The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is often focused on the benefits of connecting assets to provide granular visibility into processes with the hopes of driving operational efficiencies across organizations. When sensors and equipment are connected, data can be more effectively collected, analyzed and turned into actionable intelligence. This gathered intelligence provides insights into trends, exceptions and predictions that help organizations make more informed decisions and better allocate resources.
But how does an organization get to this point?
One of the most common myths associated with IIoT technology is the idea that existing assets are not capable of connecting with cutting-edge platforms and therefore should be replaced. The reality of pursuing a costly “rip and replace” approach to achieve the benefits of the IIoT requires significant resource investment in the form of longer, more complex implementations.
Instead, organizations should consider leveraging existing assets to provide the foundation for effective IIoT deployments. In fact, many IIoT-ready methods exist for the quick connection and collection of data from legacy equipment. These methods include physical media conversion, protocol communication and sensor deployment strategies. Each of the following IIoT-ready approaches not only addresses common obstacles associated with device obsolescence, but also extends equipment lifespan:
- Physical media conversion: Though newer and more efficient cabling—such as Ethernet or fiber optics—exists for long-distance IP communication, many traditional industrial environments still predominately have serial cabling connecting equipment. It is important to note that, though serial cabling is typically required for local process communication, it is a poor choice to be natively retransmitted over larger IP networks because of issues such as device polling, network latencies and potential packet loss. This is one of the main reasons why physical media converters can play an important role in connecting legacy equipment to upstream platforms.
- Protocol communication: With so much local equipment communicating via serial cabling—often using Modbus or other proprietary manufacturer protocols—protocol converters provide another way to connect serial environments to more IP-friendly protocols that perform better in larger networks and extend well outside of factories. Protocol communication is becoming even more important with the introduction of IIoT cloud platforms, which typically use very lean Internet protocols for the continuous collection of data from hundreds or thousands of heterogeneous devices.
- Sensor deployment: When existing equipment lacks communication capabilities, or equipment data is not easily accessible, sensors can be used to collect operational information. Organizations can either leverage existing sensors or install new ones to collect data from legacy assets. Although this process might cause minor process downtime, organizations are able to eliminate asset obsolescence while also realizing the benefits of granular data collection via strategically placed sensors.
Using these deployment strategies, existing assets can now physically connect and communicate with a range of protocols capable of exchanging data with cutting-edge platforms. This approach provides a solid foundation for IIoT implementation that enables organizations to seamlessly collect and analyze operational data to help make better-informed decisions relating to production efficiency, asset utilization and waste reduction. By integrating IIoT-ready tools and technologies into existing processes, organizations can cost-effectively take advantage of existing assets to drive future IIoT success.
Red Lion Controls is a U.S. manufacturer of industrial automation and networking solutions that help organizations connect, monitor and control assets worldwide.