There’s an understandable reluctance to investigate the Internet of Things among companies that have millions invested in legacy heavy manufacturing equipment. Even if many of those devices are 20-25 years or more old, they may still be running well.  Companies may fear they’ll have to scrap that investment, retrain staff, or disturb or replace other assembly-line equipment that’s linked to it, disrupting production. 

Add-on retrofit sensors that only cost hundreds of dollars are an affordable alternative that can allow these companies to access the IIoT at moderate cost. They can keep the current machinery while increasing operating efficiency and profitability. 

A new IoT-based ability to gather in real-time and act on operating data is a break from the past, where machines are only monitored by manual vacuum gauges that have to be visually monitored or whose status is simply a mystery.

Strategic retrofitting should begin with a careful analysis of the relative business benefits of potential add-ons on various steps in the production process. The obvious first step is to calculate the operational improvements and/or cost savings and customer benefits the expense will produce.  

One particularly promising area for retrofits is those operations where a serious, costly breakdown can result from equipment failures that couldn’t be predicted in the past because the operations were impossible to monitor on a real-time basis.  Bosch’s Stuttgart Feurbach facility in Germany added a prototyping kit billed as “the Swiss Army Knife” for the IOT” to collect previously unreported data on factors including temperature, vibration, and pneumatic pressure, via sensors throughout the production line. The data goes to the plant’s existing Manufacturing Execution System. As a result, Stuttgart Feuerbach’s IoT system can now reduce downtime and maintenance costs and increase operating efficiency by monitoring and visualizing emerging conditions. It can also perform predictive maintenance when it is convenient for production schedules.

Ih London, add-on solar-powered wireless real-time CO2 monitors cut air handling and energy consumption (based on changes in demand) by 42% in several high-end commercial buildings. The technology also gives facility management teams full, 24/7 visibility of workspace conditions.

As for specific types of retrofit IoT devices, perhaps the best starting point is adding a gateway.  VDC Research’s Director of Industry Analysis, IoT, and Embedded Technology Steve Hoffenberg said: “Intelligent gateways are increasingly being used as a way to try to bridge legacy systems into more modern Internet-connected systems. … They can also monitor those communications for security-related anomalies or various kinds of known or unknown malware that might be trying to make incursions into the system.”