IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things

The hottest topics at automation events around the world are the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 concepts. We’ve gotten fancy speeches and fantastic ideas, but in the world outside the PowerPoint, we have yet to see real solutions on the market, much less in the plants. However, that may change soon.

On the 13th of June at the 2017 German Digital Summit (Digital-Gipfel) in Ludwigshafen, BASF presented a curious IIoT project. We saw high-profile industry names – Endress+Hauser, Pepperl+Fuchs, SAMSON, Hilscher, SAP – get thrown around. It sounded like kind of a big deal, and a ton of pictures popped up on the internet showing Mr. Windecker from BASF presenting the project to Chancellor Merkel.

IIoT solution: Endress+Hauser, Pepperl+Fuchs, Samson, Hilscher, and SAP
Courtesy of Digital-Gipfel

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I saw it in a video from Endress+Hauser. My general impression: “Really?” After the event, I read an article written by Timothy Kaufmann from SAP on Linkedin, giving an overview of the solution. You can read the article, my comment (in my unedited English, because I snuck out and posted while our editor was working on a product review :P), and the writer’s response.

We commented on the Emerson IIoT solution presented at the 2016 Emerson Exchange. Click the link if you want the details and my thoughts about the possibilities and limitations. I mentioned that IIoT is still stuck on the PowerPoints, but I do see interesting things happening. At Hannover Messe 2017, we got a closer look at an upcoming platform that had a lot of promise.

Today, let’s discuss the solution presented by these industry leaders and find out if there’s innovation here or just an old system with a new name.

The concept

This IIoT project combines components you can find on the market for moving data from SMART devices to the cloud. Through a nice dashboard, you can see diagnostics and more for your field devices. This concept reminds me of a plant asset management (PAM) system. There, you can use a gateway or the control system to read devices and their diagnostics, allow remote setups, and monitor all connected devices.

This system follows a different concept, though. Here you’ll get the field data only through the gateways, and the control system will only run the control. This way may reduce the risk to the control system or extensive changes in the plant to install the solution. It can also verify a device’s status constantly, without manual input from an operator.

Around 2013, a company I worked for had a contract with a big oil and gas company to have an expert in the plant. This expert had to run verifications on the PAM system, checking each device to see if it needed maintenance, calibration, and so on.  The plant had a control system with wirelessHART and HART DCS, so you can see this concept isn’t new.

The solution

IIoT, SAP, Endress+Hauser, SAMSOM, Pepperl+Fuchs
Courtesy of SAP

Here we have the layout of the system. On the left, you have field devices with HART protocol powered by the control system or an external power supply. These devices have a wirelessHART adapter to send data to the wirelessHART gateway, which then sends the data to the IoT Edge gateway. The Edge sends the goodies to the SAP HANA cloud, and finally you can see everything on the dashboard.

On the right, you can have devices with other protocols, such as PROFIBUS PA, PROFINET, and EtherNet-IP. They all send to the cloud through the Edge, so you can see their information on the dashboard as well. As you can see, both sides bypass the control system.

Okay, let me give my initial thoughts. First, wireless is one of the easiest ways to connect field devices to the cloud, cutting down on structure and costs. And wirelessHART is a good choice. Even if you don’t love it, it owns the most applications, with the majority of the big players supporting it. Sorry, ISA 100!

Second, this solution is a little late, because companies like Emerson already have smart applications with wireless. Some of these companies have plenty of experience and a wide range of products using this technology. Nothing new there.

Furthermore, including other digital protocol is a great idea, because you can broaden the range of applications. However, the problem has never been the connection but how you interpret the data. We’ll discuss this point later.

Last but not least, you have gateways to connect everything and send data to the cloud. These gateways look pretty standard to me, but someone should verify that they all work with the cloud system. Just a thought.

The components

This solution brings the following bits and bobs together, but will they add real value to your plant? Let’s look at each part of the solution and review the positive and negative aspects.

