How Wireless Power Can Move the IIoT Into the Future

By Yuval Boger

The Industrial Internet of Things, powered wirelessly, offers new opportunities for innovation.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) describes interconnected sensors, machines and other devices networked together with computers' industrial applications. The connectivity lets data collection, exchange, automation and analysis happen at scale with little human intervention. Industrial sectors like manufacturing; oil and gas; chemical and power; food and beverages; transport; aerospace and automotive; agriculture; pharmaceuticals; metals; and mining and construction can all benefit from IIoT devices.

In fact, according to analytical reports, the IIoT will transform many sectors that account for approximately two-thirds of the global economic output. Innovation in the IIoT is expected to drive economic gains of $14.2 trillion by 2030. The promise of innovation is exciting when devices and sensors can potentially improve efficiency and safety drastically, and can contribute to mass cost savings at the core of your business—in your production or manufacturing plant.

There are hurdles to overcome, however, in order for this success to become a reality. To realize the potential of the IIoT, we need to address a key issue that currently limits IIoT device functionality and slows deployment: power delivery.

Challenges and Adoption Issues to Overcome
IIoT deployments face unique adoption challenges compared to traditional IoT deployments, like homes and offices, because of their use in industrial settings. One unique aspect is that existing battery solutions are insufficient because IIoT applications are data-dense and require high reliability.

Sensors in manufacturing are critical, but batteries are a burden to replace and wires are often impractical. For instance, at a distribution center there is a need to track crates as they make their way throughout the supply chain. Since the distribution center could be anywhere from 50,000 to 3 million square feet in size, batteries and wires are inconvenient, expensive and potentially dangerous. Some sensors also simply cannot be powered via a wire like in a factory, where there are many process-control sensors in dangerous environments.

As noted by Arrow Electronics, constantly replacing batteries is not a feasible solution. "For sensor connected networks," the company reports, "the power consumption of the object is likely to be significantly less than will be the case for connected actuators; hence, battery-powered objects will represent the vast majority of deployments. This is likely to prove critical to IIoT proliferation, as many applications will rely on sensors that have been deployed in remote locations (and therefore sending engineers out into the field to regularly replace batteries will be uneconomical)."

In addition to the limitations placed on IIoT hardware because of battery-powered operation, developers and manufacturers are frustrated that the ideas they envision will not be realized without overcoming these challenges. Important capabilities might be left on the cutting-room floor simply because the battery does not have enough capacity to support them, or because implementing such capabilities would require very frequent battery replacements.

The solution? Find a way to deliver reliable power to remote locations and extreme environments.

IIoT Applications Require New Options for Power Delivery
Power is often a limiting factor on device functionality, and this will only worsen with the rollout of 5G. Higher frequencies and data speeds increase power consumption. That's the tradeoff for the added speed and bandwidth 5G promises. These power limitations threaten to stunt innovation around IIoT.

According to Forbes, "Here's what will be necessary to create a 5G-IoT ecosystem: Automatic power supply: Batteries and wires may be a feasible solution to power IoT now, but as the sheer volume of IoT rises globally, it will be virtually impossible to keep up. A failing or depleted battery within an IoT sensor, M2M or factory automation could cost a company revenue and increase safety and liability issues. Wireless power—without pads, over distance—is critical."

Companies are experimenting with alternative power sources but even those don't fully address the current challenges:

• Consumer-grade alkaline batteries are often used to power household IoT devices. They're inexpensive but impractical in most industrial settings. Alkaline batteries have a limited temperature range (0 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius), crimped seals that are prone to leak, and a high self-discharge rate that lowers life expectancy to one to two years.

• Industrial-grade primary lithium batteries have a long operating life and low average daily energy consumption. The downside? They're non-rechargeable.

Energy-harvesting technologies like thermoelectric, electromagnetic and piezoelectric devices remain in their infancy, and have yet to gain significant traction.

• Solar power offers a starting point, but the power levels aren't strong enough to meet the demands of most devices. Plus, sunlight isn't always available and sometimes solar panels are obstructed. How can we deliver the power needed to fuel IIoT in demanding industrial environments?

Long-range wireless power that uses IR light might be the ideal power source for wireless energy delivery in industrial environments. It can deliver significant amounts of energy, while adhering to all consumer safety standards. It can work in difficult environments without interfering with Wi-Fi, 5G or other data-communication mechanisms. Because light can travel in a thin and straight beam, like a laser pointer, the received power levels don't decrease with distance, even when using very small power receivers.

Beyond Batteries: The Role of Wireless Power in the Future of IIOT
Moving forward, we'll need more power than batteries provide and more freedom than power cords offer. "Today, wires and oversized batteries dictate what we can and cannot do," Fierce Electronics reports. "IIoT is supposed to create $3.7 trillion worth of value in factories, McKinsey consulting estimates, but that's a pipe dream without wireless power."

Warehouses and plants need wireless power to help usher in the next generation of analytic capabilities. That future will see more sensors and more advanced features, with no more worries about power consumption.

Because the Industrial Internet connects machines and devices in high-stakes industries—like oil and gas, power generation and health care—where system failures or unplanned downtime can cause life-threatening or high-risk situations, addressing these challenges should be an important goal. Wireless power can provide new options for powering the IIoT, thus creating opportunities for significant innovation.

Yuval Boger is the CMO of Wi-Charge, a leading company in long-range wireless power. Yuval is an expert on wireless power technology and has experience working with large hotel chains on technology on implementing this technology. He holds an MBA degree from the Kellogg school at Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in physics from Tel-Aviv University.