When preparing to deploy IIoT for leveraging big data, ask these questions before selecting a solution
Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 have become a major factor in manufacturers’ and other companies’ network architectures and digital transformation plans — and why wouldn’t they? Organizations are using industrial cellular routers and IIoT to transform siloed, single-use data into a sea of big data for high-value activities aimed at improving operations by reducing waste and or increasing efficiencies. IIoT also enables remote monitoring and access, which reduces costly truck rolls to remote sites.
Historically, companies’ industrial data has been mired in the limitations of legacy equipment and aging infrastructure, much of which has traditionally been siloed, air-gapped, or on an isolated network. Managing multiple isolated networks is challenging, from a management and manhours perspective, but also restrictive. Isolation prevents the exposure of that information to large databases and/or big data analysis.
In many IIoT use cases, 4G LTE has become the wide-area network (WAN) connectivity of choice, due to its combination of speed, flexibility, scalability, and widespread availability, even in rural areas. Businesses are using Wireless WAN (WWAN) and industrial cellular routers for IIoT applications such as predictive maintenance, fleet management, smart metering, video for security and employee safety, and bidirectional voice communication traffic.
High-value examples of cellular WAN for IIoT
IIoT for manufacturing
A wealth of data is generated from PLCs (programmable logic controllers), drives, motors, sensors, and conveyors. Companies are realizing that if making this data actionable can reduce manufacturing downtime even by a minute, it can save them tens of thousands of dollars. In factories and plants, companies are using IIoT for devices and applications to connect video cameras, sensors, security systems, fire suppression, autonomous robots, delivery vehicles, VoIP phones, PLCs, drives, etc., to the cloud via one network. One of the major drivers is predictive maintenance of critical assets.
From a local area network (LAN) perspective, private cellular networks are beginning to replace industrial ethernet. Private LTE and 5G work well for LAN connectivity in large spaces, and Wi-Fi is not an option because of limitations related to bandwidth, scalability, and security.
All of that said, this major data access shift raises important and challenging questions, such as:
- How do you connect aging devices that only speak outdated protocols?
- How do you efficiently scale IIoT?
- How do you extract IIoT data without impacting productivity?
- How do you secure data from legacy equipment that once was used for control but now is being exposed to the Internet?
IIoT for energy and oil companies
IIoT also is driving the digitization of oil fields, which are replete with devices and applications that can benefit from real-time monitoring and control. Oil is spread out in huge, cavernous spaces that require careful placement of multiple well heads for extraction. Oil companies have realized that connecting each well head can lead to more efficient operations based on automated alerts and remote monitoring and control.
Until recently, this level of automation between each well site has been nearly impossible unless personnel were stationed at each site to flip the switches. Now these actions can be done in seconds. Again, though, companies are tasked with connecting equipment that is expected to last for decades and can’t be “ripped and replaced” every time network connectivity evolves.
Another IIoT use case is tank battery monitoring. Oil is extracted from the ground and pumped to big holding vessels called tank batteries, located in oil fields. In the past, a tank truck then would come out periodically to collect the fluids — a process that was inefficient if the tank batteries were only half full. Remote monitoring of sensor data allows these companies to optimize pickup schedules, which saves time and money.
IIoT for utilities
For about a hundred years, utility companies have been sending staff to local houses once a month to read meters, report back, aggregate it at the end of the month, and then send residents a bill. It’s not a very efficient way to track energy consumption. With the advent of IoT data, utility companies can gather this and other actionable information remotely, enabling real-time visibility into user consumption, better-utilization of manhours, and improved customer service.
Features to look for when selecting a cellular router for industrial settings
IT and OT teams need IIoT solutions that meet the specific needs of their use case. Each team should be asking a variety of questions, including:
- Does this IIoT router support private cellular networks?
- Does this IIoT router have serial ports?
- Does this IIoT router connect analog pins?
- How will we transmit our data? Do we want to keep it in raw protocol or convert it to something more secure, such as MQTT?
- Where are we going to send the data, and which technologies can we use to ensure data security?
- Are these industrial cellular routers ruggedized to meet our temperature specifications and other form factor requirements? How well does it withstand humidity, dust, and vibration?
- Does this IIoT router come with DIN rail mounts?
- Once these IIoT routers are deployed, can we manage performance and security through a cloud management platform?
- How long is the router warranty?
- How easily does this IIoT solution integrate with Microsoft Azure IoT Central and AWS IoT Greengrass
- Should we set up edge computing? Does this IIoT solution support container orchestration and edge computing?
- Does this IIoT router have a built-in next-gen, context-aware firewall?
- Does this IIoT solution include ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access) features?
Answering these questions, among others, is an important step before choosing the IIoT solution best suited to your organization’s unique needs.