17 Aug 2015

Technology in the Industrial IoT, IIoT

John Morris, Field Applications Engineer, Internet of Things Group, Intel, explains how virtualization can significantly help reduce cost and complexity through the consolidation of typical functions in the industrial IoT, IIoT

The Internet of Things, IoT, is increasingly being seen as the next evolution in computing in the ‘cloud plus edge’ paradigm, in which more and more devices are being connected to the Internet.

Computing capability is being integrated into these connected devices and transmitting increasing amount of gathered data from the edge to the cloud, where intelligent analytics is employed to extract information.

The IoT paradigm can transform businesses and their operations and perhaps none more so than in the industrial automation environment, where it can answer many of the challenges faced on a daily basis by companies, such as asset availability, yield, throughput and inventory costs.

Industrial IoT, IIoT

However, companies operating in many diverse industrial sectors will often use equipment that has traditionally performed discrete functions in isolation. In many use cases, equipment will continue to be manufactured and maintained in their traditional way, but others will require migration strategies to connect the previously unconnected and realize the benefits of the IoT. In fact, the number of wireless IoT devices in automation networks is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 27.2% to reach 43.5 million by 2020, according to recent research from Berg Insight [1].

A key enabling IoT technology in transforming the industrial automation sector is virtualization, which essentially enables previously discrete subsystems to be consolidated into a single system. It brings the advantages of low risk and time-to-market for developers and systems integrators looking to consolidate systems with different requirements such as the need to use real-time, embedded or general-purpose operating systems. Industrial control systems will often implement multiple boards to support varying applications. Programmable logic controllers, PLCs, and motion control are time-critical applications best served by a RTOS delivering deterministic performance; whereas developers of control console and data-acquisition applications may require an embedded OS for general ease of use.

Key elements needed for the industrial IoT, IIoT

Figure 1: Key elements needed for the industrial IoT, IIoT

There are a number of key elements required for the industrial IoT (see figure 1), including the cloud or datacenter, which hosts the processing of data analytics, and the IoT gateways, which enable devices at the network ‘edge’ to connect to each other and also into the network and up into the cloud. In the industrial environment, this presents a major opportunity to connect up previously unconnected equipment.

The key challenges on a daily basis for companies operating in the industrial environment are asset availability, yield, throughput and inventory costs: all of which can be addressed by the latest industrial IoT solutions. A central enabling technology in the IIoT for many applications as well as in the industrial automation sector is virtualization, which essentially enables previously discrete subsystems to be consolidated into a single system.

Some industrial control systems are designed with multiple boards because they support varying applications such as a control console, data acquisition, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), motion control, and machine vision, each coming with a different set of requirements.

Virtualization technology in IIoT

The latest virtualization technology allows systems to run multiple RTOSs and embedded OSes simultaneously, with each one running on dedicated processor cores above a hypervisor or virtual-machine (VM) software layer. This configuration enables the deterministic behavior of time-critical applications, allowing them to run unencumbered by non-real-time tasks that would otherwise compete for CPU resources on a non-virtualized system.

Developers can build systems with applications running on all the OSs simultaneously or choose to port applications to only a subset of the OSs depending on requirements. Virtualization can bring a number of benefits for industrial automation companies moving toward a consolidated model and combining functions into one controller. Reducing the BOM cost is a major one as combining functions that previously had their own chassis, PCB and thermal cooling solution into a single controller eliminates a significant amount of redundant hardware. It also means a reduction in system equipment footprint, potentially resulting in significant savings.

IIoT integration of gateways and device functionality

Figure 2: IIoT integration of gateways and device functionality

IIoT collaboration

Another aspect of the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT, is that there will be a number of suppliers, actually more like many suppliers, that will need to collaborate together to provide a complete solution. Typically led by one supplier, the interoperability of all the parts is key. Sensors, control actuators, gateway, communications networks, and management software the list can become comprehensive. Getting a simple thermostat sending data to an aggregation point such as a gateway might encounter moving data from a Modbus across to an IP network. Thankfully, translation layers and use of open system protocols and standards such as MQTT and RESTful make life easy in this “Internet of Partners”.

An increasingly common observation on large IIoT deployments concerns the available network bandwidth. Industrial robots might not generate as much telemetry information as a jet engine per hour but the operational diagnostic data from them can be significant.

Managing such machinery and devices, down to the smallest sensor in an intelligent manner is becoming crucial. For example, is there a need for every sensor-fitted light bulb to communicate to a cloud-based service? Pre-filtering data received to send only on exception message or controlling a group of lights, or perhaps lighting control passed to the gateway based on other received ambient light or movement sensor data via an API can aid reduction of unnecessary traffic without any impact on operational capability.

IIoT implementations

Available on market today are IIoT building block solutions – such as the Intel Industrial System Consolidation Series – that offer an application-ready platform by pre-integrating key software and hardware components including gateway and device functionality. Sourcing the hardware and software, integrating the hypervisor, OSs and security software, and validation of the overall solution can take as little time as six to nine months.

The result is that these types of solutions that leverage virtualization capabilities can dramatically lower risk and development time for developers and can be a highly attractive path for manufacturers in the industrial environment looking to gain lower operating expenses, factory footprint, energy consumption and support effort. Simply, it can enable a relatively easy expansion of automation in the next-generation smart factory.

[1] Berg Insight Report: http://www.berginsight.com/News.aspx?mm=6&sm=1

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About the author

John Morris is a Field Application Engineer in Intel’s Home Building and Retail team focusing on Intel’s Internet of Things Groups product portfolio. He has been with Intel for three years, plus a one year internship as part of his MEng in Electrical Engineering. Prior to his degree John was closer to the action, where as a time served electrical apprentice he was installing and commissioning networked refrigeration monitoring equipment.

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