How to dip your toes into digital transformation

“It can be overwhelming to think of the Industrial Internet of Things as an all-encompassing solution,” says Greg Giles, executive director of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Argonaut for RedViking. “So what a lot of our customers do is find a system that’s going to provide them with new functionality to solve one particular problem—perhaps a single cell or on a single machine. Even if integrated with their existing MES or SCADA package, this allows them to get their feet wet and get started with the technology.”

We chatted with Greg about taking those first steps into digital transformation. Take a look…

Smart Industry: What’s an example of an application somebody could start with one machine? 

Greg: Well, if they wanted to start with one machine, they could use an IIoT gateway to pass information of metrics of current operational conditions from that machine to an IIoT broker or an MQTT broker. That information is subscribed to by their SCADA so that data can be collected and analyzed as it trends over time. 
Smart Industry: So they could start with one machine with sensors and/or a PLC. And what do they need in order to put that into place? 

Greg: It’s pretty simple. They would need a gateway on the plant floor that would read information from a PLC or a bank of sensors and push that information to a server stack in the IT room or in the cloud. The server stack would need to include a gateway such as an MQTT broker. And then their SCADA clients could subscribe to information published by that broker. 
Smart Industry: In terms of physical devices, what gets the data off the PLC?

Greg: There are gateway devices that several manufacturers create. RedViking creates an IIOT gateway on our Argonaut software platform.

Smart Industry: What if enterprises want to get started with one operation that has multiple machines in it?

Greg: It’s really the same thing. Perhaps looking at something in a bigger system, a customer might want to think about how to configure what data is read. In that case, a system like Argonaut allows a user or an operator at a plant to configure a batch of devices at a time and push new configurations from a centralized repository. But, on the top end, it’s all the same MQTT broker. 
Smart Industry: Is it all the same for an assembly line if you’re going to do an entire line or an entire set of operations?

Greg: Yeah. It’s usually best started on a single machine to find best practices and templates that fit, then replicate those across the line or a set of different machines or different operators. 
Smart Industry: Do customers run into roadblocks with getting elements of smart manufacturing into corporate standards?

Greg: That’s probably the biggest problem with launching a system like this. There are lots of standards based upon legacy technologies; realizing that newer technology solutions can enhance your process or make deployment easier is the biggest hurdle to overcome. IIoT is a pretty easy technology to understand how it can benefit people in a process industry (mining, oil, gas) where systems are widely distributed. When it comes to discrete manufacturing, the use case gets harder just because there’s a lot of situations where discrete manufacturing needs real-time feedback. You need to know current state 100% of the time data is transmitted and received. 
Smart Industry: What’s an example of that? 

Greg: Well, let’s say I’m running a process plant where I’m hoping to collect my temperature every minute. My goal here is to try and tell my temperature over time. If you’re running a consistent process and one minute a temperature is not transmitted, it’s probably not the end of the world. You can have a gap of two minutes between two temperature readings and it’s probably not a significant risk to your production.

On the other hand, if I’m building something at a relatively high rate of speed and I need to gate check every single unit coming off the end of a line, I may want to look at a different technology because I’ll need that instantaneous response before I let something go. Or I’ll need near-instantaneous response with guaranteed delivery and guaranteed response. These kinds of topologies are possible with the IIoT, but the use case becomes a little bit more complicated.