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My First IIoT Application: Part I

My First IIoT Application: Part I

Written by Ron Batra

I wanted to share some work we had done a few years ago, as what can be described today as “exploratory steps” in IIoT. The use-case and graphics presented here are simplified to keep a focus on key items. 

This was an Industrial Automation project essentially. Figure 1 shows the layout before the first phase of automation was completed.

Figure 1- Pre Automation State

The business problems we were trying to solve were:

  1. Efficiency: A lot of skilled operator time went into juggling paper, trying to co-relate paper with electronic instructions (for NC machines).
  2. Flexibility: Operators needed to be able to change and adjust plans rapidly. The state of technology and closed source systems with limited integration made it fairly challenging.
  3. Standards: There was a desire to keep standards across the Enterprise, from core IT systems to the shop-floor. 
  4. And naturally, Cost is and was always a factor, of course, for any business to be relevant.

The technology challenges were many, and we were largely in unchartered waters, however at a summary level:

  1. The IT-OT Chasm: We just did not coin the term then. But there was a chasm. In hindsight, you can slice it many ways: IP Based Networking to Serial Communications, Closed Interfaces to Open Interfaces, Organizational Politics etc.. Manufacturing Systems were considered an Operational System and communication was often asynchronous and one way. The team I was in, was in fact created to bridging the IT-OT chasm.
  2. Data: (Big Data/NoSQL): Graphics is rich with Data Points, however, we did not run into the boundaries of SQL/NoSQL/Massive Big Data, because the graphics and machine files were stored in proprietary formats with limited backend access. When this project was done, we did not visualize a scenario where all the rich data points generated from “The Machines” would be needed to be captured and integrated with other systems. Our immediate focus was on proving a concept and making it work and then scale. 
  3. Communications: At a high-level network architecture view, we were operating inside a company’s LAN and WAN networks with no external (Internet) exposure. So Security was not as major a concern as it would be for Internet applications. However, when IP networks talk to Serial Communication Devices, it is a different world. This took some hard-work, some totally out-of-the-box thinking. supportive teammates and leadership/executive sponsorship. But we made it happen.

Figure 2: First Phase of Automation Completed

We were a bit younger, I guess fairly brave, risk-takers, and knew how to fail quickly and recover and move on. Our investments were largely in software development (Platform “X”) plus some minor amounts for an “Open Edge” device for the Phase 1.

What we accomplished:

  1. Ability to let an operator operate a complex multi-million $ machine from a standard browser as an alternate to the machine controller (our goal was not to replace, but supplement).
  2. Provided rich graphics and associated manufacturing data/instructions in a digital format to the operator, magnifying all kinds of gains across the manufacturing org.
  3. Above all, gave the operator control to select machine programs from a browser, with no memory limitations with unmatched flexibility. 

On the people side of things:

  1. Teamwork:  The bonds moments something like this creates are priceless. The blood, sweat and tears that went into this were all worth it and forged friendships that will last forever. 
  2. Leadership Support: Our executives saw passion and enthusiasm and conviction in our eyes, when we presented the idea. They saw a group of driven individuals with no fear. They supported us to do a pilot and the rest was well….
  3. User Experience and Adoption: In part II of this, I will detail the big “Aha” moment. What we technology people thought as the big accomplishment was not the big one from the end-user perspective !! Very interesting when you put yourself in the end-users shoes.

 Before I go to part II, I’d like to get your input on three items:

  1. Can you guess the year this project was done?
  2. Can you guess the key technologies used for Platform “X”?
  3. Can you guess how many people worked on Phase 1 of this project?

Note: If you have worked with me on this, please don’t answer this.

Disclaimer: This posting does not represent the view of any employer, current or past.Image credits: Jon Trillana, Arthur Shlain, Tom Medley, Dalpat Prajapati from Noun Project.


Ron Batra is a Technology Thought Leader | Advisor | Consultant | Cloud, Internet of Things and Edge Computing

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