Now Is the Time to Implement the Internet of Things

When building a new factory or industrial environment, developers are free to choose the most up-to-date technology and will likely choose Internet of Things-ready devices.

Albert Huang, Vice president, Advantech Industrial Automation Group
Albert Huang, Vice president, Advantech Industrial Automation Group

In the past, devices and equipment offered minimal connectivity to each other. This was for several reasons, the main one being a lack of compatibility between different manufacturers, which prevented devices from communicating with each other. This lack of compatible standards and programming languages meant that gathering all the data in one program was an expensive challenge. Now, thanks to technological advancements and reduced price points, this can finally change.

Although many devices haven’t yet standardized their programming, technology advances have enabled manufacturers such as Advantech to develop hardware and software that can communicate with and collect data from all manner of devices. That’s why now is an ideal time to implement the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Since most new devices offer smart connectivity (i.e., the ability to connect to and be controlled from a wide range of Internet-based devices), existing devices can also be made smart by connecting them to gateways, which can process their data before sending it to web-enabled SCADA software via Ethernet or wireless networks.

However, in legacy factories, most machine data is sent to individual servers and monitors, where it is watched and printed out for future use. That situation is far from ideal and factory managers are demanding a more unified approach to data management.

By standardizing networking methods and allowing devices, which use established industrial networking technologies such as DeviceNet, CAN and IO-Link, to communicate via Ethernet, all devices old and new can now be connected to the same network.

Once we have old and new devices connected and talking to each other, the next step in creating a smart factory is to make the information visible to operators and managers so that they can make informed decisions. That’s where modern human-machine interfaces (HMIs) come in. It is now possible to manage multiple factories across the world in a more organized manner by leveraging cloud services as a cost-effective way to store data anywhere in the world and be able to access it from anywhere on any device in an attractive, easy-to-read format.

But the smart factory is about much more than just dishing out pretty graphics. At the factory level, the proper flow of status and command information is crucial for a manufacturing execution system (MES) to track and record the production of finished goods. At an even higher level, data is required for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business logistics systems to be effective. Developments in programming languages are helping engineers move beyond a preset series of reporting tools, allowing them to develop tools that meet their specific requirements.

As a result, management can more easily identify inefficiencies in production so that machines can be adjusted to improve material, labor and maintenance costs, and energy efficiencies and quality issues.

Advantech has been developing tools and devices to ease the process of connecting both old and new devices to the IIoT. For example, Advantech’s WISE IoT modules provide an HTML5-designed configuration interface, which can be accessed from any modern device or platform. Likewise, Advantech’s WISE-4000 IoT Wireless I/O modules, designed specifically for use in IIoT applications, use RESTful web services and HTML5 to dynamically adjust the display of information based on the device being used to access it.

In addition to web-enabled I/O devices, Advantech also produces a range of industrial computers, such as the UNO-1251G, which acts as an IIoT gateway to process data coming from end devices or PLCs running divergent protocols.

Advantech’s latest WebAccess 8.1 browser-based HMI/SCADA software is a complete cloud-based system that can be designed and constructed using WISE-4000 and other Advantech data acquisition devices. WebAccess provides three types of interfaces: a web service interface for partners to integrate data into their own apps, a pluggable widget interface for programmers to develop their own widgets to run on the WebAccess Dashboard, and a DLL interface for developing Windows applications. These three features enable WebAccess to permit development of IIoT applications for different vertical markets.

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