PROLINE Promass I 300 – Endress+Hauser

You’ve probably heard of or even used this flow meter, as it’s among the top five Coriolis meters on the market. However, the focus here is to use the Heartbeat Technology to provide relevant data, specifically on corrosion.

IIoT - Endress+Hauser
Courtesy of Endress+Hauser

Sure, this information is relevant, but it’s not new. Other flow meters from Endress+Hauser have the same feature. Furthermore, you can read the same data using a PAM system. Okay, maybe SAP presents the information in a way everyone can understand. We definitely could use more of that in this field. However, we already have solutions older than me on the market that offer the same level of information. If it’s good or not is another point altogether.

WirelessHART – Pepperl+Fuchs

In the Linkedin article, the writer refers to this gateway as IoT communication. In my comment on the article, I said wirelessHART is an old solution. You can find devices with this protocol from 2008! So this aspect doesn’t bring anything new, either.

WirelessHART Pepperl+Fuchs
Courtesy of Pepperl+Fuchs

Furthermore, you always need to factor in price if you want a smooth adoption of technology. I had a project at a chemical plant in Brazil where the customer broke down the price per point to decide on wireless, multiplexer, or new remote IO. This customer found that the wireless choice cost more than the other two – and more than the project could sustain. So keep that in mind.

Valves Positioners – SAMSON

I’ve worked with valves for long enough that they join the wirelessHART under the “not new” umbrella. However, they’re a critical point in the plant, so a customer will invest in these to avoid unscheduled downtime. The Samson valve positioner offers a wide list of tests and diagnostics to check valve conditions – static control behavior, dynamic control behavior, process supervision, and more.

Courtesy of SAMSON

In 2014, the company I worked for sold more than 60 wirelessHART adapter for valve monitoring to a big paper company in Brazil. Wireless is the easiest way to monitor control valves and run diagnostics remotely.

IoT Edge Gateway – Hilscher

The Hilscher gateway has an important function here. All devices will connect to the gateway, either directly or through adapters, and it will send all the information to the SAP cloud. You have different gateway options depending on your field protocol. Best of all, SAP certified this gateway to work with the cloud.

Asset Intelligence Network and Cloud – SAP

This is the heart of this solution, for sure! All the other components use old concepts, but the cloud and the dashboard are the keys to really call this an IIoT solution. Otherwise it’s just another condition monitoring system.

The video below lets the company reps explain a bit. Check it out, then scroll down to my thoughts afterward.

The review

My first comment revolves around the look of the platform. It has a clear dashboard that looks easy to navigate. Design plays a big role in IIoT, because you need to provide an excellent user experience!

Courtesy of SAP

You can see a few small problems with the design if you look closely,  leading me to believe that they haven’t finalized it yet. Yeah, maybe it’s nitpicky, but as I said before, the user experience can make a big difference here. Of course, the field data itself matters more than small details like this.

Courtesy of SAP

The device interface is clear, giving you all the information you need on the device, but I didn’t see anything beyond what you can see in a PAM system. It looks better and seems to work well, but can my non-technical sister understand what’s going on? That would demonstrate real clarity!

Courtesy of SAP

The conclusion and important questions

Let’s split it up. On the field side, you have common devices, most of them already available on the market with standard protocols. You can gather all their data now if you want, with a web browser on the PROMASS 300, or the Pepperl+Fuchs gateway, or with a PAM system to read Samson’s positioners.

On the system side, the SAP platform is huge and you have a lot of possibilities on it. I have to admit that its display is better than all the PAM systems on the market, but we have higher hopes for IIoT solutions anyway.

Moreover, what if I want to add a third-party device from yet another vendor to this system? Can I read all the information from it? Imagine meter verification from a Micro Motion or a valve signature from a Fischer positioner. And what about other devices besides flow meters and valves? Which kind of range does this system have?

Frankly, I’m still waiting for a platform to provide good data independent of the brand! Am I asking too much? Drop me a comment below and let me know.

Courtesy of Giphy.com
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