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Connecting Sensors to the Cloud

The “last mile” connection of lower-level plant floor devices to the cloud is the focus of a new partnership between ifm and CloudRail.

CloudRail.Box features enable direct sensor-to-cloud connections.
CloudRail.Box features enable direct sensor-to-cloud connections.

Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) architecture strategies have largely centered on sending data from controllers, edge devices, or software systems (such as manufacturing execution systems and supervisory control and data acquisition systems) to the cloud for aggregation and analysis. It was generally understood that sensor data would not be sent to the cloud directly; it would first travel through one of these higher-level systems. 

However, advances in sensor connectivity and partnerships between companies on the OT (operations technology) and IT (information technology) sides of industry are changing that conception.

One partnership that exemplifies this change is the one between ifm and CloudRail. According to the companies, the integration of ifm’s sensors and CloudRail’s CloudRail.Box technology mean that users only need to connect an ifm sensor, select the cloud system they want to connect to (such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Alibaba), and the data from that sensor will then be processed and transferred to the cloud.

Felix Kollmar, CEO, CloudRail.Felix Kollmar, CEO, CloudRail.Felix Kollmar, CEO of CloudRail, said the simplicity of this plug-and-play sensor-to-cloud connection is enabled by CloudRail.Box features that make it possible to remotely monitor and configure devices and deliver updates. CloudRail.Box supports several edge computing connection technologies as well as OPC UA. These capabilities enable direct sensor-to-cloud connections to be rolled out across large manufacturing facilities or by OEMs, according to Kollmar.

The CloudRail system is available worldwide via ifm, which offers several starter kits containing all components required to implement an IIoT project. One of these kits contains ifm’s new VVB001 vibration sensor. “Within a few minutes, the vibration of a machine can be detected and evaluated in any cloud,” said Michael Strauss, head of product management, industrial communication, at ifm.

Explaining the partnership between the two companies, Strauss said, " CloudRail offers us market access to big digitization projects. Our salesforce has been explaining the advantages of clouds to automation specialists, now we are cooperating with leading cloud providers and consulting companies on interdisciplinary projects to contribute our sensor expertise. CloudRail is one of few companies worldwide with extensive expertise both in IT and OT. 

Michael Strauss, head of product management, industrial communication, ifm.Michael Strauss, head of product management, industrial communication, ifm.Kollmar added that "the challenges of digitization are simply too big for individual companies. They require close cooperation between OT and IT, of which the partnership between ifm and CloudRail is a good example. While ifm can look back at more than 50 years of experience in industrial automation, CloudRail's specialty is bridging the gap towards the IT world and thoroughly understanding the corresponding target group. ifm already has several cloud solutions in its portfolio; however, these have primarily been developed for the OT target group. With CloudRail.Box and the corresponding Device Management Cloud, our product bridges the gap between OT and IT.”

Cloud services supported by CloudRail include: AWS IoT Core, AWS IoT SiteWise, AWS IoT Greengrass, Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, Microsoft Azure IoT Central, Google IoT Core, SAP Cloud Platform Internet of Things, Alibaba Cloud IoT Platform, IBM Watson IoT Platform, and Aveva Insight. 

See a demo video for connecting ifm sensors using CloudRail.

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