Making IoT magic

Connecting devices is just the first act in an Internet of Things production. The magic happens when analytics transform data into business intelligence. CIOs need to play a role.

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That's according to Eric van Gemeren, vice president of research and development at Flowserve, a manufacturer of flow control products used by businesses such as oil and gas companies and chemical manufacturers. Under van Gemeren's direction, Flowserve is using PTC's ThingWorx IoT development platform and IoT analytics systems to retool and differentiate its offerings, adding predictive maintenance capabilities to prevent equipment and plant system failures and satisfy customer demands for continuous uptime.

While van Gemeren's R&D group is externally focused and takes the lead on developing Flowserve's new IoT products and services, the CIO's IT team has played an important behind-the-scenes role, mapping out infrastructure and integrating key supporting technologies.

"These underlying [IoT] products require a lot of standard IT technology and a level of familiarity with things like TCP/IP and Ethernet that we in the engineering space don't typically have," says van Gemeren. "The CIO is partnering with us, particularly on the implementation piece."

The collaboration has resulted in online reliability-monitoring capabilities that go beyond what has traditionally been offered, says van Gemeren. While Flowserve has been monitoring and collecting data from its plant floor equipment for years, it hasn't been able to do much in the way of serious analytics due to bandwidth limitations and inadequate processing capabilities on the edge where the equipment resides. The fact that the data would historically be locked up in automation vendors' systems didn't help matters.

The old way had customers drowning in a sea of data, van Gemeren says. "If you have thousands of control points operating inside a plant and you're told that the temperature has been exceeded on a single piece of equipment, what does that mean and is it a big deal?" he says. "Our customers were jumping at shadows and had to investigate every alarm." When maintenance technicians were sent to do troubleshooting, they found nothing wrong about half the time.

The IoT analytics tools have helped Flowserve dramatically reduce maintenance expenses. The company can use the technology to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot problems, and the systems can anticipate equipment failures and initiate proactive maintenance steps. In addition, insights gleaned from the data help customers save money and operate more efficiently by optimizing energy consumption for plant equipment, says van Gemeren. "Our intelligence helps customers keep plants running longer with fewer interruptions," he says. "Because we're providing true analytics, they're no longer jumping at shadows."

Besides yielding a service that has been a hit with customers, the IoT initiative involved a win-win collaboration between R&D and IT. "We're helping them understand the difference between deploying technology internally and the commercialization of technology," van Gemeren says. "We bring structure and discipline to the processes around that, and they provide the know-how and the blocking and tackling."

This story, "Making IoT magic" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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