In the industrial and manufacturing sector, it’s important to make the most of the information provided by intelligent measurement devices. The usefulness of this information depends on access to and use of real-time, reliable data, allowing smart choices to be made. Integrating the data so that effective action gets taken depends on a network infrastructure that breaks down traditional “silos of information.” 

Current developments such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 are focused on digital transformation of the field device network. This will help industrial organizations transition from reactive to predictive maintenance and optimize asset management strategies to improve operations and reduce costs. The goal is to use digitally available information from existing, installed field instruments to improve safety, operations, and reliability. Plant floor to executive office real-time access is key to delivering value to the enterprise. 

FieldComm Group technologies provide the means to connect and integrate digital information—and have for over twenty years. Foundation™ Fieldbus, HART®, and WirelessHART® devices can be the basis for digitization supporting IIoT initiatives. At the same time, the Field Device Integration (FDI™) standard greatly simplifies device integration and takes account of the various tasks over the entire lifecycle for both simple and the most complex devices, including configuration, commissioning, diagnosis, and calibration. 


In a highly competitive global marketplace, industrial organizations are dealing with the evolution of their businesses and operations, where the virtual world of information systems, the physical world of machines and the Internet have become one. 

The convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) is driving new methodologies for monitoring production processes to improve performance, lower costs, and minimize risk. Mere connectivity of devices already allows valuable enhancements such as remote service and predictive maintenance, but, ultimately, the goal is to analyze data and gain detailed and comprehensive insights from assets, processes, and products. 

For modern manufacturers, data needs to become an integral part of the control and operating system. They require technology providing an optimum interface for planning and maintenance programs running in the plant. Manufacturers seek “digital intelligence” to manage hundreds or even thousands of assets from a single site or across an enterprise to address crucial operating demands. This includes effective tools to transform process data into real-time knowledge regarding process performance, equipment health, energy consumption, and emissions monitoring. 

Now, more than ever, industrial firms need to make sense of vast quantities of data having a critical impact on their performance. To support the variety of applications necessary within a manufacturing facility, information must be delivered with context so it can be understood and used in various ways by a variety of people. 


Management of industrial operations has become increasingly demanding. It’s a case of navigating through the tangle of new data to find the needle in the haystack. Manufacturers need to create reliable production plans to meet market demands, and synchronize maintenance plans and operations execution—with the mandate to be more productive. In other words, do more, do it better, do it with more agility and with fewer resources. 

Just as important, plant owner/operators need to understand how well they are able to mature and improve the process of managing the performance of these tasks, and continuously deliver improved productivity and effectiveness. 

For process industry firms, there is a real need to transform operations, with real-time instrumentation delivering better information and allowing faster implementation of decisions. An essential requirement for every company is to ensure the safety of people, assets, and the environment, while optimizing the performance of processes and facilities (e.g., uptime, reliability, safety, and compliance). 


Technological advances have been the impetus for dramatic increases in industrial productivity since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the sixteenth century. The first industrial revolution was the mechanization of production using water and steam power. The second industrial revolution then introduced mass production with the help of assembly lines and electric power, followed by the third industrial revolution with the use of electronics and information systems to further automate production. 

The fourth industrial revolution encompasses the technologies and concepts of the value chain organization. Originally known as Industry 4.0 and comprising a set of technology principles set down by the German government, the globally adopted term Industry 4.0 relates to the previous three industrial revolutions, each of which heralded a turning point in production and manufacturing strategies. Industry 4.0 employs the concept of cyber-physical systems (i.e., linking real objects with information-processing and virtual objects and processes via information networks—including the internet). 


For industrial organizations, the IIoT is the basis for digital transformation—creating new ways to better collect and analyze the tremendous amount of data created in their operations and turn that data into solutions to solve challenging problems. 


The aim of Industry 4.0 is to deliver greater flexibility to production and manufacturing processes by integrating the processes, data, and organizational services of an enterprise. Industry 4.0 will make it possible to gather and analyze data across machines, enabling faster, more flexible, and more efficient processes to produce higher-quality goods at reduced costs. This, in turn, will increase manufacturing productivity, shift economics, foster industrial growth, and modify the profile of the workforce—ultimately impacting the competitiveness of companies and regions. 


Industry 4.0 employs the technological concepts of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the Internet of Services to facilitate the vision of the smart plant or factory. 


During the past twenty years, the growth and diversification of the internet has redefined business-to-consumer industries. In the next ten years, it will dramatically alter manufacturing, energy, and other industrial sectors of the economy. 

Dubbed the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and in tandem with Industry 4.0 practices, the latest wave of technological change will bring unprecedented opportunities to business and society. It combines the global reach of the Internet with a new ability to directly control the physical world, including the machines, facilities and infrastructure that define the modern landscape. The adoption of the IIoT is being enabled by the improved availability and affordability of sensors, processors and other technologies that have helped facilitate capture of and access to real-time information.  

As the next big step in industrial performance and operations, the IIoT offers a wide range of potential uses and benefits: 

  • Enabling businesses to leverage the vast amounts of data provided by modern automation and control systems to make strategic decisions 
  • Providing trained personnel with improved remote monitoring, diagnostic and asset management capabilities 
  • Enhancing data collection even in the most dispersed enterprises 
  • Improving decisions about the actual health of assets 
  • Reducing the time and effort for configuration and commissioning  
  • Minimizing the need to troubleshoot device issues in the field 
  • Bringing production fields online faster 

Communication protocols and standards form the backbone of the IIoT in that they enable the secure integration and interoperability of devices and software applications. This results in an always-connected framework with applications such as machine health, predictive analytics, performance monitoring, and asset monitoring readily layering on top of this infrastructure. 

