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May 14, 2014
A Universe of Intelligent Products Awaits…
By: Walid Negm

Aircraft engines that repair themselves. Robots that collaborate with factory workers. Tires that give turn-by-turn instructions to save on fuel consumption. Cars that take care of your insurance bill. A universe of “intelligent” products is already taking shape, and by all accounts sometime in the next 8-10 years will be firmly entrenched.

But let me give a closer-to-home example of the industrial Internet. Have you ever driven a car that has a lane departure warning function? Lane departure employs a simple camera and software to watch how close a driver is to surface markings. On an unlucky day, this feature could save a driver or his insurance company thousands of dollars in crash repairs. When the car drifts, it lets the driver know by sensing its surrounding. Taken a step further, lane assist allows a car to automatically correct its course if it reaches the lane marking. This idea of connected vehicles is by far one of the most quoted example of the industrial Internet, and by vehicle I mean anything from a Caterpillar truck to a Toyota Prius.

We define the industrial Internet as the universe of intelligent industrial products, processes and services that communicate with humans and each other over a global network like the Internet—with the potential to transform the way companies do business. Some people call this the Internet of things. Semantics aside, think factories, facilities and industrial equipment—that if imbued with reasoning and action-taking abilities—would drive dramatic efficiency gains.

But that is only the beginning. Similar to the lane assist example, brand new services (and growth opportunities) can be created. Take Michelin as an example. The company has developed a new “tire-as-a-service” offering, which tells its customers when they are wasting fuel. If a long-haul trucking company has a fleet of thousands of vehicles, fuel consumption waste adds up.

There is a downside to the industrial Internet, of course, in terms of cyber-attacks. Recently, an oil rig was hacked. According to Reuters, “Hackers recently shut down a floating oil rig by tilting it, while another rig was so riddled with computer malware that it took 19 days to make it seaworthy again.” A cyber-physical attack on a factory could mean a disruption of an assembly line, which could halt manufacturing and incur losses on product fulfillment.

Enterprises can mitigate risks like this, but it takes foresight and planning.

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