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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Technology of the Year: The Internet of Things

December 18th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

This year we’ve attended several technical meetings and conferences in the design, engineering, and manufacturing realms and have heard one concept/phrase repeated much more than anything else – Internet of Things (IoT). That said, we consider IoT to be the most significant technology of the year for 2014.

Simply, IoT is a newer implementation and outgrowth of an older technology known as Machine-to-Machine (M2M).

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999, although the concept had been discussed since 1991.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was seen as a prerequisite for the Internet of Things in the early days. The initial thought was, if all objects and people in daily life were equipped with identifiers, they could be managed and inventoried by computers.

Today, the term IoT is used to denote advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. Both of the technologies are expected to enable billions of new devices in the near future (I’ve seen forecasts of 20-100 billion connected devices by 2018 or 2020).

The Internet of Things: Dr. John Barrett at TEDxCIT

In most M2M and IoT scenarios, the device being monitored and/or controlled contains an integrated sensor and wireless transceiver connected through a cellular, WiFi, or other wireless link to the Internet. Keep in mind that all devices are assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address for unique identification and role purposes. The Internet connection communicates with a remote server that contains the application software. The monitoring device then makes an Internet connection to the same server to complete the service request loop.

Data from the communication is then captured, displayed, stored, and control commands are issued as a result of it.

The Internet of Things Explained

In mechanical design and engineering, while many of the hardware and software vendors have expressed interest in IoT, PTC has really embraced it and positioned it as a major part of their overall strategy going forward.

Earlier this year, PTC waded deeper into Internet of Things (IoT) waters with the announcement that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Axeda Corp., a pioneer in the development of technologies that connect machines and sensors to the cloud. Paying approximately $170 million in cash, PTC’s primary motivations behind the acquisition were Axeda’s innovative technology, customer base, and partnerships that could directly complement the PTC ThingWorx business across the entire Internet of Things technology stack.

Axeda IoT ROI and Value Curve Overview

PTC got into IoT in a big way when it acquired ThingWorx in December 2013 for its platform for building and running connected IoT applications.

Secure connectivity, and the ability to leverage machine data to create new business value, are critical components of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology stack and are in increasing demand as more companies pursue a smart, connected product strategy. In the IoT technology market, Axeda currently processes hundreds of millions of machine messages daily across multiple industry sectors.

Crucial to Axeda’s IoT technology is the ability to enable companies to establish secure connectivity and remotely monitor and manage a wide range of machines, sensors, and devices. An example of this ability is the Axeda Machine Cloud Service that includes M2M and IoT connectivity services, software agents, and toolkits that let companies connect their products to the cloud using several communications channels, such as cellular networks, the Internet, WiFi, or satellite. Axeda’s end-to-end security strategy covers all levels of the IoT technology stack, including network, application, user, and data security.

In addition, the Axeda Connected Machine Management application set lets companies remotely monitor and service products, including the ability to deliver “live” software updates.

In the burgeoning IoT era, PTC realizes that its customers are developing increasingly smart and connected products that can generate value in new ways as streams of real-time operational data are captured, analyzed, and shared to deepen a company’s understanding of its products’ performance, use, and reliability. PTC said that it intends to leverage the Axeda technology portfolio to complement its existing ThingWorx rapid application development platform.

Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC, said, “In less than a year, PTC has quickly scaled to a position of leadership in helping manufacturers seize the opportunity presented by a smart, connected world. We believe the combination of ThingWorx, Axeda, and our existing SLM and PLM solution portfolio, will establish PTC as the only provider of true closed-loop lifecycle management solutions for the Internet of Things.” This is quite a statement from an executive who just a few years ago declared that anything “cloud” was nothing more than vapor.

So far, this acquisition seems to have been a pretty good investment, not only for the company being acquired, but also for PTC’s continuing push and commitment for IoT.

This is all well and good with the huge interest in IoT and M2M; however, an increasing amount of attention will have to be paid to the safety and security of the data being communicated to and from devices. I consider this issue to be paramount and could be the limiting factor for growth, especially for sensitive or critical applications.

Although it is being addressed and efforts are advancing, another limiting factor for M2M/IoT development and adoption is the relative lack of formal standards that define wireless technologies, as well as access methods and protocols (how data is packaged and transmitted). Like the CAD world, standards are vital for interoperability of products from different manufacturers. Things like design guidelines and specifications to build and test to are essential. Let’s hope the interoperability issue is resolved more successfully for IoT than it has been for the perpetual problem of CAD interoperability (or lack thereof).

So, with all that’s transpired of late with IoT, we consider it the technology of 2014. Continuing for the foreseeable future and beyond, look for greatly increased adoption of IoT as current and sideline players get ready to participate.

Editor’s Note: IoT/M2M constitute such a burgeoning amount of technology, it deserves much more extensive coverage. To this end, in the near future, we will delve into how of some of the major players are faring and where things are heading. We’ll include work being done by such companies as Apple, Microsoft Azure, Intel, Cisco, Qualcomm, and others in design and manufacturing contexts that will include CAD and CAM vendors. IoT is a brave new world with potential that is only beginning to be realized.

Quote of the Week: “If you can look something up in a handbook, a computer should be able to do it.”

-Carl Bass at Autodesk University 2014

Editor’s Response: We couldn’t agree more.

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