Digi-Key: IoT is affecting future productivity in industry and agriculture
“Initially, IoT systems were difficult and expensive to deploy. However, the high efficiencies offered by IoT make it extremely useful for factories and facilities. As IoT delivery increases uptime and reduces costly downtime, the ability to detect impending device failures and spot problems before they occur is increasingly important.
Initially, IoT systems were difficult and expensive to deploy. However, the high efficiencies offered by IoT make it extremely useful for factories and facilities. As IoT delivery increases uptime and reduces costly downtime, the ability to detect impending device failures and spot problems before they occur is increasingly important.
Today, those expensive IoT systems are cheaper and easier to deploy. As a result, we are seeing IoT deployed in numerous industries, from healthcare to agriculture. We (DesignNews) caught up with Robbie Paul, Director of IoT Business Development at Digi-Key Electronics, to get his thoughts on the continued expansion of IoT.
DesignNews: Which industries are deploying IoT systems?
Robbie Paul: All kinds of products are getting smarter and more connected. We are seeing growth in many IoT verticals. This is driven by simpler platforms (cloud-based and on-premises) and easy-to-implement software.
As the cost of implementing IoT solutions decreases, more applications are enabled. At Digi-Key, we continue to see great prospects in the agricultural and industrial sectors for years to come.
IoT solutions also take automation to the next level through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Unmanned tractors and general-purpose robots are becoming more commonplace, and they have a real impact on productivity and cost savings.
DesignNews: What needs are mainly addressed by IoT? Predictive maintenance? Asset tracking?
Robbie Paul: Any opportunity to improve performance and productivity or reduce cost makes IoT applications more mature. Here are some examples:
Dramatically improve uptime and significantly reduce costs through predictive maintenance of industrial spaces
Time and money saved with asset trackers in logistics
Enhanced security and more accurate compliance with retail cold chain monitoring
DesignNews: What types of sensors are involved? image? temperature? vibration? Asset tracking?
Robbie Paul: Environmental monitoring sensors (such as temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.) are still Digi-Key’s top-of-the-line products.
As the development of machine learning software has grown exponentially, so has image sensors. Image processing and recognition are rapidly being adopted in factories and warehouses.
DesignNews: What tech people are typically involved in IoT? System Management? Electrical Engineer? Mechanical Engineers?
Robbie Paul: IoT product development requires people from multiple fields, including electrical and mechanical engineering and people with firmware and software expertise. Successful IoT product development requires a team of technical experts.
The team also needs to have specific knowledge of the application domain or use case. For example, if you’re developing solutions to increase farm productivity, you need to understand and understand farmers’ pain points.
DesignNews: What is the role of Digi-Key in IoT? New device available? Field Engineer? Or a phone/online expert answer?
Robbie Paul: The foundation of Digi-Key has always been Electronic components, usually at the board level. For the IoT business, we take a different approach by focusing on systems and solutions.
Given Digi-Key’s large customer base, our vision is to offer products that cover all levels of integration. It started with components and modules (sensors, microcontrollers and connectivity) and now includes off-the-shelf devices that can be deployed in the field. We started to offer more integrated solutions, including software and platforms that support device management, data visualization and cloud storage. We also sell SIM cards and cellular data plans as add-ons.
Digi-Key offers countless resources to engineers through the new Digi-Key IoT Resource Center. Using these resources can help innovators navigate the plethora of options and find the best solution for their application or use case.
DesignNews: Who is deploying IoT? Engineer or System Integrator?
Robbie Paul: It depends on several factors. The main consideration is complexity. Internal engineers may not have the expertise to deploy a complete IoT solution that includes hardware, software and services. In most cases, it makes sense to have a system integrator help you with installation and commissioning. Additionally, we’ve noticed that as more ready-to-deploy off-the-shelf devices become available on the market, systems integrators are playing an increasingly important role. More configurable solutions are also becoming more popular as system integrators can customize platforms for specific applications.
DesignNews: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the Internet of Things?
Robbie Paul: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the creation and deployment of IoT solutions. For example, we’ve seen a lot of new solutions for crowd control and social distancing recently. These solutions were created in record time and used in retail stores, restaurants and workplaces. Digi-Key itself has a Bluetooth and LoRa-based people tracking solution deployed in our warehouse, which allows Digi-Key to quickly determine if any employees are in close contact with colleagues who later test positive. All of this is done while preserving privacy and security.
DesignNews: How do you see the future of IoT? More connected IoT systems? data analysis?
Robbie Paul: What’s interesting about working in IoT is the constant innovation. Continue to develop solutions that are easier to continuously deploy and use. On the hardware side, sensors and microcontrollers continue to get smaller and cheaper.
I think the real innovation happens around connectivity. 5G low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) protocols such as Cat-M and NB-IoT are getting wider and cheaper.
Another LPWAN protocol that makes 5G stand out is LoRaWAN. New business models using blockchain technology are being tested in the real world. Helium is one such company that has managed to rapidly expand LoRa coverage with over 30,000 hotspots. The blockchain model allows for rapid scaling using a decentralized model and keeps the network running stably.