It's an IoT World: How the internet of things has become a thing

By Jeff Gavin | Mar 15, 2024
It's an IoT World
The “internet” in the internet of things is our transport for electronic communication. “Things,” plural, indicates nearly anything can be made to electronically communicate. No matter the market, digitization is here to stay and has implications for project planning and installation.

The “internet” in the internet of things is our transport for electronic communication. “Things,” plural, indicates nearly anything can be made to electronically communicate. No matter the market, digitization is here to stay and has implications for project planning and installation.

Eighty percent of organizations have launched IoT initiatives, per the 2023 Future of Operations survey by the International Data Corp. (IDC) in Needham, Mass., a market intelligence and advisory firm for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology industries.

 Carlos M. Gonzalez, research manager of IoT ecosystems and trends at IDC, said, “I think that the rate of adoption and IoT across the country is extremely high. In my opinion, the term ‘IoT’ is just becoming part of our daily lives. Everything has some sort of connectivity to it.” 

He pointed to wireless connectivity in the home, sensor-laden building controls in the office, sensor devices reading machinery vibration and temperature on a manufacturing line and drones visually inspecting hard-to-reach oil or agricultural fields.

Gonzalez added that in 2024, the manufacturing industry could be the biggest investor in IoT projects. 

“It’s leading the way in sensor technology,” he said. “It’s leading the way in edge devices and cloud adoption. There’s a huge push in manufacturing to adopt IoT initiatives just to be more efficient and to produce better systems. When you’re an operator in a facility and your smartphone alerts you to a machine malfunction, that’s IoT at work. Maybe the PLC [programmable logic controller] or data from the cloud notifies you. That’s IoT. In 2022, the IoT market represented $728 billion worldwide. By 2027, it is projected to be $1.2 trillion. The market is here to stay. An expected level of connectivity is now expected in both the home and the workplace.” 

According to Rob Groff, manager of solutions consulting, IoT channel sales for Enlighted Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., “We’re well past the early adopters phase. We’re heading up to the top of that bell curve where IoT is becoming very, very commonplace.” A subsidiary of Siemens, Washington, D.C., Enlighted helps build scalable workplace solutions using lighting controls and IoT. 

The ROI of IoT

While building owners increasingly adopt IoT, it is a journey to figure out how best to invest in and apply it. “When you’re implementing a digital transformational project, a good strategy is understanding what’s the end goal,” Gonzalez said. “Create a road map with milestones you need to reach. That might include making sure you have the right personnel, people that understand the project. You might have to ‘upskill’ your workforce, which is something I think a lot of companies forget. Personnel must be ready to decipher the information being gathered from a network of sensors.”

Gonzalez added that road maps and IoT goals will differ with each market. An office space will vary from a hospital, which will contrast with an industrial setting.

He explained that the return on investment (ROI) with IoT is different, too. 

“[IoT] is iterative, longer. It’s not like buying a new piece of equipment,” Gonzalez said. “Financial reasoning for a digital transformation project is certainly important, but you must also consider: are you using your resources more efficiently? Is your workforce working more efficiently? Are you using less energy? Are you producing more product? Are you managing your equipment better? Are you seeing an asset life cycle that’s longer? IoT initiatives are not about plugging in a smart device and stepping away. You are now drawing data. How do I now make decisions based on that data? That’s a longer ROI goal.”

Groff called this part of the total cost of ownership. 

“I would add, when electrical contractors bid with a full understanding of a luminaire-level control system, the cost of IoT can be comparable to traditional networked lighting controls,” he said.

Wired and wireless

While wireless is a component of the internet of things, few IoT installations are entirely wireless. 

“Most are hybrid spaces systems,” Groff said. “For the EC, that might mean less circuit drops, and not running as many branch circuits. A branch circuit is going to handle multiple zones. Before, a branch circuit needed to be isolated to a certain zone or a certain type of fixture. Zoning can now be done through the software at the commissioning phase of the project.”

Groff pointed to IoT’s advances in lighting control digitization and ability to read other functions within a space and communicate back to a controller. 

