19 Jul 2024

Demystifying IIOT & I4.0

Sam Walton, ICONICS UK, takes a look at demystifying the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0.

The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is a term that truly established its presence in 2015, despite allegedly being coined by Kevin Ashton 16 years earlier in 1999.

Although the terms Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 haven’t lay dormant for 16 years, they have both stood the test of 2015 and 2016, and their usage looks to continue rising.For those of us in automation and process control, it’s often hard to find accurate definitions amidst the IoT-related noise. Suddenly everyone is doing IoT. Everyone.

Both terms, IIoT and Industry 4.0, are often used interchangeably, but in this short article we aim to bring you up to speed on their respective definitions, and to demystify their semantic ranges. In short, despite a lot of crossover, each entity has different aims, worldviews and stakeholders; we’ll attempt to clear up some of that confusion now.


The IIoT Worldview

Let’s start with the Industrial Internet of Things. IIoT sees the world in a smart interconnected kind of way. Its vision is to connect assets, or ‘things’, to a larger system, or network of systems that make up a smart grid, of sorts. These ‘things’ retain the capability of actuation, control, automation and autonomous operation. This movement is more encompassing than just manufacturing and needs to be differentiated from domestic IoT use cases. In IIoT, reliability and accuracy cannot be compromised; the stakes are raised.

IIoT Characteristics

Even for industrial software vendors like us, foretelling the influence that the IIoT will have on factories is tough to exactly envisage, but expect three co-dependent tech principles to take centre stage:

1. Smart Technology Integration: “breaking down data silos and system segregation”

Anticipate better integration between production, resource, customer and supply chain systems as open communication protocols come online and technologies are forced to start integrating or be left behind.

2. Augmented Display: “cutting the operators ties to the control room”

Support personnel will begin to alleviate their ties to the control room by accessing production data at the right time through technologies like Augmented Reality and HTML5. Mobile Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), wearable devices and IP-access to data will enhance our ability to discern, troubleshoot and act away from our conventional spaces.

3. Cost-effective Data Architecture Driven Asset Innovation: “efficient data storage and connectivity will cause an uptake in asset performance technology adoption”

Wireless connectivity, cloud-based architecture, and low cost IoT sensors will break down barriers to investment and incentivise asset monitoring innovation.

Despite the hype, try to remember that IIoT is more of an evolution of the industrial technology landscape than a revolution. In all likelihood, it may well be another 10 years plus before we realise the full potential of interconnected devices, protocols and embedded analytics. There are just as many barriers as features to expect, in both cyber security and change management.

Industry 4.0

Irrespective of ‘Industrie’ or ‘Industry’ 4.0, that’s just lingual semantics; both terms are synonymous with the process of creating ‘smart factories’ via cyber-physical systems, contemporary IoT technology, cloud computing and advanced analytics. You’ll already notice the crossover with IIoT. This top floor to the shop floor integration is built on industry standards such as OPC UA and enables manufacturers to make the invisible visible when it comes to their enterprise big data.

The phrase was born out of the German government based on their progressive manufacturing initiatives. Part of the general confusion seems to occur when some liken Industry 4.0 to the official ‘Fourth Industrial revolution’, the contemporary stage that shadowed the Digital Computer Revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. On face value this seems somewhat reasonable as both describe the trend of advanced digitisation and automation in the manufacturing world. However, the 2011 Hannover-Messe-born ‘Industrie 4.0’ represents contemporary IIoT innovation, which is significantly different to the 35 to 55-year period in which computers and digital recording were adopted.

Industry 4.0 Characteristics

Industry 4.0 was founded on four key design principles:

1. Interoperability: device, sensor and machine communication via IoT

2. Information Transparency: enriching the physical world with more sensors and thus data.

3. Technical Assistance: more data from sensor enrichment (point 2), requires better data acquisition and visualisation aggregation systems. Systems will assist the human workforce in the tasks they find unpleasant.

4. Decentralised Decisions: autonomous system decision making.

The crossover and differences

You’ve probably already noticed the huge crossover between the two notions, specifically around interoperability and the adoption of sensors and edge device technology. The success of IIoT underpins most of what Industry 4.0 aims to achieve, but not entirely. So what’s there to distinguish? 


No doubt both terms are immensely synonymous with one another, and perhaps insisting on compartmentalising the definitions is semantical. But we have that there are subtle differences principally in what both trends aim to achieve. The Industrial Internet of Things will prop-up much of what Industrie 4.0 aims to accomplish, specifically around system interoperability and informational transparency