Fashions in sensor technology

 

I confess it was 50 years ago when I started looking at new technology for sensors. Back then, colleagues and I updated the old WW2 mine detector, using really low frequency (i.e. 1 kHz) magnetic waves to discriminate between ferrous and non-ferrous items, and assess the size and range of the target by the signal phase measurement. Here the electronics used ‘modern’ operational amplifiers, on a ‘chip’.

The 1980s

Ten years on, in the ’80s, the technology coming into vogue was ultrasonics, replacing float systems to make liquid level switches, and then, still using analog electronics, the first Doppler ultrasonic flowmeter appeared. With the availability of digital microprocessor circuitry, timed pulses transmitted through the air down to the surface of a liquid led to non-contact liquid level measurement, and major success in the automation of sewage sump pumping systems. (The success lasted maybe 30 years, as when the mobile phone business created low cost microwave components, similar systems based on radar began to take over in this market.)

The next leap forwards in the mid-’80s was the time-of-flight ultrasonic flowmeter – actually achieved with discrete digital circuitry, which was faster than the available microprocessors. The technology was originally developed at Harwell, for measuring liquid sodium flows in nuclear reactors, but these flowmeters found major application in monitoring clean water flows, primarily in water distribution mains. Over the next 25 years the technique was picked up by commercial interests, and continually refined, introducing clamp-on sensor systems, and adapting the technique for gas flows as well. Even domestic gas meters were introduced using the same principle. Eventually the microprocessor speed became fast enough to achieve the flow measurement accuracy needed – using multiple sound paths – for the fiscal measurement of oil flows, which is now one of the major applications, along with similar gas flow measurement tasks.

Other sensors where I was not initially involved were in the fields of gas detection – where for flammable gases, Pellistors created a major business area – and fire detectors. It seems that UV and IR fire detection systems are still seeking the best approach. Possibly because of the awareness brought about by the Internet, the pace of change and the commercial opportunities, the large corporations are quick to acquire small spin-off companies from university or other research after any small success, because of what technology they may have discovered: they do this ‘just in case’, to protect their market position.

Current developments

The area I see as most important currently, and a fruitful area to flag up for research projects, is in any style of optical analytical measurement sensor. Specifically, the component that brought this into industrial instrumentation was the tuneable diode laser (TDL), developed prior to 2005 for the telecommunications industry, to transmit telephone conversations and data down fibre-optic cables. Around 2007 Yokogawa acquired a business from Dow Chemicals, which used TDL sensors for near-infrared absorption (NIR) measurements of a gas mixture, which gave the proportions of oxygen, carbon dioxide and monoxide, and water vapour. This allowed the unit to be used as a combustion analyser for industrial furnaces, boilers etc.

Over the last 10 years this area of technology has grown in importance, and in its capabilities. Spin-off companies have emerged from various universities, like Manchester and Glasgow. A significant task in these developments is the application of the solution to an industrial problem: it needs the two factors of solving both the technical design and the industrial application. Cascade Technologies was established in Glasgow in 2003, and their analysers were initially targeted at marine flue gas emissions monitoring. From 2013 they added a focus on pharmaceutical gaseous leak detection, and also the process industry, on ethylene plants. Their technology allows multiple gases to be measured simultaneously. The Cascade business has now been acquired by Emerson.

Another closely market-focused supplier of NIR analytical systems is TopNIR Systems of Aix en Provence, in France, actually a spin-off business from within BP. TopNIR use their systems to analyse hydrocarbons – both crude oil and processed products – to allow a refinery operator to know how to most profitably blend the available components into a final product, as well as to minimise any quality give-away in blending the different grades of gasoline and diesel. TopNIR quote the annual benefit to a typical refinery at $2 to $6 million, with an implied investment spend of up to $2 million!

This article was first published in the May 2017 issue of “South African Instrumentation and Control” published by Technews.co.za

Battery Energy Storage Systems help UK power efficiency

Nidec ASI, of Milan in Italy, part of the appliance, commercial and industrial motor business of Nidec in Japan, has won an order from the UK-based EDF Energy Renewables business for the installation and supply of a second Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), for use on the British National Grid.

