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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for EHS: Risks and Rewards

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Fri, Jun 15, 2018

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for EHS

TechTarget defines an Internet of Things device as “any nonstandard computing device that connects wirelessly to a network and has the ability to transmit data.”

The Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, not least of all when it comes to health and safety. What’s equally clear is that implementing IIoT is a huge undertaking, and not without its risks.

In today’s post, we’ll look at what environmental, health and safety (EHS) professionals can expect with the evolution towards IIoT, both in terms of risks and benefits.

IIoT Rewards

Imagine a plant where machines can communicate with each other, and where interconnected sensors offer real-time visibility into production processes. With the IIoT, companies can expect to see EHS benefits such as:

  • Fewer equipment malfunctions: Companies can’t afford to take equipment out of service too early, yet there are clear consequences for being even a moment too late. Diagnostic data on asset performance can enable predictive maintenance, allowing organizations to prevent problems while minimizing capital costs.
  • Improved safety compliance: Rather than relying on individuals to recognize hazards, companies can use wearable devices to deliver safety notifications in real time. Connected wearables can provide reminders to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as people move through different areas of the plant.
  • More effective industrial hygiene monitoring: In contrast with surveillance programs that measure past exposures, IIoT and wearable devices enable live monitoring when exposure can still be avoided. For instance, wearables can provide evacuation warnings, also pushing data on breathing and movement to alert safety professionals when someone goes down (like in a confined space situation).

IIoT Risks

As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and all of this interconnectedness does have its drawbacks. Some of the biggest risks companies are facing around IIoT adoption include:

  • Security vulnerabilities: Devices that run continuously are more susceptible to hacking. Security experts have linked several major distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to internet-connected things, with each device in the manufacturing environment representing a potential point of entry for malware.
  • Financial outlays: Implementing IIoT is represents significant cost to companies, even if wireless technology is less expensive than the hard-wired versions. If you don’t have a solid strategy to ensure a success rollout of IIoT implementation—or if you fail to take into account the true costs—you could be looking at a pretty hefty financial risk.
  • Information overload: Connected devices and sensors have the ability to deliver a massive amount of data. Without effective data management and Centralized Reporting capabilities, the data can quickly overwhelm the organization.

Balancing Risks and Benefits

The IIoT revolution is marching forward with or without you. The real question is whether your company is prepared to capitalize on the opportunities of IIoT while minimizing the risks.

One way to reduce your risk is to take it in steps—you don’t have to create a fully connected smart factory all at once. Instead, some experts recommend starting with groups of connected devices. Once that’s in place and delivering positive returns, it will make more sense to connect them end-to-end.

Second, you want to make sure any changes to your equipment, people or processes involve formal change management procedures. Without a robust change management process, it’s difficult to identify risks and ensure a smooth implementation.

And perhaps most importantly, you want to incorporate risk management principles into your overall IIoT strategy. Risk Management tools within the EHS Management system can help, allowing you to track items, link any compliance issues and see how IIoT fits into the larger risk picture within your company. With this kind of high-level view, you’ll be in striking position to make the most of this disruptive technology.

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