Industrial IoT – What is it all about?

Industrial IoT – What is it all about?

Today’s Industrial IoT is an outgrowth of the Machine to Machine (M2M) technology that began with the ladder logic and SCADA systems of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Increased monitoring and computerized control has demonstrated the ability to make machines last longer and run more efficiently.

Connecting machines together and to back office systems over the Internet has transformed the simple M2M into the Industrial Internet of Things.

 

A Different Kind of Calculus

When considering or planning an Industrial IoT system, the benefits of the system must be weighed against the costs (and the risks – see Security below).  An Industrial IoT system may add some capability to its machinery, but more often the value of Industrial IoT is in increased visibility or control on the industrial system rather than new capability.  A smart electric meter will likely still just meter electricity, it won’t have additional abilities like streaming movies or brewing coffee.  But it will be able to help the power grid regulate for peak use and it will not require a meter reader to drive around the neighborhood reading meters by hand.

The cost/benefit calculus used in planning Industrial IoT should focus on increased visibility and control.  Some questions to consider:

With better visibility, can preventative maintenance be more effective? For example, a vibration sensor can alert when a pump or motor bearing is days or weeks from failing.

With finer grain measurement and control, can the industrial machinery be more efficient in terms of electricity, materials use, or time? This often involves Local Processing (see below) as well as analytics performed on vast amounts of data collected in the cloud.

 

The Industrial Environment

The harsh environment of some industrial machinery gives rise to challenges in building IoT hardware.  Industrial settings may include:

Extreme heat, cold, or humidity that require special industrial rated electronic components and enclosures.

An abundance of metal and RF noise that makes wireless communications difficult

Remote location, which may limit internet connectivity and make battery replacement a challenge

Each of these challenges may place very strict requirements on the IoT system in terms of power consumption, bandwidth use, or physical construction.

 

Local Processing – Computing at the Edge

Most IoT diagrams depict a standard 3 tiered architecture.  The Edge Nodes are generally simple sensors, which are aggregated together by a Gateway, which is usually Internet connected.   The Gateway transmits the data up to the Cloud where the data is analyzed.   Perhaps some simple control is passed back down from Cloud through the Gateway to the Edge Node sensors.

Many Industiral IoT systems have requirements that drive the need for Local Processing to occur on the Edge Nodes.  There are several factors that can drive this need:

Bandwidth to the Gateway or the cloud. It is sometimes highly advantageous to send ‘the answer’ to the cloud rather than all the data that gets the answer.  For example, a traffic camera that does license plate recognition inside the camera and sends only the license plate number and state would send many thousand times less data than one that sends pictures of license plates up to the cloud for recognition.

Latency in making local decisions. A temperature sensor and cooling valve can form a simple control system to keep equipment cool rather than waiting for the cloud to receive a temperature and send back information to open or close the valve.  The minimum latency permitted on the control of many industrial systems is measured in microseconds or miliseconds, several orders of magnitude slower than a round-trip to most cloud based systems could provide.

Simple IoT sensors and cloud based processing will not replace the ladder logic and SCADA control systems.  But it will augment those systems and provide a way to analyze data and make broader decisions than those localized systems could make before.

Look for upcoming articles on the pros/cons of Local Processing.

 

Security in Industrial IoT

Security in all systems (computerized or not, networked or not) should be a key component in every design.  As industrial systems were enhanced with electronics and eventually connected to (un-networked) PCs, the security of these systems did not take into account the new ‘attack vectors’ quickly opening up.  Soon the PCs connected to the equipment were placed on local networks, and sometimes the equipment itself was placed directly on the local network, or directly on the internet.

Recent major security breaches with IoT devices (e.g. Miria-bot, BrickerBot) have demonstrated that the industry is not keeping pace with bad actors when it comes to security.  Recent legislation attempting to dictate solutions is likely to be out of date before it is enacted.  What is needed is a holistic approach to IoT security that uses the best of what we have learned from 20 years of desktop security and adjusts for the unique nature of IoT.

Look for upcoming articles on best practices for IoT Security.