Unleashing the potential of industrial and commercial IoT


We’re in the fourth industrial revolution, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, where advanced technologies are reshaping the landscape of manufacturing and business. The idea of machines communicating with each other, robots milling around, and factories practically running themselves no longer seems like a sci-fi concept.

In the fourth industrial revolution, digital and physical worlds are converging to improve the industrial and commercial (I&C) industries. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a critical player in this revolution, disrupting every facet of the global economy and laying the foundation for a comprehensive overhaul of production, management, and governance systems.

With an estimated annual economic impact ranging from $1.6 trillion to $4.9 trillion by 2025 for factories and retail settings, the rising potential of IoT is becoming increasingly evident as advancements in connectivity open new doors for innovative use cases across the I&C industries.

Despite the rapid advancements in wireless network technologies, companies have been held back from achieving their maximum efficiency and productivity gains due to several operational challenges. Many businesses in industrial and commercial settings face substantial downtime, delayed production, high operating costs, low energy efficiency, and inefficient processes.

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So, how can we leverage Industry 4.0’s digital transformation to increase productivity, reduce downtime, lower costs, and drive future growth? The answer may lie in harnessing the power of the I&C IoT.

What’s industrial and commercial IoT?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) involves the integration of smart technologies and sensors in the industrial sector, enabling the collection and analysis of data to optimize processes, improve worker safety, enhance energy efficiency, improve productivity, and predict potential issues. The IIoT is indispensable for navigating global competition, striking a balance between capturing new business and ensuring sustainable operations.

Commercial IoT encompasses the application of interconnected devices and technologies in the commercial business domain, where the integration of digital solutions aims to enhance retail efficiency, reduce labor costs, and create a seamless omnichannel experience. These advancements in smart retail technology are helping transform traditional business models and increase overall profitability for companies across the globe.

Figure 1 IoT technology will contribute to the growth of commercial industries. Source: Silicon Labs

While such devices may sound out of reach, many exist and are used today for a growing number of I&C applications. In the commercial industry, facility managers seeking to upgrade their estate cost-effectively often use commercial lighting devices like the INGY smart lighting control system that incorporates sensors into luminaires to enable a variety of smart building services without needing an additional infrastructure investment.

Retailers are also adopting electronic shelf label (ESL) devices like the RAINUS InforTab that manage store-wide price automation and reduce operating costs by eliminating hours of tedious human resources. Additionally, asset tracking devices like the Zliide Intelligent Tag can provide fashion retailers with extremely precise location information on how their merchandise moves, helping improve the user experience.

Of course, the commercial industry is not the only application for asset-tracking devices. Machine manufacturers and contractors can also use asset tracking devices like the Trackunit Kin tag that helps connect the entire construction fleet through one simple platform, reducing downtime and costs associated with asset management.

Manufacturers also use smart factory automation devices like CoreTigo’s IO-Link that provide cable-grade, fast, and scalable connectivity for millions of sensors, actuators, and devices at any site worldwide to enable real-time control and monitoring across the entire operational technology.

Likewise, plant and facility managers seeking a comprehensive view of their operations can use predictive maintenance devices such as the Waites plug-and-play online monitoring system to provide a range of sensors and gateways for monitoring and analyzing data, which streamlines device setup and installation.

Benefits of industrial and commercial IoT devices

The growing use of I&C IoT devices could help businesses in the commercial industry make well-informed, real-time decisions, have better access control, and develop more intelligent, efficient, and secure IoT applications. For example, before advanced I&C IoT technology, someone at a retail store had to go out and change the tags on the store shelves if the pricing changed.

Now, with electronic shelf labels, retailers can provide real-time updates. Additionally, by using connected devices and sensors to collect data about a wide variety of business systems, companies can automate processes and improve supply chain management efficiency.

For example, a large retail chain operating hundreds of stores across the country could integrate smart shelf sensors, connected delivery trucks, and a warehouse management system to monitor goods moving through the supply chain in real time. Insights from this data would enable retailers to reduce stockouts, optimize deliveries, and improve warehouse efficiency.

Businesses are also improving control by adopting commercial lighting solutions and wireless access points. With these solutions, businesses can enable indoor location services to track assets and consumer behavior and speed up click-and-collect through shop navigation.

