When machines communicate with each other online, this technology is often described as "the Internet of Things," or IoT. In this system, information is captured by small sensors and pushed to an Internet protocol, which typically sends the sensor data to another machine where the information is reformatted for display or repurposed.
It's useful to differentiate between the consumer-oriented Internet of Things and more commercial-grade applications, referred to as the "industrial Internet."
For a consumer example, let's say you're riding your bicycle and using a fitness app to collect data on your location, speed and heart rate. All of that information then goes into the cloud. When you finish your ride, you're able to retrieve the data from the cloud in the form of a visual representation of your performance. You're also able to compare your ride with someone else that has biked the same route, or share your data with a coach on the other side of the country who then analyzes your performance and provides insights and guidance.
The industrial Internet also starts with sensor data, using the common PLC-type (programmable logic controller) tools to collect machine-to-machine information and then run advanced algorithms that allow you to draw correlations within the sensor data.
As with the consumer-oriented IoT, the industrial Internet shows lots of potential for manufacturers that are moving into the commercial services space - sometimes called "manu-services." For an example of this commercial use, let's say your company manufactures backup generators, used by many office buildings in case of power outages. Those generators need to be inspected on a regular basis, and there's a cost associated with sending technicians into the field to service these units.
Using the industrial Internet, on the other hand, your company could include sensors and network capabilities that make it possible to start your generators and run all diagnostics remotely. The sensor data feeds into a database that is also pushed to the facilities manager. In addition to making the generators, you're also selling the service as an extension, or manu-service.
Other possible commercial uses include predictive and preventive maintenance. By manufacturing commercial machines with sensor and network capabilities, you could run all sorts of analysis remotely and warn your customers ahead of time when a part is about to fail.
Whether you're manufacturing products for consumer or commercial use, data security is becoming an important issue.
In consumer goods, there's a trend toward connecting a variety of electronics devices and sensor-equipped home appliances - even your car. Some systems, for example, connect your thermostat to your smartphone, allowing you to create and preprogram energy-efficient heating and cooling plans for your home. You might also use your smartphone to preheat your oven or receive alerts from a smoke detector.
Unfortunately, this integration of devices also carries risks and privacy concerns. Opening up devices, appliances and processes to the IoT could also make them more vulnerable to security breaches. As a society, we're quick to volunteer information such as IP addresses, unwittingly giving other people a lot of information about you and your life.
As the IoT and industrial Internet grow more widespread, manufacturers need to make security a priority anytime they are creating consumer goods or using the industrial Internet in their own operations.