It’s Not an Answer, It’s a Question

Nov. 1, 2015
The cloud is not at the center of enabling the Industrial Internet of Things, instead it’s just a piece of the puzzle. Analysis needs to occur at the point of operation, with little human reaction or control required.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a broad topic often summarized as the bringing together of previous disparate technologies and systems to work as one. These disparate technologies and systems include, but are not limited to, control systems, sensors and actuators, enterprise server networks, mobile applications and SCADA. The reality is that the IIoT is not a solution or a trend, but the name of progress when it comes to the use of data and technology in things beyond consumer devices and enterprise computing. It is therefore naive to think of IIoT as a thing in itself that can be defined by a reference architecture or white paper. It’s bigger than that.

The reality of IIoT is that the simplistic concept that cloud services will bond the communication of smart sensors and automation networks with mobile devices and SCADA systems is only half true. The cloud can only offer so much and, in practice, there is no practical reason to push the immense amount of stream data from millions of devices such as home electricity meters, gas pumps and temperature gauges to a cloud database. The amount of data is immense and, frankly, not too dynamic. That’s why Moxa and other companies in our space are creating devices that can bring the computing power to the edge of the network.

The cloud is not at the center of enabling IIoT, but rather a piece of the puzzle. Analytics and real-time decision-making needs to occur at the point of operation, with very little human reaction or control required for many simple control adjustments. This is how true process optimization can be achieved and supported in the growing data-rich industries like power, process automation, and intelligent transportation networks.

As a customer, your considerations should remain the same—regardless of your industry—when making a shift toward IIoT. First, it is important to understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. A lot of the roadblocks that once existed regarding protocol, bandwidth or even reliability when it comes to wireless technologies are no longer an issue. With this consideration in mind, you should select the most industrially reliable and scalable vendor possible. It is far more expensive to deploy a series of network devices over and over again every few years than it is to deploy a reliable network of devices that can endure both operational strain and technological advancements. On the topic of scalability, it is also advisable to convert your network system to an open system wherever possible. Automation protocols have their enduring place in industrial automation, but connecting the primary aspects of data transfer and control in your operation to the IIoT is inevitable. The sooner you at least prep your transition toward this direction, the more cost-effective and secure that migration will be.

This movement toward more open, and flexible, intelligent devices is at the essence of the IIoT movement and this, of course, brings up security concerns. Though this concern is legitimate, it is partially misinformed because of the assumption that older automation protocols are secure. But they’re not. For example, it is estimated that more than 65 percent of system failures within process automation networks are caused by device and system redundancy failures.

The good news is that such questions about IIoT are being answered and solved. From an enterprise solution perspective, companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard are developing solutions that bring high-performance computing to smaller and more flexible form factors; ideal for supporting local control centers. Moxa is coordinating with international players in this space to open up the gateways to the industrial sector, enabling the power of data analytics in the industries that could benefit the most from them.

IIoT and Moxa in oil and gas

Imagine if localized PLCs and gateways could compute operational data in real time, and do so at a lower cost per unit than the typical PLC today. The status of capital equipment, pipeline pressure, corrosion rates, and various other mission-critical aspects could be available at the fingertips of operators onsite. The benefits of this data-to-information capability at the edge of industrial networks will allow energy companies to extend capital equipment service by years, while shedding light on potential system failures before they occur. This capability currently exists and is being tested by many of the world’s leading energy companies today.

With Moxa’s UC-8100, and other embedded technologies to be released in the next six months, we’re enabling oil and gas customers to capitalize on all the benefits the IIoT can provide onsite. Instead of waiting days to gain insights from production scales and capital equipment status updates, operators can gather the information in seconds. Production or equipment anomalies can be recognized immediately so that corrective action can be taken. The life of rotating equipment, piping and drilling systems can be extended with fewer controller resources. Plus, the risk of system failure and network intrusion can be further mitigated.

Outside of Moxa’s product line of embedded computers and AWK wireless modules, Moxa can further empower offshore upstream operations by bringing the control room to the operational staff onboard. With the EXPC-1519, for example, users can bring onsite control and visibility wherever they need it. The anti-scratch, 19-inch sunlight-viewable LCD capacitive multitouch screen can be operated with a rigger’s gloves, offering the dexterity of a consumer tablet, while enduring the most extreme of environments. The high-performance Intel third-generation Core i7-3555LE or Celeron 1047UE CPU and up to 2.5 GHz processor guarantees high visibility and usability in nearly all circumstances. Plus, the fanless design can operate in temperatures of -40 to 70 °C.

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