IIoT smart cities
Image: Vasin Leenanuruksa©123RF.com

By Mbae Mutegi, PE, CEM –County Business Manager (Nairobi West) at Kenya Power

Africa has the fastest-growing economies from across the world and has massive road, rail and power infrastructure projects underway.  

Coupling the said projects with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) from the onset will improve their optimal use, reduce maintenance costs, and improve on their lifespan.

While the rapid deployment of 4G communication technologies will provide one of the missing links in the deployment of IoT technologies in the continent.

The IIoT, which has good returns on investment, refers to a huge network of physical devices inter connected by various communications technologies.

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This interconnectedness results in a system that can monitor, collect, exchange, analyse, and deliver useful insights for smarter, faster and more accurate business, technical, operational, managerial and quality of life.

It encompasses the use of sensors, communication networks and big data analytics to measure and optimise processes for improved and transformative system and operational efficiency, productivity and better performance.

The IIoT is used in many industries including but not limited to healthcare, energy, oil, gas, manufacturing, aviation and construction and operationalisation of smart cities as illustrated in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: IIoT in various sectors

The main stages of deploying an IIoT system are:

  • A robust sensing system for accurate system data.
  • A customised modelling module to simulate adverse conditions, possible failures and degradation.
  • A reliable continuous condition monitoring system to monitor any anomalies outside the expected system behaviour.
  • A diagnostics toolbox that contains efficient reasoning engines which isolate and infer root causes of faults.
  • A prognostic component that uses system models and data to probabilistically predict the IIoT system’s useful life span.
  • Actionable recommendations based on decision-theoretic and data analytic algorithms for accurate planning.
  • Automated prompts which allow timely actions and interventions.

This is summarised in figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Stages of deployment of an IIoT system

Applications of IIoT and smart cities

One of the key uses of IIoT is in the development of a reliable condition-based preventive maintenance is far much better than the traditional preventive maintenance as shown in figure 3 below:

Figure 3: Proactive versus reactive maintenance

Proactive system maintenance is more predictable, tailored, fixes systems before an actual breakdown, more reliable, cheaper and reduces system downtime when compared to the reactive system maintenance as illustrated above.

Manufacturers, infrastructure and utility companies are responsible for ensuring the safety and operability of large, dispersed assets such as roads, bridges, tunnels, power plants, power grid, airports, transport fleet, waterways, sewers and water supplies and general manufacturing plants.

Downtimes at these companies are costly to the economy, thus the need for proactive maintenance services. IIoT results in the utilisation of assets to increase the efficiency of production by way of balancing production with life cycle cost of maintenance and life of the equipment.

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Smart city projects are using sensors to help understand and control the environment on aspects such as noise and pollution levels.

In buildings, smart thermostats can be used to manage the lighting, heating, and humidity levels thus reducing energy wastage.

Investment in IoT for power infrastructure equipment has the potential to significantly reduce unscheduled downtime by identifying problems for predictive maintenance thereby improving reliability and reducing costs.

The applications are focused on the highest value assets in generation, transmission and distribution segments. The assets are continuously monitored with sensors and the collected data is used to predict the health and impending failure of the assets as well as optimal utilization of the same.

Deeper penetration of intermittent renewable energy technologies will require progressive technologies in monitoring and optimal utilization of the energy as illustrated in figure 4 below:

Figure 4: A proactive approach to power grid asset maintenance with IoT system analytics

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a crucial cog in the circular economy. Products are designed with care, longevity and next lifecycle in mind.

For that case, industries work in closed loops with no unnecessary byproducts because wastes become raw materials for the next product as well as sources of energy.

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a collection of medical devices and applications that connect healthcare systems through online computer networks for real-time analysis of the condition of a patient.

The captured data is synthesised in conjunction with existing health care systems database to enable proactive decision making. This gives patients more control over their lives and treatment regimes.

Figures 5 and 6 below are two such examples of an asthma tracker and a pacemaker.

Figure 5: Asthma tracker
Figure 6: Pacemaker

A number of cities from across the world have pioneered the use of IIoT with a very positive impact on the general well-being of citizens, all geared towards making them more livable. A few examples are illustrated in figures 7 to 9 below:

Figure 7: San Francisco’s smart bins
Example of IIoT for smart cities
Figure 8: Pittsburg’s smart traffic lights
Moscow using IIoT smart cities
Figure 9: Moscow’s smart parking project

Fibre-optic low-cost sensors have been deployed in 2,600 rail bridges and 5,000 arterial road structures in the state of Victoria in Australia to improve predictive condition-based maintenance.

These sensors have aided in the reduction of costly traditional schedule-driven maintenance practices that often require physical on-site inspections which causes transport disruptions.

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The system is able to measure the strain and stress exerted on the bridge from passing vehicle loads and assess their effects on the bridge. It also able to estimate the resulting degradation over time. The system has had a fifty times return on the cost of investment.

It’s not without challenges. IIoT sensors collect extremely sensitive data.

Keeping that data secure is vital to not only consumer trust but also to forestall costly operational mistakes. For example, hacking into the sensors controlling the temperatures of a transformer in a power station could trick the system operators into making a catastrophic decision.

Cybersecurity investment needs to be considered when making the initial decision to invest in IIoT. As more devices connect to the IIoT, companies and cities will face increased fragmentation, interoperability, and data security challenges.

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The future will entail an entire inter-connected smart city and systems with an interconnected ecosystem that has intelligence and is able to respond in real-time to events.

This will result in waste reduction and improvement of operational efficiency across all sectors and industries. Opportunities abound in the continent of Africa.

About the author
Mbae Mutegi is a professional Electrical Engineer with over twelve years of experience mainly in the electricity sub-sector at Kenya’s national power distribution utility Kenya Power & Lighting Company Limited (KPLC) and in other African countries.

All Figures pictured above supplied by the author.