47% responding that there are not enough available skilled tech workers.
The potential for IoT to reshape industries is significant, says George, who is seeing evidence of this change across retail, energy, agriculture, manufacturing and more. Below are some examples George cited of businesses taking advantage of catalytic innovations in IoT.
thyssenkrupp built its “Innovation Test Tower” in Rottweil, Germany. More than 800 feet tall, the laboratory is where the company can try new technologies and showcase them to potential customers and to the public. It’s both a test lab and an active commercial building, with nearly 200,000 square feet of occupied office space and IoT sensors that transmit data of all kinds 24 hours a day.
At its test tower in 2017, thyssenkrupp Elevator unveiled MULTI, a groundbreaking, rope-less and sideways-moving elevator.
“We wanted to find new ways to use IoT sensor technology to make a building interact with the facility manager and the owner,” says Michael Cesarz, chief executive officer for MULTI at thyssenkrupp Elevator. “thyssenkrupp is uniquely positioned to do that, because an elevator is the nervous system of a building, and the shafts are like the backbone – they are a crucial structural element and they touch every single floor and serve every single tenant.”
To help develop new solutions in the Innovation Test Tower, thyssenkrupp partnered with Willow, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network. thyssenkrupp uses the company’s Willow Twin platform powered by Azure IoT which provides a “digital twin” of the tower that delivers actionable insights to the building managers.
Each Starbucks store has more than a dozen pieces of equipment, from coffee machines to grinders and blenders, that must be operational around 16 hours a day. A glitch in any of those devices can mean service calls that rack up repair costs. More significantly, equipment problems can potentially interfere with Starbucks’ primary goal of providing a consistently high-quality customer experience.
“Any time we can create additional moments of connection between our partners and customers, we want to explore and activate,” says Natarajan “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan, vice president of global equipment for Starbucks. “Our machines are what allow our partners to create that special beverage, and ensuring they are working properly is critical.”
To reduce disruptions to that experience and securely connect its devices in the cloud, Starbucks is partnering with Microsoft to deploy Azure Sphere, designed to secure the coming wave of connected IoT devices across its store equipment.
The IoT-enabled machines collect more than a dozen data points for every shot of espresso pulled, from the type of beans used to the coffee’s temperature and water quality, generating more than 5 megabytes of data in an eight-hour shift. Microsoft worked with Starbucks to develop an external device called a guardian module to connect the company’s various pieces of equipment to Azure Sphere in order to securely aggregate data and proactively identify problems with the machines.
The solution will also enable Starbucks to send new coffee recipes directly to machines, which it has previously done by manually delivering the recipes to stores via thumb drive multiple times a year. Now the recipes can be delivered securely from the cloud to Azure Sphere-enabled devices at the click of a button.
“Think about the complexity — we have to get to 30,000 stores in nearly 80 markets to update those recipes,” says Jeff Wile, senior vice president of retail and core technology services for Starbucks Technology. “That recipe push is a huge part of the cost savings and the justification for doing this.”
Just one grain of corn infected with a highly carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin can be all it takes to poison the whole harvest and sicken or even kill people and animals, not to mention the waste of having to throw out the lot when contamination isn’t found in time. Aflatoxin often can’t be seen, smelled or tasted, and it’s not destroyed by heat – so cooking contaminated food doesn’t make it safe.
Ingestion of high levels of aflatoxin can be fatal, and chronic exposure can result in serious health problems, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. There are about 155,000 new cases a year of cancer caused by aflatoxin – it’s the leading cause of liver cancer in developing countries.
Since consumers can’t tell if their food is infected, the onus is entirely on growers, harvesters and processors – more of whom are having to fight the mold as it expands north amid climate change that stresses crops and makes them more susceptible. So the stakes are high for the new corn processing system Bühler engineers developed as part of an innovation challenge.
With the LumoVision optical sorter, corn gets fed from a truck into a hopper above the 6-foot-tall machine, and a vibratory feeder sends it into a chute where it accelerates to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) a second as it flows in a single layer. UV lights illuminate the corn. A camera on each side of the chute monitors the lighted grains, looking for the telltale fluorescence of aflatoxin infection.
High-speed valves operating compressed air jets – which can open or close in a thousandth of a second – simply shoot any contaminated kernels into the rejects bin, letting the rest of the healthy corn pass through into storage or shipping containers.
Weather patterns at the time of harvest, the health of other lots harvested in the area and other relevant data points can be uploaded to the Bühler Insights platform hosted on the Microsoft cloud to augment the machine data. This can then be combined with information from the cameras as they watch the grains pass by, monitored and analyzed using IoT and edge computing to provide a real-time risk assessment on the crop and guide the system’s processes. If the risk is minimal, sorting can be paused while monitoring continues. If the risk rises, sorting automatically restarts.
