23 Apr 2023

Internet of Things

How Inimco helps you kickstart your Industrial IoT and cloud projects

Applying IoT and Cloud applications in industrial environments is still relatively new, uncharted terrain for many organizations. And although most decision-makers in manufacturing companies know they only stand to gain from setting up such a project, there is a lot of uncertainty on how to start, when to do that and what choices to make. We discussed how Inimco can assist you by interviewing Inimco cofounder Erik De Nert.

A round-table discussion Inimco organized with its customers AkzoNobel, AquaSecurity, Henkel, Picanol and Tomra Sorting brought forward seven tips for Industrial IoT success. You can make even better use of these tips by allowing Inimco to help you make a flying start.

Erik, one of the hurdles when testing the IoT waters is making the right technological choices. There are so many technologies to choose from, both for collecting data and for communication purposes.

Erik: That’s right, the number of possible choices can be paralyzing. But fortunately we have a lot of knowledge on the different standards. Together with our colleagues at PA Solutions, we can assist on all levels, from sensors to PLCs and communication protocols. And we have relationships with vendors that can advise on the right combination of IT tools. Secondly, we can rely on Inimco.FACTS to quickly connect machines and gather data to deliver results fast. Inimco.FACTS features a wealth of connectivity options that can be integrated easily.

On a third level, we have experience with both small and large implementations, in different industries. The expertise we built up there is invaluable to any organization. We know what works in what environment and have learned from previous implementations. Last point that I want to address: we know both the Information Technology (IT) world and the Operational Technology (OT) segment. That allows us to advise customers on many levels, from gathering the data to visualizing and reusing them.


Testing the waters

Should every project start with a Proof of Concept?

Erik: Procrastination is a part of human nature, and you can keep overanalyzing your different options. A Proof of Concept (PoC) is a good way to make decisions. After an analysis, Inimco can set up a low-cost, low-threshold implementation that allows you to draw conclusions about connectivity, what data to use, and how to use them. We think it is key to decide beforehand what you want to get out of that PoC and how long it may last. Otherwise you risk dragging out the decision-making process. In a two-month period, you will learn a lot, know what is useful and what elements should be taken back to the drawing board.

In a PoC, it’s important to compare different solutions to see what works best in your environment. Fortunately, most vendors will allow you to use a trial package so you can limit your investments. Using Inimco.FACTS in a PoC also decreases your budget: you only need one dashboard that you can feed from different sources. This way, you can test different technological solutions in just one PoC.

A PoC is also a good way of discovering the different use cases that Industrial IoT offers your company and you can make a first estimation of the value these use cases will bring. Balancing costs and benefits is a crucial exercise: some high-value use cases may dictate expensive technological solutions, some use cases only merit a low-cost solution. A PoC is a great help in building a business case to convince your stakeholder that Industrial IoT will deliver financial gains to your company.

Just how easy is it to build a business case? And what expertise does Inimco bring to the table in estimating the Return on Investment (ROI)?

Erik: In a production environment, it is fairly easy to give an indication of the financial benefits. Our experience shows that an efficiency increase of five to fifteen percent is highly likely, and we have also witnessed operational efficiency improvements of up to 30 or even 50%. Increasing operational efficiency can prevent companies from having to make huge investments for new production lines. In a production environment, the direct effects of IoT are not too hard to calculate. For machine builders, indirect effects also come into play: what competitive edge do you lose if you don’t invest in data analysis? That is more difficult to calculate. But again: thanks to the implementations we’ve worked on, we have numbers that we can throw into the discussion. Our focus on industrial companies gives us an edge here. What’s more, we can also work with our colleagues at PA Solutions, who specialize in discovery assessment, a structured way of defining the scope of a project and building a business case that appeals to all stakeholders.


Standards are at the heart of our solution

One of the best ways to keep a tight budget is sticking to standards. What expertise can Inimco bring here?