EDF ER, a renewable energy developer, is a JV company between EDF Energy in the UK and EDF Energies Nouvelles in France. As a result of this new contract, Nidec ASI will act as an EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contractor to supply the 49 MW BESS system that EDF ER is building to serve the National Grid, the British electricity distribution company. The contract, which follows closely after an earlier large-scale deal for a 10 MW battery energy storage system (also for National Grid) makes Nidec ASI reach a 33% market share in the British BESS systems market.

As renewable energy resources are more widely used – to reduce the environmental impact of power generation – investments in battery energy storage systems are becoming increasingly prominent. These stabilise the power grid by temporarily storing any surplus electricity generation, and discharging the saved electricity during power shortages. Last November Nidec ASI delivered the world’s largest (90 MW) BESS system to major electricity firm STEAG of Germany. As a leader in the BESS market, Nidec is committed to stabilizing the world’s power grids and contributing to realizing a low-carbon society via the spread and expansion of battery energy storage systems and high-quality state-of-the-art equipment.

EDF West Burton 2

The BESS will be installed at the EDF Energy West Burton site in Nottinghamshire, pictured above, to support the UK’s National grid.

Advances in battery technology

The opportunities for spin-out businesses and industries from university research projects are multiplying. The growth in this sector comes from the acceleration of technology in general, but also because the increased investment in education means there are a lot more research students, some with good ideas, but others just looking for topical subjects to latch onto for their research project. Also, industry has learnt that by funding some low cost university research, other ideas might emerge that might be of benefit.

A lot of attention is being given to new designs of battery, as there are some well-known major commercial projects where new systems are needed. First to come to mind would be batteries for electric cars like the Tesla. Here, low-cost, lightweight and relatively compact devices are needed, with high-power output and fast charging. Second are the batteries (or systems) needed to store the power generated by solar farms or wind turbines, during the hours when it is not needed, so that it is available for different times of the day. Possibly lower down the priority list are the small long-life battery systems needed for IIOT sensors and industrial sensors in general. These do not have the major numbers, or the (relatively) high price, so do not attract as much attention.

Eliminating standby power drain

So, it was all the more interesting to hear of research at Bristol University, in the UK, where Dr Stark and his colleagues in the Bristol Energy Management Research Group have developed an electronic chip that can switch on a sensor only when that sensor is being asked to provide or monitor data: for the rest of the time the chip and the circuits which it controls consume no energy at all. It may not be a new battery development as such, but it would allow a much extended battery life, by eliminating all stand-by current drain.

The principle is that the chip uses the small amount of energy transmitted in the interrogation signal from the system asking for the data, to trigger a circuit that switches the device on. The interrogation signal could be from an infrared remote control, or a wireless signal. The team developed their circuit using the same principles as those used in computers to monitor their internal power supply rails – to ensure the voltage does not dip below a certain threshold. The trigger signal uses a few picoWatts of energy, and a signal threshold level of 0,5 V, which is achievable from a passive sensor, just using the received wave energy.

The natural follow-on from this concept is that the trigger signal on some sensor applications could be derived from the event being monitored, such as a rapid increase in the sound or vibration levels of plant machinery. Also, for a security alarm, the movement of a hinge or similar could be sensed magnetically. Conventional power management techniques would be used to switch the sensor off once the data has been transmitted to, and acknowledged by, the monitoring systems.

Power storage

With solar and wind energy providing such a large part of the power used by the National Grid in certain areas, many ways are being researched to achieve power storage over the short term, such as 24 hours. There are already companies providing large storage systems with banks of conventional batteries, acting like very large uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. In Spain and the USA there are solar collector systems where the sun’s heat is concentrated onto a central collector, melting sodium salts: the heat is later used to drive a steam turbine. Further systems are being trialled where surplus energy is used to liquefy gases, or compress them in a high pressure chamber, later the stored gas can be used to drive a turbine generator.

A novel development of a battery cell reported recently is the use of a low cost electrolyte for use with aluminium and graphite electrodes. Dr Dai, at Stanford University, in collaboration with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, demonstrated such a battery powering a motorbike in 2015, but the electrolyte was expensive. The new electrolyte is 100 times less expensive – it is based on urea. Dr Dai sees this as a useful solution for storing solar power, even domestically – maybe new houses will have such a system underground, and call it a “Power storage pit”!