“This came at exactly the right time for us, because we were just starting our digital journey toward data analytics and the Internet of Things,” says Stuart Bashford, Bühler’s digital officer. “The general concept for something like this had been around for years, but the technology never existed before to make it commercially viable. But now it’s all come together in this incredibly rewarding project.”
Deep within a Chevron fuel refinery, one key machine is now talking – and revealing secrets about its own health.
That chatty piece of equipment, called a heat exchanger, removes the heat from fluids flowing through it as part of the plant’s fuel processing.
In a pilot program, Chevron affixed some exchangers with wireless, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors that collect and send real-time data from the heat exchanger to the cloud – supplementing information already gathered by the safety and control system.
Data scientists then analyze that fresh data to check the equipment’s health status now, and to predict its condition in the future.
“Understanding the health of these exchangers can prevent unscheduled outages as well as optimize when we clean these units,” says Deon Rae, a Chevron fellow and lead of Chevron’s IIoT Center of Excellence. “That has the potential to save the company millions of dollars a year when scaled across our whole inventory of heat exchangers.”
The company plans to expand that same IoT technology to other pieces of equipment at facilities around the world to similarly monitor their health and forecast their performance, Rae says. Chevron has more than 5,000 heat exchangers in active operations in more than 100 countries. Deploying health monitoring across different pieces of equipment has the potential to provide significant savings.
Toyota Material Handling Group is the largest forklift manufacturer in the world, but its customers require much more than warehouse trucks and equipment. To better serve them, the global business is expanding and enriching its logistics solutions with digital innovation and Toyota’s renowned principles in lean and efficient manufacturing.
By providing solutions with artificial intelligence, mixed reality and IoT, Toyota Material Handling Group is helping customers meet the global rise in e-commerce and move goods quickly, frequently, accurately and safely.
With Microsoft technologies, the solutions range from connected forklift and field service systems available today to AI-powered concepts that pave the way for intelligent automation and logistics simulation – all designed with Toyota’s standards for optimizing efficiency, operation assistance and kaizen, or continuous improvement.
“Our direction is going to more systemizing and logistics solutions, services in digital automation, AI analytics and IoT,” says Toshihide Itoh, associate director and CIO of Toyota Material Handling Group, an Aichi, Japan-based division of Toyota Industries Corporation. “We also continue to improve our forklift trucks, because this is our origin. But customers need more and more efficient logistics and we need digital innovation to accelerate and expand our business.”
Toyota has presented its vision for a future warehouse with lean logistics and pre-trained, intelligent forklifts. Enabled with machine learning and IoT services in Microsoft Azure, the vehicles can quickly learn navigation in a virtual model of a customer’s warehouse, a so-called “digital twin.” Customers can experience the trucks interacting with their physical and virtual environment.
The ability to simulate and visualize a physical environment will help solve one of the biggest challenges in the industry: the long deployment time for customized IoT solutions. Installations can normally take six months to a year, but using machine learning and digital twins can significantly shorten the time.
Numerous studies have shown that bad air outside affects air quality inside homes and offices, entering through ventilation systems.
Even worse, pollutants generated inside from cleaning supplies, cooking and fireplaces can be even harder on your health than what you breathe out on the street, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Pure A9 – an IoT-connected air purifier built with Microsoft Azure – removes ultra-fine dust particles, pollutants, bacteria, allergens and bad odors from indoor rooms. It launched March 1 in four Nordic countries plus Switzerland and, previously, in Korea.
By linking the purifier and its associated app to the cloud, Electrolux can show the product’s users real-time data about their air quality – inside and outside – while tracking interior air improvement over time. In addition, the Pure A9 continuously monitors its filter usage, alerting users when it’s time to order a replacement filter.
And as a connected appliance, the Pure A9 eventually may have the ability to learn the daily patterns of when household occupants are typically away, enabling the device to run itself on a smart schedule, Larsson says.
“If we can predict when the house is empty, we make sure not to waste filter by cleaning air that nobody is going to breathe,” says Andreas Larsson, engineering director at Electrolux. “Then we can start the purification, so the air is clean when you come home.”
Visit the Official Microsoft Blog to read more from the survey’s breakdown of IoT trends.
Top photo: Starbucks partners are able to spend more time hand-crafting the perfect beverage and less time on machine maintenance thanks to cloud-connected devices. (Photo courtesy of Starbucks)