Keeping an eye on the things that drive the IIoT

15 June 2021

Much of the excitement about the Industrial Internet of Things revolves around the data that can be generated. The ‘things’ that gather this data are often overshadowed. Suzanne Gill spoke to device vendors to get their thoughts on the value of ‘things.

Dr. Christoph Spiegel, strategic product group manager at KROHNE Group, was quick to point out how vital the ‘things’ are to the success of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). “Production processes cannot be virtualised, so sensors are needed to feed the digital representation of the physical process into the superordinate systems,” he said. “Process optimisation, driven through what is possible in the IIoT world, offers new insights into the existing physical process but this is only possible with the right sensors in place. Even if it comes to the deployment of artificial intelligence for process optimisation and predictive maintenance, reliable data must still be acquired from the physical process.” The products deployed across the production floor are not purely digital – they contain true hardware designed to provide the required data even under harshest process conditions.

“Connectivity consists of three aspects – interface, protocol and semantics,” continues Spiegel. “Interfaces and protocols are already there, we have 4/20 mA with HART, various fieldbuses and industrial Ethernet to choose from. To unleash the full power of multivariable sensors and their built-in diagnostic functions, digital interfaces are needed. In the brownfield, HART and its entire ecosystem are already in place and can provide the required data. Meanwhile, in greenfield sites, Ethernet is most likely to be the preferred technology in the future.” 

Condition monitoring
Gary Ingram, sales manager for reliability solutions at Emerson, focusses on a particular area where IIoT is offering solutions. “Traditionally, condition monitoring of balance of plant equipment has relied heavily on manual vibration measurements, performed as infrequently as once per month. It could take several days to take readings from and analyse specific pieces of equipment merely to identify which devices require further investigation,” he said.

While online vibration monitoring provides continuous updates, installation costs and complexity has meant this technology has been reserved for the most critical assets in the plant such as turbines and compressors. In both manual and online cases the data collected requires manual interpretation and analysis from trained experts, often performed externally.

“This is one area in particular that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been embraced,” said Ingram. “New wireless and edge monitoring devices are providing users with up to the moment process and condition monitoring results, with automated analytics and actionable alerts to support more efficient and predictive maintenance strategies.

“New IIoT and edge analytics solutions have lowered the cost of implementing online solutions and expanded the range of equipment that can be monitored. Compact and rugged devices with the necessary processing power, allow edge analytics to compliment manual based activities,” said Ingram. “These devices are providing access to online data and then transforming that data into actionable information. This helps, not only in terms identifying issues before they escalate, but also increasing the efficiency of maintenance teams.”

AMS Asset Monitor from Emerson, for example, can bridge the gap between routine inspections and higher cost online data collection by combining pervasive sensing with edge analytics. The monitor utilises vibration, temperature, digital and analogue inputs from traditional sensors and then applies embedded automated analytics to alert personnel to the most common faults associated with the asset. “Traditionally, sensing technologies for process and condition monitoring have been siloed in different applications. The ability to combine these different data types, helps to provide a better picture of the health of the machine or asset,” said Ingram.

“These devices are very simple to deploy, designed for easy field mounting at the asset, eliminating the need for expensive, cumbersome components such as long sensor field cables, junction boxes, barriers, cable trays, and long cable runs back to the system rack and the associated labour to install them.”

“Once the data is collected and analysed, the monitor can send overall asset health status and alerts, with detailed asset information available on a user’s mobile device. Trend values can be stored internally along with the most recent spectrum and waveform data. Each application offers default alert settings for out of the box use without requiring specialised training.” 

“The advantage, is that the information is now readily available to operations, allowing maintenance personal to understand which equipment needs attention, allowing them to focus their time on examining and repairing those assets rather than having to take readings from every device, which is time-consuming.”

Sustainable solutions 
Creating long-term, sustainable solutions in which legacy products can continue to play a part, relies on backwards compatibility of devices. “If you build high quality sensors and instrumentation that will last decades, it is important that they don’t become obsolete and unusable in future systems,” explained Doug Anderson, UK marketing manager at Vega Controls.

At the turn of the century, VEGA founded its PLICS modular product system for instrumentation, a concept designed to run through all of its  devices – from sensor configuration to commissioning – it offers a unified structure across all measuring principles. The idea was that there would be one platform for all main technology ranges – choose a sensor type, process connection, electronics communication/option and housing that most suits your needs. “Many years later and the benefits of this unified platform continue to be manifold,” said Anderson.

He believes that one of the most important achievements of the PLICs approach was being able to add Bluetooth to the ‘universal’ PLICSCOM programmers which enables users to simply ‘click it on’ to a transmitter built as long ago as 2002 to gain instant access to Bluetooth wireless set up, diagnostics, monitoring and back-up via a free App. Bluetooth is now standard on many sensors and switches for set up, diagnostics, process and asset management.

“It is equally important to look to the future when it comes to the design of smart devices,” said Anderson. New products will be needed to meet new challenges and we believe that the VEGA 80 GHz radar chip does just that. The development of this energy-efficient chip has enabled the launch of a new range of wireless IIoT radar sensors. Each of these new sensors come with 10 years battery life and have measuring ranges up to 30m for liquids and solids. They also benefit from seamless integration to the SaaS VEGA Inventory system and API servers. These sensors will be helping innovation in industrial manufacturing for years to come by driving efficiency. 

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