Manufacturing organizations with high numbers of equipment scattered throughout facilities in multiple locations are looking for how best to invest in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Certainly, adopting a cloud-based IIoT strategy, in relation to managing assets within a manufacturing enterprise, makes great sense due to the ability to:
- Ensure IT equipment resiliency and scalability
- Future-proof existing IT equipment
- Ensure global access to accumulated data.
The first step for manufacturing companies is to connect devices from behind firewalls and securely publish their data to cloud-based applications. IoT gateways play an important role in this value chain to securely connect “things” (equipment, sensors and devices) to the cloud. They do so in the form of hardware devices and software add-ons to existing installed applications strategically placed within a manufacturing site or building.
Why Add an IoT Gateway Suite?
An IoT gateway provides the bridge between an on premise communications network and a cloud-based communications network. Sometimes referred to as “Edge devices”, IoT gateways provide “Southbound” data connectivity to the end devices, completely on premise. They also have a “Northbound” communication path that provides secure data connectivity between each gateway and the cloud.
In the case of the process, factory and building automation industries, the Southbound communications protocol is typically an industry standard protocol such as OPC UA, BACnet, Modbus, SNMP or Web services, but it can be a proprietary communications protocol as well. The Northbound communication path needs to be highly secure and is often based on a publish/subscribe (“pub/sub”) mechanism. Emerging communication protocols being used for this include Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) and Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT).
The real value comes in when you add a software suite onto those IoT gateway devices that is capable of communicating securely with a cloud-based platform/service, such as Microsoft Azure or other third-party applications. With IoT gateways on the premise side communicating to IoT Hubs on the cloud server side, applications that were previously hosted within the plant or building can be offloaded, relieving infrastructure cost, maintenance and obsolescence concerns. Manufacturers can then take advantage of off-the-shelf visualization, analytics and mobile products running in the Azure cloud, enabling them to easily create HMI/SCADA, data historian, analysis and data mobility applications.
Value Added Applications for IIoT
As IoT technology matures, organizations will be more apt to move the “heavy lifting” of data-intensive processes to cloud servers. Such applications can include:
Visualization – Connecting HMI/SCADA to a cloud-based platform, such as Azure, allows customers to combine on premise solutions with cloud solutions. Or, customers can fully embrace the virtualized scalability afforded by the cloud while benefitting from the security of IT- and firewall-friendly communications. Real-time data from devices such as meters, sensors and more complex equipment can be delivered to and from the cloud with the strictest security, with no changes required to corporate firewalls or IT infrastructure. In addition, premium HMI/SCADA solutions allow for integration with other relevant applications such as data analysis, plant data historians or mobile apps.
Data Historian – Data historians are software tools that seem perfectly suited to the IIoT. They enable access to Big Data from any desktop, Web browser or mobile device via a cloud-based platform, such as Microsoft Azure. A leading-edge data historian with a cloud connection can leverage Microsoft’s public, private or hybrid cloud infrastructure to increase collaboration and efficiency without compromising security. Such technology enables users to distribute their application to scale and adapt to the changing needs of their business, with instant access to KPIs and critical information from any device.
A data historian with cloud integration provides the ability to collect data from any device and securely stream it to the cloud for long-term storage and analysis. Cloud-enabled historians should provide the ability to serve as the on premise appliance to store and forward data from the plant floor to a public or private cloud. Merging data between historian nodes should be simple so as to allow both on premise and cloud-based servers to provide data interchangeably for historical aggregation. Adding new sites or more data should also be easy, allowing the data historian to support expanded operations and scale over time. Private or hybrid cloud solutions combined with on-site storage should ensure data security and integrity without sacrificing visibility. Data should be safely stored in the cloud for client access without opening up any vulnerabilities. Users should be able to connect to stored data from any place using any device and provide aggregated metrics, through performance calculations, to decision makers where and when needed.
Analysis and Mobility – While a traditional on premise-based system may require multiple servers with enough processing power to help analyze manufacturing process data, that workload can be mitigated by moving such processor-intensive analytics to the cloud. Through the combination of an IoT gateway and integrated software suite, information can be streamed to the cloud in order to help manufacturers better understand their own data (real-time or historical) and find innovative ways to deliver value on top of their products. Advanced analytics make it possible to give customers what they want before they even have to ask for it.
A data mobility solution combines the power of a traditional HMI/SCADA platform with a small footprint that can run on any server (on premise, private cloud, public cloud or hybrid). Lightweight installation of such a solution via today’s most popular app stores can make it an easy choice for visualization and cloud deployments. Running on Internet Information Services (IIS), a data mobility solution can be located anywhere while benefitting from a scalable cloud architecture, with the ability to dynamically scale to client demand by allocating more computing power when needed.
As cloud platform service providers, hardware manufacturers and software developers expand the abilities of IoT gateways, manufacturers can reap the benefits of this digital transformation by shifting their data storage, analysis and retrieval to the cloud. The majority of the benefits discussed here are readily available today.
Melissa Topp is Director of Global Marketing at ICONICS, Inc.