There's Strength in Numbers: The Industrial Internet of Things Provides Fabricators with a Data-Driven Advantage

Where does continuous improvement come from after implementing the best manufacturing processes and practices? It comes by harnessing the strength of numbers, enabling machine-to-machine (M2M) and automating activities previously performed manually. Welcome to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Industry 4.0.

From a historical perspective, the four phases of industry are:

Industry 1.0: Water/steam power

Industry 2.0: Electric power

Industry 3.0: Computer power

Industry 4.0: IIoT power

Conceived by the German government in an effort to promote the computerization of manufacturing, the term Industry 4.0 was first used at the Hanover Fair in 2011. Numerous consulting groups offer white papers with further details, including Accenture, Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte.

Note that the IIoT phrase seems to be more popular in the U.S., where Europeans often use Industry 4.0. No matter what you call it, the adoption of IIoT practices by leading companies will explode in the next decade, driving the next round of productivity and quality improvements. While larger fabricators and manufacturers are leading the way, smaller companies that supply parts and sub-assemblies will likely need to implement IIoT practices to retain their customers.

On-line Data Management Software

At the heart of IIoT in the fabricating industry are welding power sources and cutting systems that incorporate built-in data gathering capabilities and web servers that enable remote access by a wide range of external devices, including robotic controllers. These power sources then integrate with online data management platforms via Wi-Fi, mobile cellular or hard-wired Ethernet communication.

Most of the major power source manufacturers now offer systems with "cloud" capabilities. At FABTECH 2015, ESAB introduced power sources for robotic and semi-automatic welding, the Aristo® Mig 4000iR and 5000iR, featuring WeldCloud™ on-line data management capabilities (view WeldCloud video). On the automated cutting side, ESAB introduced DataLeap™ CuttingCloud and DataLeap CuttingCloud LiveView modules.

Regardless of the system employed, the larger point is that users can automate many of the activities that surround the welding and cutting processes. With an IIoT platform, users can:

  • Enable bi-directional communication to pull in welding procedures and schedules, verify operator qualifications and confirm machine setup.
  • Develop schedules on a single machine, move them into the cloud and then push them out to other systems, whether that's one machine, a group of machines or groups of machines in multiple locations.
  • Remotely manage parameters, set limits and set alarms for deviations.
  • Facilitate traceability from single welds to the complete product because the core of a data-gathering system provides a comprehensive database containing key information of every seam. Automated documentation of every step in the process chain (e.g., filler metals, consumables, operator qualifications and welding parameters) is becoming essential for structural steel construction, ship, offshore, pressure vessel, military, automotive, crane and fabrication in many other industries.
  • Job status and real-time response to production situations – such as alerts when consumable levels run low, generation of a predictive maintenance schedule or pushing out a re-stocking text to suppliers.
  • Share and analyze data by teams across multiple data collection sites, using any computer, tablet or smart phone connected to the same internal network as the welding systems and database.
  • Remote connection to experts for process optimization, updates and troubleshooting.
  • Web-based reporting provides up-to-the-second status information, highlighting production and quality concerns to increase overall quality and production performance.
  • Integrate with ERP systems like Oracle®, SAP®, IBM and SharePoint, plus analytics and reporting tools such as ClickView, Qlik®, SAS® and Tableau®.

Even if an IIoT platform only offered the functions noted above, a fabricator could make a quantum leap in productivity, quality and machine efficiency. For example, think of all the hours spent manually inputting information into production processes and recording results. Transferring data automatically not only saves hours, it also generates reports with improved quality because automated reports are not subject to human error or intentionally tampering with data to "improve" results.

Selecting a System

For the users who feel that they lack advanced computer skills, there's no need for concern. IIoT platforms provide applications and dashboards with functionality tailored for the job needs of different personnel, such as operations managers, quality managers, engineers, welders, maintenance staff, training supervisors and others. Customized displays eliminate extraneous data, so users make smarter and faster decisions.

In addition to ease-of-use, the fabricators examining an IIoT platform for the first time should look for systems where the initial installation takes just a few hours. Ideally, you can install a software package on a laptop or server, configure the network using a communications module and have the welding system automatically link to the cloud platform.

Rather than start with a fleet-wide deployment, many users want to start with just a single system to familiarize themselves with the IIoT platform and the power of its data. As a side note, starting small may eliminate the need for a large capital request or involving the CIO at the exploratory stage. After confirming value, users can deploy the platform enterprise-wide.

In an era where data theft is rampant, security often tops the list of concerns. With some IIoT systems, data can be stored securely in one comprehensive database located within the user's firewalls (as it is with WeldCloud), or it can be stored remotely. When examining systems, look for those that ensure optimal security from all angles: data storage, access, user control and remote diagnostics.

Lastly, look for systems that are "future-proof," meaning that they use open-source messaging instead of proprietary software. Open-source protocols enable connectivity between machines and systems from a wide variety of manufacturers. Also look for systems that use a communication protocol with a proven ability to run in a fabrication environment. With the addition of 3G cellular and GPS on top of WiFi, wired LAN and Bluetooth, even the hardware is future-proof.

Actionable Insight

IIoT platforms enable data-driven decision making so that customers can move the true levers of productivity and quality, as well as make better use of working capital. Easy to install, use and maintain, the IIoT "applications" let users access information on any web-enabled device, as well as automatically receive software update notifications and download updates.

Because web-based reporting speeds information flow, companies obtain a clearer picture of plant operation. They can eliminate equipment downtime, unscheduled maintenance and process bottlenecks, as well as improve overall equipment effectiveness, speed time-to-market and streamline schedules. Significant ROI can be expected in six to 12 months.

Weld Cloud

ESAB's WeldCloud enables users to manage data and welding systems via Wi-Fi, mobile cellular or hard-wired Ethernet communication.


ESAB's Arisoâ Mig 4004i and U5000i use open-source
protocols specifically designed to operate in a fabrication environment.

Weld Cloud Log in page

WeldCloud safety stores data on your company's intranet, where it is password protected.

Weld Cloud Alert Management

ESAB WeldCloud's alert management function can send emails to specific people based on the type of failure, enabling faster response times.

Weld Cloud Export Weld Data

Instead of manually programming each machine or transferring programs with a USB memory stick, WeldCloud can export Weld Data Files to one machine, a specific group of machines at one location or to many locations worldwide, saving significant programming time.

Weld Cloud Fleet Management

WeldCloud enables managers in a central location to monitor the status of equipment from multiple facilities.

Weld Cloud Machine Properties
WeldCloud provides a detailed look into a welding systems operating history.  
Weld Cloud Weld Sessions
WeldCloud captures welding parameters for each weld session, supporting documentation requirements.