As an industrial automation and information company, Avid Solutions would like to respond to the allegations of unpreparedness for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in a recent Automation World column from Stephanie Neil, “The IIoT Integrators Are Coming.” In particular, we would like to refute the statement that industrial control system integrators as a whole “are not particularly IIoT-savvy.” This might be true for other system integrators, but this certainly is not true for Avid Solutions.
Our company has a dedicated team focused on smart manufacturing solutions that include smart connected products, cloud solutions, Big Data and machine learning. We are gearing up to fully support this industry as our customers demand the solutions. We have experts on staff as well as partnerships that provide us with all of the capability necessary to deliver the most challenging IIoT applications today. We are consulting with top deep learning experts to leverage their knowledge of data mining and translate this to the industrial space. We have been in discussions with executive-level resources at large globally known providers of cloud-based and machine learning platforms to discuss how we can introduce smart control room technology to our customers and create a cognitive SCADA environment that will be a rich resource for our customers’ operational teams.
Our vision is to be on the front lines of this technology. But let's face it—IIoT is still a nascent technology. Although we see lots of low hanging fruit, there still needs to be a demand for these applications. We believe the demand will grow as the industry looks for solutions to its problems and the only obvious solution will be an IIoT solution.
One of our biggest challenges is that, unlike the commercial space where smart watches, smartphones, smart cars, smart appliances, smart electric outlets, smart light bulbs and even smart forks exist, we in the industrial space don't have a plethora of smart instruments from which to choose. I am certain these smart instruments are in some R&D lab being created, but the most interesting ideas I have heard have come from small startups.
One such product, a smart horn, is a device connected to wireless Ethernet with a web-based configuration page, similar to commercial smart devices. It would also have an onboard OPC client to point directly to a tag in the programmable logic controller (PLC) or point to some other data source using MQTT. There is no need for hardwiring signals to and from the PLC. Also, there is potentially no need to program the PLC and no need for downtime to wire the output signal to the horn. It will only be necessary to mount, configure and go. This could be the same story for proximity switches, limit switches, temperature switches, transmitters, etc. If you remove the cost of engineering and construction to add new instrumentation, it becomes increasingly cost-effective to provide visibility where there are currently holes in your SCADA monitoring.
We do have Ethernet variable-frequency drives (VFDs), Ethernet flowmeters and HART devices that give us tremendous data and look somewhat similar to IIoT devices, but they don’t learn and communicate to each other and make decisions. Decisions are all still made by the PLC, which definitely doesn’t have any machine learning capabilities, and we are not yet close to having these devices encompass the four categories of IIoT: connectivity, cloud, Big Data analytics and application development.
Another point of contention in the article is the statement, “They [industrial control system integrators] don’t know networking and TCP/IP. So it is a big scary world that is coming in and they don’t see the benefit.” Industrial control system integrators have been installing private cloud solutions for more than a decade now. We design top-to-bottom networks reaching from the business systems to the plant floor. The only thing scary on our end is when non-automation companies attempt to come down into the manufacturing space.
The point here is that not all integrators are unprepared. Avid Solutions, and I am certain other system integration companies, are planning to charge forward with their customers by continuing to provide top-notch automation systems, while also supplying the necessary IIoT solutions that will help move our entire industry forward.
Jeff Miller is a department manager with Avid Solutions Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avid Solutions, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.