Erik: Honestly, a lot. That is really the core of our solution. When Peter and I founded Inimco, we brought the architecture principles, horizontal with abstraction layers in between, that we knew from IT to the OT world. We always ensure that data are already standardized as soon as they leave the local environment, which makes it easy to process data. It doesn’t matter to your use case if the data come from an add-on sensor or from a PLC.

Secondly, we implement the principle of a digital twin into our platform, which makes for a standardized data model and structure. That makes it very easy to simulate new use cases and start building components, without having to worry where the data come from.

Inimco has a deep knowledge of standards. We know what standards are used in different geographical regions. We have a concrete implementation where certain wireless technologies used in Europe, are not allowed in Asia. These are things you need to know when you start building. Inimco has that knowledge and can also rely on a broad portfolio of partners that also chip in their know-how. Again, PA Solutions helps offer that global coverage.

Inimco clearly focuses on the industrial world. You don’t do smart buildings, smart homes or other IoT domains. Is this focus a bonus when it comes to a deep understanding of your customers? Does that create a common language?

Erik: Definitely. You can put us in any meeting with seven different personas in a company, and we can have a thorough conversation with these different personas. We speak their language, not only the language of our customers, but even of our customer’s customers in the case of machine builders. We know what keeps them awake at night, what their challenges are… That allows us to translate technical solutions and technical advantages into business benefits and the added value it will bring to customers. That’s why our customers often involve us in pilots they are setting up with the end-customer.

One of the aspects we understand very well is anything to do with IT security. We have the right level of expertise to talk to the CISO of an end-customer. We can discuss architecture with them, or the specific frameworks that are used for security policies. And we know what our solution needs when it comes to communication and data transfers. IT security is an integral part of integrating our solution at a customer site. And, in that sense, it is also a good thing that we only work with standards. It is much more difficult to convince a CISO when you are using obscure protocols and not the standards they know. Remember we are a product company with engineers who want to go in-depth in all aspects. That gives confidence to the end-customer.


Full services, all the way

Inimco is a product company, but also an integrator, implementing your own solutions. This comes in handy when customers are looking for resources to maintain and scale their Industrial IoT projects.

Erik: Indeed. We don’t just hand over a product and take our hands off the project. We strive to offer software and managed services. Of course, we offer customers the choice to develop their own know-how, and we always strike the right balance in the level of support that a customer needs. Many customers rely on their own teams for level 2 support but come to us with specific technical questions. Don’t forget that we are investing heavily in knowledge and we have a large pool of resources that we can use. There are not many product-oriented companies that can build out a team of experts as we do.

For a specialist like Inimco, it is also easier to attract talent that wants to go in-depth on IoT. Our project teams are really close to the product team, so we can share a lot of knowledge both ways. And this also means that we can share that knowledge with our customers at a level that is impossible for an IoT specialist working on his own in a manufacturing company.

One of the interesting topics that came up in the round table was keeping the end in mind: what do you need to do if you need to suddenly end an Industrial IoT project. Can you expand on that?

Erik: Our advice to customers is simply to have an emergency procedure in place. There may be circumstances that force a company to end an IoT project with a customer. For geopolitical reasons, because a customer no longer pays his invoices, because the customer suffered a cyber attack… Devices are gathering and sending out data, and you need to be able to stop those devices. You need an emergency plan, and you need to test it. When you are dealing with security, every second counts. We can deliver technical support to do these tests and ensure that Inimco.FACTS is ready when the situation arises. All communication happens over one port, so we can close that one port and halt all communications. We are also integrated with the Active Directory of customers, so as soon as they block an account, that account will no longer have access to the environment.

In conclusion, I would say that we can help customers quickly start a proof of concept, help them build a business case, assist when they need to scale a solution, and maintain that solution throughout the customer lifecycle. We are with the customer all the way. And I guess that’s why we have such long-lasting relationships with our customers.

 Are you starting an Industrial IoT project? Contact us and we will help you build success from the start.