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Combining disparate protocols for industrial IoT

30 Sep 2014  | Mike Fahrion

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My colleague has been addressing many of these issues at a test site out in the Arizona Desert. It's a tank monitoring system for a well owners' co-op. Among other things, the system predicts system failures by measuring and aggregating pump current, and making decisions based on changes detected over time. It can send a text message to a technician to schedule preemptive maintenance before a catastrophic failure.

In an earlier incarnation, it used I/O radios to transmit data from pressure sensors, current sensors and level sensors to a radio modem. The radio modem then connected to a 3G cellular router, which provided Internet backhaul via the cellular telephone network.

Connecting industrial IoT

The router had built-in firewalls and powerful security protocols, and when combined with Virtual Private Networking (VPN) it was able to use the cellular system as securely as if it were proprietary infrastructure

New features and functionality have been steadily added. An IP security camera is now attached to the router's Ethernet port, for example. Remote Wi-Fi sensors have also been added, which bypass the I/O radios and connect directly to the cellular router.

When the project began, with the I/O radios reporting their data to the cellular router, I think it would be fair to say that the cellular router was simply being used as a protocol converter with cellular backhaul. But as additional devices and protocols have been added to the system, it is taking better advantage of the router's ability to function as a data aggregator with multiple backhaul options – see figure below.

Connecting industrial IoT

The system has migrated away from the old Internet model, and has begun to apply the techniques of the Internet of Things.

But you'll note that there was no need to discard the old remote sensors. They're still connected, and they're still doing their jobs.

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