2016 – summer Issue

Manufacturing & the Internet of Things

Manufacturing data collection presents unique challenges for system integrators. From various protocols, platforms, standards, and implementations, the sea of possibilities for designing and integrating a data collection model can be difficult to navigate. As a leader in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics, Interstates provides valuable insight to customers on best practices and methods for production environment data collection. Newer technologies introduced with the Internet of Things (IoT) provide simpler, intuitive ways for an organization to integrate data collection and drive business decisions.

Past data collection systems aggregate data from many different programs, machines, and databases throughout an environment. Leveraging all of the data to make decisions can be challenging, requiring data manipulation and formatting to acquire sources for analysis. Custom middleware applications are developed for specific-use cases but are not always designed to add new data sources on the fly. With the flexibility of IoT products, data models can be seamlessly integrated into a system without the need for additional wiring, power, or network capacity. New sensors can be added to the network without threatening the controls network infrastructure, shifting focus from the data collection process to the data itself.

IoT products also provide network benefits for data collection systems. Network communication between sensors is typically a mesh network where each device can communicate directly to all devices within radio range. This allows a mesh network to achieve a wider range based on the number of devices; packets can ?hop? from one device to another, eventually heading back to some sort of gateway device. Mesh networks are self-forming, self-healing, and self-optimizing to maintain robust communication over a wireless network.

Security remains a major concern with IoT products coming to market. Endpoints must be secured to protect the external network, and connecting devices must authenticate to the gateway in order to create internal network trust. Authorized devices must be able to verify the gateway as the proper gateway through which to transmit data, while unauthorized devices must be blocked from connecting to the mesh network. Solutions typically implement a key exchange system for encryption and a credential-based login service for device authorization.

To keep pace with emerging technologies, Interstates recently completed R&D projects to investigate and compare different IoT products. Findings indicated a multitude of solutions within the IoT space, from all-in-one solutions with minimal setup to dynamic solutions that can communicate through Machine-to-Machine (M2M) protocols such as MQTT. All-in-one solutions require simple configuration and provide an end user with immediate data collection and analysis. Dynamic systems give the integrator much more flexibility, allowing for integration into existing systems or aggregation into any database with appropriate middleware. In order for Interstates to continue to deliver the best solutions for customers, understanding the strengths of different IoT products is key.