In the world of process automation, the IIoT started with smart connected devices with unique identifiers communicating using a real-time digital network. This led to: having more sensors using fewer wires; more measurements in every instrument, with real- time status; the ability to freely add devices to a junction box without having to run cables all the way to the input/output (I/O) cards or add the I/O cards themselves; the ability to monitor self diagnostics in an instrument from an office on the other side of the world; and the ability to put an indicator on the network to display values from transmitters and valves in inconvenient locations, or compute tank inventory or compensated flow from multiple sensors. 

Without question, the possibilities of smart connected devices within an industrial plant are endless, and once a connection across the Internet is also provided this value can be extracted to varying levels within the organization. 


The IIoT is often presented as a revolution that is changing the face of industry in a profound manner. In reality, it is an evolution that has its origins in technologies and functionalities developed decades ago. This technology has been evolving under different names, but there is now a wider acceptance on the market under the common umbrella IIoT. 

Many manufacturers that have invested in smart instrumentation and control systems (i.e., HART and Foundation Fieldbus) are now looking to leverage existing assets with the IIoT, rather than abandon or change them. There are also a number of organizations that have a long history in the advancement of automation products, driving innovation in open architectures and digital communication technologies that have been helping to guide companies through the IIoT transformation. 


The internet started in the 1960s, but it was not until the introduction of the world wide web in the mid-nineties that most businesses could start realizing the broad possibilities of the technology. Be prepared for the “next” big step. 

Since the introduction of the first smart transmitter in the 1980s, the market has seen continual growth of intelligent field devices that are now referred to as “things” with the IIoT. While the adoption of these “things” has increased, the approach to developing a more efficient, profitable, and intelligent automation system is something that many stakeholders have been championing for decades. 

Field level data can provide huge amounts of information, which, if mined, routed to higher levels and put into perspective is indispensable for the success of the IIoT. If the data can be presented in the proper context to a variety of different users, it can add real value to plant operations. 

In the process industries, end user consortiums like the German chemical industry association NAMUR have put forth their vision for the IIoT, Industry 4.0, and the digital future. They acknowledge that while the large installed bases of legacy 4-20 mA devices are going to continue to exist, there is a strong justification for commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Ethernet to be used with field devices along with a common, deterministic network above the field level, and a management layer providing integration technology and functioning as a gateway to serve data to various enterprise applications via the OPC unified architecture (UA). 

Other stakeholders view industrial wireless technology as the answer to retaining large numbers of 4-20 mA HART-enabled instruments and still moving digital information into plant networks. Depending upon an organization’s role in the automation eco-system, its outlook on digital advancement is likely to be very product specific, very architectural, or totally aspirational. 


The Industrial Internet has major implications for process automation, but it is not something entirely new. Indeed, the basics of IIoT have been in the industry for a long time. End users have been moving digital information around their plants and to various hosts for years. 


Digital transformation—the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises—is becoming a hot topic for companies around the world. Manufacturers are using digital advances such as analytics and smart embedded devices—and improving their use of traditional technologies—to change customer relationships, internal processes, and value propositions.  

If manufacturers can fully leverage the benefits of digitization, all the way from core manufacturing out to the end-user experience, the opportunities are exponential because they can better use all of the available data in the enterprise. 

Industrial systems that interface the digital world to the physical world through sensors and actuators that solve complex control problems are commonly known as cyber-physical systems. These systems are being combined with “big data” solutions to gain deeper insight through data and analytics. 

Successful digital transformation comes not from implementing new technologies but from transforming industrial organizations to take advantage of the possibilities that new technologies provide. It also results from reshaping operational strategies to leverage valuable existing assets in new ways. 

To get the most out of IIoT and Industry 4.0 technologies, and to get past square one with a digital business model, companies will have to adopt a new way of thinking. It starts with recognition that in-place analog solutions are sub-optimal and not provide the information needed to run complex industries facilities, coupled with the belief that networking and software technologies underpinning the Internet have a place in process automation. Finally, there is the act of leveraging global manufacturing technology initiatives by deploying disruptive new technologies to improve safety and performance. 


The IIoT is enabling digital transformation by making use of the information contained in installed smart measurement devices. Simultaneously, industrial wireless continues to be a valuable, cost-effective solution for quickly adding more measurements to systems. Contributing to digital transformation of measurement data, wireless is being used for monitoring local and remote assets, safety, environmental, and many different mobile and rotating measurements. 

With a larger, consolidated data set, manufacturers can apply higher analytics for more detailed insight, scale the data as needed to meet the varied needs of single-site or enterprise-wide operations and leverage a wider pool of data experts for monitoring and analysis. Ultimately, digital transformation will help manufacturers eliminate unplanned shutdowns, maximize output, minimize safety risk, and optimize supply chain strategies. In next month’s conclusion to this article, we’ll examine how some of these innovations are being implemented already and project where they may lead. 


Ted Masters is president and CEO of FieldComm Group. The FieldComm Group is a global standards-based organization consisting of leading process end users, manufacturers, universities, and research organizations that work together to direct the development, incorporation, and implementation of new and overlapping technologies and serves as the source for FDI technology. FieldComm Group’s mission is to develop, manage, and promote global standards for integrating digital devices to on-site, mobile, and cloud-based systems; provide services for standards conformance and implementation of process automation devices and systems that enable and improve reliability and multi-vendor interoperability; lead the development of a unified information model of process automation field devices while building upon industry investment in the HART®, Foundation™ Fieldbus, and FDI® standards. Membership is open to anyone interested in the use of the technologies. For more information, visit

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