From mining to agriculture to transport and logistics, there is an increasing demand to connect the physical world to the digital world, in some of the world’s remotest locations.
The challenges of multiple asset types, compressed timelines, security, control and many different back-office applications bring a level of complexity that seems daunting to many organisations. It is often this level of perceived complexity that can stop Industrial IoT (IIoT) projects being fully deployed.
I believe that IIoT should be simple: anything should be able to talk to anything, no matter how remote the location or how many data points there are.
Although, right now it can seem anything but: we are seeing instances where even one deployment, for one organisation, is facing huge challenges in controlling where and when data is sent and how the solution adapts in time to the business’ shifting priorities.
So, what do businesses need to do if they are going to take advantage of IIoT and not drown in complexity? And what is a good IIoT connectivity partner doing to make the Industrial Internet of Things simple?
The first step on the road to simple, effective IIoT is to speak with a trusted advisor who can take away the complexity of connecting the physical world with the applications that will empower your business. Explain what outcomes you are trying to achieve and leave the design, build, management and evolution of the solution to them.
Smart trusted advisors are adopting a “Publish-Subscribe” mentality. This isn’t rocket science. It recognises that some things publish data and some things need to subscribe to that data, and they need to be connected.
The connection and ongoing management of an IIoT deployment is enabled through a stack of technologies, a connectivity platform. On an ongoing basis, businesses shouldn’t worry about this part; they just need to have confidence it will work.
But, as this platform enables the “Publish-Subscribe” mentality to work, I want to explain what its technologies are and how they are used.
The key technologies, from the ground to the cloud, are sensors with edge connectivity, intelligent (software-defined) edge gateways, flexible core connectivity, and a cloud-based application which manages the platform and its data from the edge to the cloud. This cloud-based application should be as open as possible, to connect with as many potential applications as possible, with agnostic access to any of the large public cloud providers infrastructure.
All of this should be supported by high-uptime Service Level Agreements (SLAs), the relevant skill-sets, end-to-end security and a strong partner eco-system.
So back to the problems of some IIoT deployments and why this approach gets around them…
Rather than many deployments which only focus on single-use cases and are very inflexible once deployed, this “Publish-Subscribe” enabling IIoT style is much more flexible and allows anything to connect to anything, anywhere, as well as the adaptation of deployments in step with a business’ shifting priorities.
A clever enabler here is the software-defined Intelligent Edge Gateway (IEG). These gateways have the downstream capability to connect multiple different things at the edge, over multiple connection types such as Low Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ethernet, using industry-standard field protocols from simple analogue / digital IO to more complex ModBUS, CAN-bus or OPC UA.
Within each IEG there is a software library which holds common use cases, so a single IEG can potentially be used for all kinds of vertical solutions. This means that in most situations the use cases will be quick to deploy from the cloud-based platform, ensuring a more immediate, cheaper and more flexible solution for the business.
Looking at data flow the other way, returning upstream from the edge, the cloud platform should provide the maximum data interoperability, with the flexibility to go anywhere and solve any business issue.
And finally let’s not forget the core connectivity which must be able to support the connection from the edge to the cloud, anywhere in the world. The resilience, mobility and global scope of satellite mean it is the perfect connectivity type for supporting IIoT deployments anywhere, but a trusted partner will help you choose the best combination for your connectivity needs, be it satellite, cellular or fibre.
So, there you have it: anything-connected-to-anything Industrial IoT simplified.
Your next step? Simple. Speak to us and tell us what you want to achieve.
About the author
Tara MacLachlan is Vice President of Industrial Internet of Things, Inmarsat Enterprise. Tara joined the business from Eurotech Group, one of the leading players in the IIoT space. She has devoted her career to being an advocate for the IoT, speaking at many major events across Europe and delivering solutions for brands including Royal Mail, DHL, Heidelberg Druckmaschinen, Whitbread and Walmart.