Edging closer to optimised IIoT

A combination of cloud computing and edge computing is now the recognised optimum solution for IIoT. TME points the way

Cloud computing has been a big driving force behind the digital industrial transformation, particularly Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and rising levels of industrial automation. However, using the cloud for data management and storage no longer represents the whole picture. Edge computing, in conjunction with cloud computing (processing data locally, then sending it to the cloud) is becoming an indispensable element of the Industry 4.0 concept.

As smart devices increase, there is growing demand for data processing by units ‘on the edge’. Edge computing can minimise bandwidth and improve response times by storing and managing data close to where its required. This allows use of edge servers in a much wider range of applications.

Typical edge devices include sensors for controlling lighting and heating. These applications illustrate the benefits to having sensors close to the computing power, not least the cost savings achieved by reducing the data that must be transferred across long distances and/or stored in the cloud.

There are several potential pitfalls for users looking to export sensor data directly to the cloud, including: network latency; poor system integration; high data management costs; and IT security vulnerabilities. For these reasons, it is acknowledged that local is best and edge computing can have beneficial impacts on the adoption of Industry 4.0 systems.

Harting industrial computer with Ethernet port and 32GB flash


Reducing risk, increasing agility

Edge computing can reduce risks when connecting devices and sharing data; increase flexibility and agility within organisations; reduce the amount of irrelevant data processed; and ensure low and predictable latency levels. Finally, in a manufacturing environment, where edge computing can integrate with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and deliver data processing in real-time, a company can speed up its automation process by keeping things local.

A cornerstone of this approach (and influential factor in the widespread adoption of automation) is the ability to process data locally via robust, reliable, customisable and easy-to-use solutions suited to industrial environments. Solutions include industrial controllers and communication systems which help make the installation and application of Industry 4.0 networks more feasible to set up and more straightforward to operate.

Industry 4.0 requires tools that facilitate automation and help to process and share data. Special interfaces and devices are required, including communication cards compatible with various bus types, industrial modules, connection leads, and efficient, lightweight panel computers.

One solution is based around a range of edge-based industrial controllers from Brainboxes. These units offer two-way transmission, where components communicate with a department of engineers who interpret the data. This transmission requires communication cards compatible with various buses. One example is Brainboxes’ PCI Express bus supported by the IX-100 card. Compatible with Windows, Linux and other operating systems, the IX-100 features overvoltage protection and measures just 120 x 76 x 18. The plug-and-play card provides one industry standard nine-pin RS-232 serial COM port in a single PCIe slot.

Robust and easy to connect

To use advanced communications technology in an IIoT environment, it is important to use robust converters and I/O modules capable of connecting easily to devices. The Adam-4520-EE isolated RS-232 to RS-422/RS-485 converter from Advantech is supplied in a durable ABS enclosure, measures 70 x 122 x 30mm and has power consumption of 1.2W @ 24V DC.

Also worthy of consideration when using industrial computers in hostile environments is efficient flash memory and a choice of operating systems. For example, Harting’s 2095000000300 industrial computer with Ethernet port and 32GB flash memory has an IP67 rating which protects against dirt and humidity. Measuring 132 x 86 x 35, this unit has 1GB RAM and uses Power over Ethernet or 12V DC/24V DC. The modular hardware and software design lets users, development engineers and system integrators create integrated industry projects quickly and efficiently.

Advantech converter connects easily to devices

Because Industry 4.0 requires all devices to be connected to the same network, a single power source is vital. Power over Ethernet makes this possible, using the same network cable that transfers data. This can help provide substantial cost reductions, as shown with the industrial gigabit Antaira LNP-0500G-24 PoE switch which has a metal housing, five access ports and a built-in voltage booster. Manufactured by Antaira Technologies, the product suits applications demanding high power PoE power in harsh environments. These include security surveillance, traffic monitoring systems, oil/gas and mining applications, facilities management for power/utility, water/wastewater treatment plants and automated production lines in smart factories.