Internet of Things and Field Level Connections

While much of the attention around the Industrial Internet of Things, Cloud Computing and Big Data centers on the benefits to high-level applications such as automated supply chain communications, none of it is possible without the ability to gather the granular data generated at the field device or sensor level.

The big picture possibilities for industry related to the latest technology trends have been generating a great deal of attention over the past few years—and along with it a significant amount of coverage in both the trade press and consumer media. The three primary reasons for the huge amount of interest around topics like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Big Data are, in my opinion, due to the fact that: 1) the upside potential for businesses of all sizes is significant, because it is based on using all data industry has been collecting for years; 2) very little—if any—new products need to be purchased to get started, as the value in concepts like IIoT and Big Data rests in devices most companies already own, and 3) the devices that are core to IIoT and Big Data are already at the heart of industrial control systems—sensors, controllers, and field level instruments in general.

Industrial companies focused on producing field-level communication devices, such as Hilscher, are upping their focus on IIoT and Big Data-enablement concepts as they find the products they create to increasingly be the center of attention. Speaking with Armin Pühringer, business development manager at Hilscher, during Hannover Fair 2015, he explained to me how Hilscher is positioning itself in light of the push in Europe toward Industry 4.0, as well as the global interest in IIoT and Big Data.

“The Industrial Internet of Things will drive the need for local intelligence on the field level,” said Pühringer. As interest in IIoT moves into greater deployments over the long term, industry will increasingly see the need for decentralized control of production, he said.

To position Hilscher for this shift toward greater decentralization of control, Pühringer said the company is releasing a new chip toward the end of this year — the netX 4000. This is a “very complex chip with high computing power” to allow for greater control decentralization at the field device level, he said.

Hilscher refers to the netX 4000 as being an “automation platform on-chip that brings together an ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core with an infrastructure for highly advanced user-facing applications, and an ARM Cortex-R7 with underlying netX technology for real-time control of industrial communications and applications.” The netX 4000 is the newest addition to Hilscher’s netX series of chips, which are designed to handle real-time Ethernet and traditional fieldbus communications, contain a device’s hardware platform and industrial software protocol stacks, operate as a master or companion chip for stand-alone applications, and provide one platform for embedded visualization, industrial control and networking communications.

In terms of how all this field-level data will be put to use for Big Data and IIoT applications, Pühringer said that although industry is currently using SQL and/or Oracle databases for data management, over the long term he sees industry migrating toward use of Hadoop (see explanatory video on Hadoop at the end of this article). “This [Hadoop] is coming to industry from consumer-facing businesses like Facebook and Amazon, and it will be important to industry because it allows decentralized or local storage of data, massive parallel computing and can scale horizontally, which means you can gather data from thousands of local smart devices, gateways and sensors. This is key for netX 4000 and its ability to create an environment where there is a significantly reduced need for centralized data management systems—every node will have the ability to compute algorithms and send data back to cloud for review, analysis and decision making.”

The biggest opportunities Pühringer sees for this chip in the near term are in machine control, predictive maintenance and man-machine interaction, i.e., configuration of devices using smartphones and tablet PCs.

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