I&C devices also have the potential to positively impact the industrial segment by helping businesses optimize operation efficiency, routing, and scheduling. Prior to predictive maintenance devices, manufacturers had to halt their production line for hours or days if a pump failed and they weren’t planning for it. The repercussions were substantial since every hour of unplanned machine downtime costs manufacturers up to $260,000 in lost production.

Figure 2 IIoT is expected to play a critical role in reshaping the industrial automation. Source: Silicon Labs

Now, with predictive maintenance systems, manufacturers can identify early-stage failures. Moreover, recent advancements in edge computing have unlocked new capabilities for industrial IoT devices, enabling efficient communication and data management.

Machine learning (ML) integration into edge devices transforms data analysis, providing real-time insights for predictive maintenance, anomaly detection, and automated decision-making. This shift is particularly relevant in smart metering, where wireless connectivity allows for comprehensive monitoring, reducing the need for human intervention.

Challenges for industrial and commercial IoT devices

I&C IoT devices have progressed significantly due to the widespread adoption of wireless network technologies, the integration of edge computing, the implementation of predictive maintenance systems, and the expansion of remote monitoring and control capabilities.

Despite all the benefits that I&C IoT devices could bring to consumers, these technologies are not being utilized to their fullest potential in I&C settings today. This is because four significant challenges stand in the way of mass implementation:

  1. Interoperability and reliability

The fragmented landscape of proprietary IoT ecosystems is a significant hurdle for industrial and commercial industry adoption, and solution providers are addressing this challenge by developing multi-protocol hardware and software solutions.

Multi-protocol capabilities are especially important for I&C IoT devices, as reliable connectivity ensures seamless data flow and process optimization in factories, guarantees reliable connectivity across vast retail spaces, and contributes to consistent sales and operational efficiency. Due to the long product lifecycle, it is also critical for the devices to be compatible with legacy protocols and have the capability to upgrade to future standards as needed.

  1. Security and privacy

Security and privacy concerns have been major roadblocks in the growth of industrial and commercial IoT, with potential breaches jeopardizing not only data but also entire networks and brand reputations. Thankfully, solution providers are stepping in to equip developers with powerful tools. Secure wireless mesh technologies offer robust defenses against attacks, while data encryption at the chip level paves the way for a future of trusted devices.

This foundation of trust, built by prioritizing cybersecurity from the start and choosing reliable suppliers, is crucial for unlocking the full potential of the next generation of IoT. By proactively shaping their environment and incorporating risk-management strategies, companies can confidently unlock the vast opportunities that lie ahead in the connected world.

  1. Scalability of networks

Creating large-scale networks with 100,000+ devices is a critical requirement for several industrial and commercial applications such as ESL, street lighting, and smart meters. In addition, these networks may be indoors with significant RF interference or span over a large distance in difficult environments. This requires significant investments in testing large networks to ensure the robustness and reliability of operations in different environments.

  1. User and developer experience

Bridging the gap between ambition and reality in industrial and commercial IoT rests on two crucial pillars: improving the user experience and the developer experience. If we’re going to scale and deploy this market at the level that we know needs to happen, we need solutions that simplify deployment and management for users while empowering developers to build and scale applications with greater speed and efficiency.

Initiatives like Matter and Amazon Sidewalk are paving the way for easier wireless connectivity and edge computing, but further strides are needed. Solution providers can play a vital role by offering pre-built code and edge-based inference capabilities, accelerating development cycles, and propelling the industry toward its true potential.

Looking ahead

As the industrial and commercial IoT landscape evolves, we are primed for a dynamic and interconnected future. The industrial and commercial IoT industry is poised for continued growth and innovation, with advancements in wireless connectivity, edge computing, AI, and ML driving further advances in industrial automation, supply chain optimization, predictive maintenance systems, and the expansion of remote monitoring and control capabilities.

The semiconductor industry has been quietly helping the world advance with solutions that will help set up the standards of tomorrow and enable an entire ecosystem to become interoperable.

Ross Sabolcik is senior VP and GM of industrial and commercial IoT products at Silicon Labs.

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