Many of the life-changing advancements brought to bear by the Internet of Things (IoT) stem from cloud storage and cloud analytics: controlling your home with your voice, seeing inside your fridge with an app, and storing and accessing every picture ever taken of your children on any smart device from anywhere in the world. These technical marvels would be pure wizardry to anyone living 50 years ago.
Timing is essential to IIoT networking
The Industrial IoT (IIoT) doesn’t get as much mainstream attention as its consumer-oriented cousin, but it will arguably have an even greater impact on our society. The IIoT can be defined as a vast number of connected industrial systems that are communicating, coordinating, and acting on shared data to improve the performance of operational technology (OT).
By this definition, it’s tempting to think of the IIoT as simply a hardier variant of the IoT. This line of thinking has given rise to devices like IIoT gateways, which can be thought of as the fax machines of the IIoT, translating OT data for the IT infrastructure. Although gateways enable the communication of OT data to the cloud (or fog), they usually scrape away something fundamental to most IIoT systems: time.
We tolerate (barely…) some level of lag, delays, and reloads while streaming Game of Thrones on HBO GO. But these glitches cannot exist between two high-speed assembly robots or, worse yet, between a geofenced safe zone and the brakes of an autonomous earthmover.
Edge Nodes: the key to maximizing IIoT speed and reliability
Employing the IIoT to monitor and control our farms, test facilities, power grid, and factories means we must do more than simply collect and share operational data; we must also understand the importance of data latency and synchronization between our connected, industrial assets. Put simply, IIoT success hinges on the communication of the right data at the right time.
This IIoT fact of life has given rise to a layered architecture defined by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) called the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture. This IIoT architecture consists of three tiers: the Edge Tier, Platform Tier (on-premises IT), and Enterprise Tier (cloud-based IT).
In the IIoT, decisions can happen at all three tiers, and the volume and timing requirements of the data normally dictate how to architect a system. Maximizing performance and reducing unnecessary data transfers are two primary reasons for pushing decision-making down to Edge Nodes deployed at or near OT assets. In this light, IDC predicts that by 2019, at least 40% of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to, or at the edge of, the network.
Edge Nodes, like CompactRIO, can certainly maximize the speed and reliability of IIoT control loops. They also serve an important role in data reduction, feature extraction, and decision-making. For instance, by pushing machine learning models for predictive maintenance to the Edge Tier, CompactRIO can locally detect an anomaly and determine what the potential impact of the anomaly is on the lifetime performance of the asset, without burdening the IT infrastructure. From there it can work, through the less time-critical Platform and Enterprise tiers, to schedule the appropriate repair/replacement service. Flowserve, one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial and environmental machinery, is working with PTC, HPE, and our own teams to implement such a solution for their customers today.
Though the IIoT megatrend is taking the OT world by storm, our customers have been quietly adding distributed measurement and control systems to their assets for decades. With connectivity to any sensor, nanosecond analysis and control, open and connected software, and world-class ruggedness, we're uniquely positioned at the IIoT edge.
Time-sensitive networking, IIoT Lab: what we're doing to advance the IIoT
Looking to the future, we're working tirelessly with our partners to create industry standards and prove out IIoT concepts. We recently opened the Industrial IoT Lab, which showcases the latest IIoT technologies and provides a collaborative space for an expansive ecosystem of partners with different expertise to work on solutions that will change the way businesses operate.
One vital IIoT technology featured in the Industrial IoT Lab (and mentioned previously in this blog) is Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). TSN is the evolution of standard Ethernet (IEEE 802.1) to provide deterministic data transfer and Edge Node synchronization down to 100 ns. By using standard Ethernet components, the cost to achieve TSN levels of determinism and synchronization for the IIoT will be much lower than using specific cabling or boutique Ethernet variants.
We’re confident that the IIoT will benefit greatly from TSN, ensuring the secure, predictable, reliable and uninterrupted flow of information from sensor to cloud.