Much is being made of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the associated need for wireless connectivity for industrial sensors. The concept of instrumenting “things,” such as machines, pumps, pipelines and rail cars with sensors is not new to the industrial world. Purpose-built sensors and networks already proliferate in industrial settings ranging from oil refineries to manufacturing lines. Historically, these networks have met a high bar for network reliability and security that simply cannot be met with consumer technology. In particular, the way these sensors are networked determines whether the sensors can be safely, securely and cost-effectively deployed in the harsh environments typical of industrial applications. As it pertains to industrial-grade reliable and secure wireless sensor networks, Linear Technology’s Dust Networks product group has pioneered several key technologies that are now part of key wireless networking standards, including WirelessHART (IEC62591) and the emerging 6TiSCH IETF standard. These wireless networking standards are specifically designed to address the needs of industrial applications, summarised below.

Reliability, security first

Reliability and security come first. Unlike consumer applications, where cost is often the most important system attribute, industrial applications typically rate reliability and security at the top of the list. In OnWorld’s global survey of industrial WSN users, reliability and security are the two most important concerns cited. This is not surprising if you consider that a company’s profitability, the quality and efficiency with which they produce goods and worker safety often rely on these networks. This is why reliability and security are essential for industrial wireless sensor networks. Industrial IoT is not installed by wireless experts. For the most part, established industries are adding Industrial IoT products and services to their legacy products, and their customers are deploying in environments with a mix of old and new equipment. The intelligence embodied in industrial WSN must confer an ease of use to Industrial IoT products that make transitions seamless to the existing field personnel. Also, systems should be available for global deployment, since the widespread adoption of Industrial IoT by end users is often companywide, and requires multisite standardization.

Practicality of deployment

Sensors anywhere. For Industrial IoT applications, the precise placement of a sensor or control point is critical. Wireless technology offers the promise of no-wires communication, but if you need to power a wireless node by plugging it in, or recharge it every few hours or even months, the cost and impracticality of deployment become prohibitive. Visibility to network operation is key. Industrial networks are required to run continuously for many years, yet no matter how robust a network is, problems can still occur. The quality of a network that works well at installation may be affected by a variety of environmental factors during its operating life. IIoT networks should include the ability to self-diagnose, self-heal and alert users and operators if issues arise. In business critical industrial applications, wireless sensor networks must meet a high bar for smart, security and reliable wire-free operation over many years. These stringent requirements can be met with existing and emerging wireless mesh networks standards, which will be key building blocks to help industrial customers transform their businesses and services in the Industrial IoT era.

Joy Weiss, President, Dust Networks Products, Linear Technology Corp., was CEO of Dust Networks when it was acquired by Linear Technology in 2011. Before that, she was President & CEO of Inviso, an award winning private microdisplay company, and she began her career at Nortel Networks where she rose to the position of President and GM of the Network Management division. Joy is also on the board of Playworks, a national non-profit organization. She holds a BSEE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.