Intelligent sensors transform light fixtures into wireless IoT-enabled intelligent devices that provide data-powered insights into and control over lighting profiles, energy use and energy costs to increase efficiency and occupant comfort.

“If it’s an integrated system, there are fewer things to install,” he said. “Sensors and the control units are mostly integrated into the light fixtures. That’s different from a nonintegrated system that requires the EC to install sensors, control units, room controllers and more at the job site. Say 80% of an IoT project is integrated while 20% is remote (requiring EC installation and wiring). The EC needs to understand the sensors, how the fixtures are controlled and whether the control protocol is DALI, 0 to 10 or something else (e.g., DMX).”

More than lighting controls

While lighting remains the entry point for space control in an IoT environment, Groff added, “We [Enlighted] are not just doing lighting control. We’re collecting occupancy data, ambient light data and temperature data. We’re gathering all that data 65 times per second, a lot of data, and then transmitting it to the gateway that is connected by PoE [power over ethernet] to a central location, be it on premise or in the cloud. The PoE cable carries the data back to our Manage device.”

Groff said that the bidding process for projects is changing due to the technology integration within fixtures. Contractors need to be educated on how to quote accurately, considering sensor integration.

“A lot of times electrical contractors aren’t being educated as to the ‘why’ [of the IoT project], why are they installing this,” Groff said. “If they know the ‘why,’ then they can look at the obstacles during installation, understand what parts of the building or installation are going to interfere with the goals of the system. Say during planning I placed gateways around a building, but during the building’s construction a wall is suddenly added, which now stymies wireless communication. Related, you estimate the need for 100 sensors but only have them speaking to one gateway. You may need to add a gateway to work around obstacles obstructing wireless communication.”

Opportunities for easier integration

Max McLeod is the director of national business development for Siemens Smart Infrastructure USA, Washington, D.C. The division helps support building automation, security, fire alarms and more. 

He finds that when engineers are designing systems to work together, they often don’t consider how the systems interact with other pieces of equipment. Required interfaces for code-compliant systems will generally be considered, but according to McLeod, “the end-user workflow is often not considered, which leads to separate systems that lack integration for optimized building management.”

If a contractor works in a siloed mindset, things will be missed. He used an example of mechanical contractors working with HVAC. “If they don’t include any electrical controls in their scope, they miss the opportunity to provide a single device that can provide multiple functions (e.g., HVAC control in addition to lighting, shade and perhaps electrical plug load control from a common controller),” he said.

McLeod makes sure to explain to clients the multiple benefits of IoT. 

“In a manufacturing application, a smart device within an IoT ecosystem might tell you a motor that historically pulled 4A of power is now pulling nearly 5A and climbing, which indicates future failure,” he said. “But beyond the device’s alarm capability, there is other data waiting for you that can be both predictive and preventive with that piece of equipment. Maybe you discover the need for additional sensors on different equipment for more rounded control of the floor space.”

During preplanning on an IoT project, his team likes to work with an electrician. 

“We do training classes that talk about all the different architecture options within the system of that building. Part of it might involve ethernet. You need to understand its distance limitations to avoid electrical interference. You also don’t want data cables across an older ballast on a fluorescent light fixture because that creates RFI [radio frequency interference] and can induce voltages onto those cables inhibiting them from distinguishing a ‘0’ from a ‘1’.

“It’s important in an IoT project to understand the different wiring types required beyond ethernet and Cat6. KNX (R-485) comes off a controller that controls multiple operations. That wiring may be new to the electrician,” McLeod said.

KNX is a type of communication that usually uses shielded or unshielded twisted-pair cable, depending on the type of device, he said. It carries intelligent data that’s controlling a device, which could be switching high-voltage. 

“So, in that same box, you’ve got a combination of low-voltage and high-voltage. You need to understand the safety and separation requirements to meet codes,” he said.

In the end, McLeod finds collaboration essential to providing IoT architectures that serve clients’ needs. For him, electricians have and will play a big role in making IoT work for all.

Enlighted / / Niki

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected].





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