We have all become familiar with the terms Machine to Machine (M2M), Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0. At Adroit Technologies, we have been grappling with the challenge of how we can bring the expected value to customers in a format that takes away some of the quite significant problems we have, while developing and implementing various projects within this space.
Before we start, it is also important to know that people generally change for only two reasons:
• The need to comply with some enforceable regulation – regulatory driven.
• They need to find ways of doing business more efficiently – cost driven.
Definitions – a general understanding is summarised below
The term IoT increasingly shows a pronounced consumer angle, while IIoT and M2M’s heritage is in industrial sectors. Through sensors and communication, manufacturers have automated and streamlined their factory floors and their supply chains for decades. These types of technologies should largely be seen as supplementing existing control solutions, where being able to get higher resolution data reliably and cheaply into an existing scada, or into the cloud, can support complex system designs to offer better insight through artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning.
Industry 4.0, on the other hand, is a term the German government coined in 2011. The term refers to a fourth industrial revolution built on smart factories, which now form part of that country’s high-tech strategy. Industry 4.0 includes many different technologies, from cloud and big data to collaboration solutions.
History and background
Telemetry, or remote data acquisition, has been part of the industrial world for decades. Most distributed control systems, particularly within the utilities space, have used telemetry to monitor remote substations, pump stations, high-sites etc. The front-end communications devices have been radio telemetry units (RTUs) to bring the data back over dedicated radio networks to a central scada system, housed at some control room.
RTUs themselves were never designed to be PLCs, but more a communication device with some I/O that allowed fairly crude and mostly simple control. Where more efficient control was required, a PLC was usually added and the RTU simply used as a gateway, to handle the more complicated aspects of the communication. So, telemetry protocols were developed specifically to handle data within these distributed and, often not so reliable, networked systems.
Telemetry networks and RTUs were specifically designed to do the following:
• Minimise the use of the radio network.
• Time-stamp data at the RTU (and to synchronise time between RTUs).
• Handle exception-based data and broadcasts.
• Handle the ‘store and forwarding’ requirements so as to ensure the scada always gets the data, even if it is delayed due to unreliable communications.
• Handle the ability to download new firmware or application layer changes to the programs running remotely on the RTU.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that the PLC protocols that we have all become familiar with, were never designed for distributed control systems, but for more physically tightly bound communications, either to operator terminals or HMI/scada systems. The protocols were designed to be fast and largely serial in nature, command response type, where a PC or host device requests certain data from a certain PLC, even within a network. In addition, none of them supported the concept of time stamping at source (PLC), as this has significant impact on the ‘size’ of packets, and therefore, on performance. This applies to even the most commonly used protocols, such as Modbus, which is probably the most widely implemented on devices other than PLCs.
The game changer
The game changer is the Internet and, in particular, the convergence of the large telecommunication companies (Telcos) and specialised IoT network companies, like Sigfox, bringing about the ability to interact with the Internet using their own networks to form the largest, and probably the most reliable, global network available.
Taking Sigfox as an example, this French-based company started 10 years ago, now has a ‘0G’ network based in 60 countries globally covering over one billion people. Its focus is building a reliable, low-cost network that supports millions of low cost devices, based on small packets of data, with the benefits of LPWAN giving reliable and wide area coverage. In addition, it now boasts over 700 certified devices, which can essentially work anywhere in the world on a Sigfox network. Such access to low cost globally certified sensors makes it an extremely attractive proposition for customers wanting to build a global digital strategy.
Adroit Technologies using the IIoT to drive value
At Adroit, we have focused our efforts on finding ways of leveraging the IIoT as a way of supplementing existing and new customer control systems. We partner with various local and international sensor manufacturers running on the Sigfox network in the following areas:
• Pressure monitoring.
• Asset tracking.
• Machine monitoring.
• Process Monitoring (using 4-20 mA).
A good example is that we, along with specialist flow and pressure instrumentation company, Allpronix, have certified a pressure instrument that will do the processing on the device and can alert users to when a measurement is out of range. In addition, the device transmits the min, max and mean of the pressure taken over a 15 minute sample period. All this installed at less than R9000. This gives utilities and industry the ability to add around four times the resolution of traditional infrastructure. So early detection of leaks and quality of supply can be realistically measured, which can lead to millions in savings for municipalities and industry.
The Adroit 10 scada has a Sigfox driver and this allows customers to take advantage of the IIoT on existing infrastructure with benefits realised in days, not years.
Adroit Technologies has paid its school fees in terms of understanding the unique challenges of bringing M2M and the IIoT into the industrial arena. The potential for customers and suppliers to differentiate themselves and to generate more value-add business is massive. The company is now in a position to ensure that users can get their company’s digital strategy going in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost.
As always, we at Adroit Technologies focus on delivering higher value to our users at no extra cost. Combining the new IIoT capability with GIS interfaces, situational awareness and alarm management data, all can use the big data and analytical processing capability of our standard scada Intelligence software package to derive greater insights and value from their processes. We are looking forward to customers using and giving us great feedback on the improvements this approach brings to their organisations.
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