Wireless Interoperability Fuels the Industrial Internet of Things

  • November 20, 2017
  • ABB
  • Feature
Wireless Interoperability Fuels the Industrial Internet of Things
Wireless Interoperability Fuels the Industrial Internet of Things

By Bert Williams, Director, Global Marketing, ABB Wireless

As we move toward industrial things being digital and connected, putting in place the right communications infrastructure is a critical piece of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) equation. Connectivity is required to ensure that data is meaningful and actionable.

Industrial things come from a variety of manufacturers, employ a variety of wired and wireless interfaces and protocols (many of which are proprietary), range from new to very old, and have widely varying degrees of intelligence. For the IIoT to deliver maximum value for automated processes, the homogenous, IP-based world of IIoT cloud platforms must communicate with the heterogeneous, divergent world of industrial things.

For example, in distribution utilities, the universe of industrial things includes a multitude of hardware components. Smart meters and other advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) devices, feeder automation components including capacitor bank controllers, recloser controllers and voltage sensors are commonly listed. Substation automation devices such as load tap changers and remote terminal units (RTUs), and streetlight control systems are also part of the equation.  

Interoperability is key, but it is also a fundamental challenge of IIoT communications – the homogenous, IP-based world of IIoT cloud platforms must seamlessly communicate with a divergent alphanumeric soup of industrial things, and must do so reliably and securely. An interoperability gateway that can mediate between the homogenous and divergent sides of the IIoT is a baseline requirement for the IIoT to deliver maximum value (figure 1).


Figure 1. Wireless Interoperability Gateway

The requirement for supported protocol on the network side, i.e., the interfaces that point toward the IIoT cloud platforms, of the interoperability gateway is clear – it must be IP. There are, however, a variety of network-side wireless interfaces that must be supported, albeit fewer than on the “industrial thing”-side. These wireless interfaces include numerous variants of IEEE’s wireless 802.11, 802.15.4 standards as well as public and private long-term evolution (LTE) wireless standards. Ideally, the network side can connect to the core IP network using any standard wireless or wired interface.


Interoperable Wireless Communications Fills the Need

A new generation of wireless interoperability gateways is emerging. These interoperability gateways support standard IP communications and an array of wireless interfaces on the network side. They must also support a variety of wired and wireless interfaces, as well as a diverse set of protocols, on the industrial thing or device side. In many ways, these wireless interoperability gateways are analogous to cell phones with the capabilities required for the IIoT.

Modern cell phones provide an IP over LTE, 3G, 2.5G or Wi-Fi connections on the network side. They also support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless, as well as wired USB and an audio jack, on the device side. Wireless interoperability gateways are similar, but must support a much wider array of client side interfaces and protocols.

On the device or industrial thing side, the job of wireless interoperability gateways is very different than that of a cell phone. Interoperability gateways must support a much wider range of protocols such as Modbus, DNP3, IEC 61850, Fieldbus, Wi-SUN, Wireless HART and more running over a larger variety of wired and wireless interfaces such as 10/100/1000 BASE-T Ethernet, RS-232 and RS-485 serial, 802.11a/b/g/n, 802.15.4, and others. They must also have the intelligence to convert traffic using these protocols to IP traffic.

To complete the cell phone analogy, wireless interoperability gateways provide edge computing capability similar to the way cell phones can run apps. Edge computing is especially important when industrial things connected to the interoperability gateway lack intelligence. In this case, edge computing can, for example, enhance security by adding firewall and virtual private network (VPN) capability at the edge of the network, the ports where the industrial things attach.


Benefits of Wireless Interoperability Gateways

Connecting industrial things to IIoT cloud platforms closes the loop, supplying the real-time data needed to augment processes, gain insight, and optimize control of operations to enhance safety, reduce outages and increase efficiency.

Further, by supporting legacy, as well as current and emerging interfaces and protocols, wireless interoperability gateways enable new IIoT capabilities by extending interoperability to field installed industrial things, extending the life of past investment and avoiding stranded assets.


Cloud and Big Data

While wireless interoperability gateways enable IIoT, advanced cloud platforms with the integration of artificial intelligence can now provide organizations with the ability to cross collaborate and intelligently act on and unleash the full potential of data. Big data, connectivity, control systems, smart sensors and other technologies have been largely isolated from each other until now. By bringing all the available data together on one common technology platform, utilities cansecurely integrate and aggregate their data, combine with wider industry data, apply big data and predictive analytics, and generate insights that can help them drive performance and productivity improvements.

IIoT can greatly improve automation efficiency and production for industrial organizations and many companies are already benefiting from cost savings and improved safety. Wireless interoperability gateways provide the means for greater connectivity and the most amount of data; an advanced cloud platform provides actionable intelligence; IIoT provides a better bottom line. 

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