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Developing IoT for industrial control (Part 1)

Posted: 29 Jan 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IPv6  6LoWPAN  Internet Protocol  IP  Internet of Things 

These days, virtually all IP-connected devices, wired and wireless, can be connected. It has been possible since 2000, when IPv6 was first introduced, and 2007, when the 6LoWPAN wireless networking extension was released. Such networks, known as the "Internet of Things," are now generating interest among developers of industrial-control networks. These industrial systems connect to both external and internal Internet Protocol (IP) networks through gateways that require custom provisioning and programming to expose the necessary data to the enterprise systems. Invariably, the gateway constrains what information can pass back and forth, and its configuration is difficult to evolve to support new requirements. To provide the benefits of a common IP communications infrastructure, the advanced communications requirements of these systems must be addressed.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), however, is just one of three main classes of IP-enabled connected devices. The two other main categories are consumer and machine-to-machine devices (figure 1).

Figure 1: Currently there are three main Internet Protocol (IP) enabled Internet of Things (IoT) categories: consumer, machine to machine and industrial machines to machines.

Consumer IoT. Unlike the industrial environment, consumer IoT is non-real-time and non-deterministic and characterized by a human interacting with a device. Viewing a video on a cell phone, or starting up an exercise monitor to send your statistics to your account in the cloud, are examples of consumer IoT applications. In case of failure, a human is there to recover or restart the application. In the consumer IoT, communications run between client/server and are often streaming large amounts of data.

This is very different than IIoT, where, in terms of reliability and determinism, the requirements are a superset of the main IoT requirements. This segment of the IoT market includes two main categories: Machine to Machine (M2M) application monitoring and a superset of traditional M2M called Machines to Machines networking for autonomous, peer-to-peer distributed control.

Machine to Machine. Typical of client/server-based application-monitoring architecture of M2M are vehicle-tracking systems, systems that monitor a building's mechanisms for signs of wear, or systems that track mobile hospital equipment. This class of applications uses client/server communications and sends smaller amounts of data. For example, a data record might include the device identifier, position coordinates, and a time stamp.

Most important in these communications is the reliability of communications because there is no human operator or user to aid in recovery from error. Another crucial reliability factor is that the items the data locates are valuable, as well as the knowledge of where they are at any given point. Cost is incurred when the information is not available or is unreliable.

Machines-to-Machines-based IIoT
Much more demanding than either consumer IoT or traditional M2M are Industrial IoT applications (figure 2), is a communications-emphasis class of Machines-to-Machines communications where the application uses autonomous, peer-to-peer distributed control.

Figure 2: The Industrial Internet of Things is characterized by many-to-many connections where groups of nodes work together on a single task.

Using the plural 'machines' versus the singular 'machine' is important because in these many-to-many applications, groups of nodes work together to accomplish a single task. For example, a baggage- handling machine in an airport senses luggage moving on a conveyor belt. It identifies the luggage by reading a bar code and then nudges the suitcase to the correct next conveyer belt based on the bar code.

Then, further along, another node makes a routing decision as multiple conveyor belts converge. For these systems, the communications requirements are not merely client/server. Instead, the nodes act as peers on the network, each making decisions and reporting status to the other nodes.

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