How many edge devices does your Industrial Cloud Analytics Solution require?

How many edge devices does your Industrial Cloud Analytics Solution Require?

Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect
Steven Garbrecht - Chief Digital Architect

I have worked with a few cloud analytics solutions over the last few years and they all seem to have one thing in common. If approached in isolation, the cloud architecture may specify several IOT edge devices; as many as one for each machine in your plant. Furthermore, you may utilize multiple cloud vendors, where each may require a different IOT edge device to connect. An example may be one vendor for asset performance management and another for manufacturing operations management analytics. This may be reduced if you go with a single vendor but this is not always possible as it limits choice. These devices are typically inexpensive, anywhere from $100 to $1,000, but do you really need that many connection points to accomplish the job?

For each cloud edge device that you have, there’s a technical debt that is incurred in the form of a new connection point to be secured and also the ongoing need to send updates to the device periodically as cloud software revisions are released. This is called Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment or CICD and is something that DevOps-based systems have been taking advantage of for many years, behind the scenes for ERP systems for example. This works well in the business world, but there are special considerations for real-time operations management and manufacturing environments in the area of availability, network performance, security and systems management where an architecture that requires a myriad of connections can be problematic.

There may be an even more fundamental problem in that many cloud software vendors have a great deal of expertise in IT-based solutions, but when it comes to organizing information at the shop floor level, with a myriad of PLCs, control systems, historians, databases and sensors, they lack the specific knowledge on how to approach things in a more holistic fashion. Fortunately, there are solutions today that scale very well and take into account security, communication performance, common namespace as well as development productivity. By using a Data Bridge configuration, the need for multiple IOT gateways to enable a cloud solution is dramatically reduced. One such product that can enable a Data Bridge solution is Siemens WinCC Open Architecture (OA) software which is a SCADA platform and a whole lot more. In many cases, a single gateway can be employed to accomplish the transfer of real-time and historical information to the cloud. Furthermore, the results of analytics and number crunching that occurs at the cloud level can be sent back down to the shop floor via the Data Bridge to adjust setpoints automatically based on analytical results. This provides a secure, bidirectional interface with enterprise applications and can close the loop on supply chain optimization.