Earlier this year Advantech, Behr Technologies (BTI), Hitachi Solutions America, and Microsoft, announced that they would be collaborating on delivering wireless communications solutions for private industrial internet of things (IIoT) networks.
While they acknowledged that no single technology provider can enable the IIoT alone, this group effort is thought to be one of the first that looks to provide a mass-market, end-to-end wireless gateway solution to ensure connectivity with sensors for production-level industrial and commercial applications.
“What we are looking to deliver is much greater scalability, the deepest possible building penetration, integration and interoperability with legacy systems, together with a much longer battery life for nodes,” explained Tze Chiew, Product Sales Manager at Advantech.
“As separate businesses we have had to focus on different areas of the IIoT,” Chiew said. “The industrial market is maturing and is being driven by the need to raise productivity and reduce costs.
“That’s being achieved by collecting more data, ensuring improved levels of connectivity and providing real time analysis to support the decision-making process.”
The adoption of communication technologies in manufacturing has evolved over several decades, explains Chiew, with protocols such as Ethernet/IP, EtherCAT, and Profinet serving as the backbone for time-sensitive automation and control applications.
While industrial Ethernet and classical fieldbus technologies tend to be suited for real-time automation and process control, they can be cost-prohibitive and too cumbersome when connecting huge numbers of sensors for remote monitoring to the cloud.
“The increasing prevalence of sensors connected via the industrial internet of things (IIoT) to provide information for data-driven applications like predictive maintenance are, however, now driving the need for a complementary communications infrastructure,” Chiew explained.
According to Chiew,”Most companies in this space are having to look at retrofitting existing machinery to optimise production processes. Few, I would say under 5 percent, are customers looking to invest in new production lines.”
That brings with it particular challenges when it comes to installation and opens up the possibility of installing wireless solutions, which are particularly suitable when it comes to retrofits.
“That’s due to the ease of installation and supporting any future expansion,” explained Chiew. “We are seeing more wireless solutions being implemented in production environments to provide an additional layer for efficient sensor communication.”
These types of wireless solutions however, require industry-grade robustness, the ability to integrate massive end-points across the entire factory, network longevity, low power requirements, and cost-efficiency.
Chiew suggested that developments in the industrial space were less revolutionary, more evolutionary.
“What is truly revolutionary in this space is what Cloud providers are able to do with the data that’s collected. And we’re seeing an industry in flux as more manufacturers embrace the Cloud, while Microsoft, for example, appears to be moving towards developing hardware.
“The middle part of the market, where Advantech is located, is where things are converging.”
The collaboration between Advantech, BTI, Hitachi Solutions and Microsoft is intended to meet a growing demand for robust and comprehensive out-of-the-box wireless IIoT communications solutions.
“Underpinning this joint effort is BTI MIOTY, a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) communications solution, that uses the ETSI standard telegram splitting ultra-narrow band (TS-UNB) technical specification for low throughput networks,” Chiew explained.
Telegram Splitting – Ultra Narrow Band (TS-UNB) has been developed and recently approved as a global ETSI standard for low throughput networks (TS 103 357). Transmission of a telegram (data packet) is divided into short radio-bursts (sub-packets), which means that the new Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) standard avoids problems such as interference and avoids the issue of long on air time, which can impact power usage and overall performance.
“By using industry-standard Advantech gateways, BTI MIOTY is able to transmit up to 1.5million messages per day, within a radius of five to 15 kilometres, with no carrier requirements.”
As we’ve already seen, the retrofit market is dominating this space and wireless instrumentation can be easily deployed without interrupting functioning processes, while at the same time, satisfying demanding industrial requirements.
In terms of range, power, and costs, LPWAN are expected to be the standard IIoT communications infrastructure, covering the entire industrial facility and supporting a multitude of uses cases, from simple temperature monitoring in a manufacturing plant, to condition monitoring, energy consumption tracking and worker safety.
LPWAN is able to address a number of major drawbacks associated with other short-range radio technologies (e.g. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and cellular connectivity in large-scale IIoT deployments.
With a range varying from a few metres to more than 10 kilometres and deep indoor penetration, LPWAN enables effective sensor communication in remote and underground industrial complexes, and fills other cellular coverage gaps
The potential for IIoT in manufacturing facilities is seen as being ‘boundless’.
For example, when coupled with a powerful analytics platform, sensor networks will be able to provide inputs that will enable condition monitoring and analysis of past equipment failures to detect causes and anticipate fault probabilities in the future.
IoT Service Hub
Hitachi Solutions’ IoT Service Hub will enable organisations to connect and monitor devices and analyse the data in real time.
“Using the Service Hub, customers will be able to aggregate andn analyse equipment telemetry data in real time. The actionable insights provided will allow them to be more predictive and proactive, ensuring a safer and more productive environment with more efficient and cost-effective operations,” according to Chiew.
IIoT is a “team sport” and Advantech, BTI, Hitachi Solutions and Microsoft have come together to build a scalable, mass-market offering which includes deep building penetration with extremely long battery life, which is a signature of LPWAN networking approaches.
The Edge Intelligence Server provides a device-to-cloud solution at the edge. With WISE-PaaS EdgeSense IoT software built into Advantech’s gateway, it is able to provide connectivity and manageability at the edge to simplify IIoT applications.
Microsoft’s involvement comes with the Azure Cloud. The company continues to reach out to the very edge of the IoT and IIoT, a market Microsoft is clearly seen as valuing as it continues to expand its enterprise strategy.
The combination of Azure services and BTI MIOTY, means that customers can implement cost effective and highly scalable solutions to facilitate the “last mile” of communication for messages delivered from sensors to the Cloud.
The first application resulting from this collaboration is a new and, what some consider, unique approach to workforce safety using the BTI MIOTY LPWAN wireless solution on an industry-standard gateway.
Using a wearable device to monitor the heart rate of workers in industrial high-risk environments, data on the health of hundreds of workers can now be transmitted over unlicensed, sub-gigahertz frequencies via BTI MIOTY to a single Advantech base station.
From the base station it is communicated to the Microsoft Cloud, where Hitachi Solutions’ IoT Service Hub can provide actionable insights on workers’ health and send alerts when workers are in danger.
Employers, such as mining site operators, can deploy this end-to-end solution to protect their workforce with a much improved level of responsiveness, at a fraction of the cost of previously available technologies.
“BTI MIOTY has been specifically developed for massive and lowest-cost LPWAN communications and is poised to be the commercial standard for wireless IIoT connectivity,” said Chiew and, “the use cases are endless. We think that it will deliver a wireless IIoT solution that is unique in the market.”
According to Chiew, “By working with our broad partner ecosystem, I believe we are now ushering in a new era of IoT communication that will enable organisations to better realise the promise of industrial automation in ways that were not previously possible.”