This article was first published in the April issue of “South African Instrumentation & Control”, a TechNews publication. This journal is kind enough to publish an article from Nick Denbow every month, as a report on stories of interest from Europe.

The value of Specialist Automation Suppliers

Engineers around the world are looking at how to benefit from the various solutions to the IIOT on offer: the article posted on 2 February entitled “How DCS Vendors see their IIOT future” covered the approaches being adopted by some of the major DCS vendors. This follow-up article, written for and first published in South Africa, in the Technews South African Instrumentation & Control Journal, March 2017, covers the approach of some of the smaller, specialist suppliers to their own selected sectors of the process industries.

While the major DCS suppliers try to work out how to provide revenue earning services from the growth of the IIOT, there are many specialist engineering product and systems suppliers who are investing in making their products easier for engineers to use in networks, and operate within the IIOT.

Most of these specialists are primarily focussed on the production of their valves, sensors, controllers or drives: this is their business – and they need their products to work with any interface the customer requires. Their expertise in interfacing their own products is the best available, they have an in-house systems knowledge base and capability. Most now offer this capability to their would-be product users as a service – offering a custom designed system incorporating the products. So look to these suppliers to offer the best engineering at an economic price, within their specialist field.

Typically these single-minded companies were set up by a design engineer with a good original product idea, and this has been developed and refined over the years. Often the company is family owned – and engineering / R&D investment takes precedence over profit distribution. Some such companies still exist in the USA, and a few in the UK, like JCB and Rolls Royce. Several specialist engineering product examples are found in suppliers originating from Germany, Scandinavia and middle Europe, where the culture seems to have encouraged their survival.

Beckhoff Automation

Arnold Beckhoff started his company in 1953: Beckhoff Automation now has a turnover of Euro 620 million, and employs 3350 people. The company implements open automation systems based on PC control technology, scalable from high performance Industrial PCs to mini PLCs, I/O and fieldbus components, plus drive technology and automation software. Supplying systems to many industries, Beckhoff works with and supplies components for over 15 major fieldbus systems. Motion control solutions solve single and multiple axis positioning tasks, and their servomotors offer combined power and feedback over a standard motor cable.

The Beckhoff TwinCAT 3 engineering and control automation software integrates real-time control with PLC, NC and CNC functions in a single package, and then all Beckhoff controllers are programmed using TwinCAT in accordance with IEC 61131-3. While the built-in TwinCAT condition monitoring libraries allow the on-site controllers to monitor the status of the sensors, to reduce downtime and maintenance costs, it also allows wider comparisons with connections to such cloud services as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. Other data connections are available, for example a smartphone app enables immediate local and mobile display of a machine‘s alarm and status messages.

Bürkert Fluid Control Systems

Bürkert was founded in 1946 by Christian Bürkert: it now has sales of Euro 412 million and employs over 2500 people. The product base is gas and liquid control valves, systems for measuring and controlling gases and liquids, plus sensors for monitoring such fluids, extending to complete automation solutions and fluid systems – this capability is known as their ‘Systemhaus’. While their products are now applied across many industries, their particular specialisations have been in sanitary, sterile and hygienic applications (food, beverage, biotech and pharmaceuticals), micro applications (medical, inkjet and beverage mixing/vending), and water treatment industries.

From the UK operation, Bürkert provide locally engineered solutions and systems for their pharma, food and brewery customers in particular. Locally made craft beers are a major growth area in the UK, and most start small, with no real automation. One example was Stroud Brewery, who needed to expand production by a factor of 5x, and preferably not increase their staff numbers: Bürkert designed a PLC system and intelligent control panel, which automated the temperature control of the cold and hot liquor tanks, and in the mash pan. In addition a system for controlling the run-off rate from the mash tun simply uses three separate Bürkert level sensors.

Bürkert also have developed their own ‘Device Cloud’, they call this ‘mySITE’. This collects data from Bürkert sensors around the world, using an on-site interface known as mxConnect – which can also accept data inputs from other sensors.

National Instruments

National Instruments was only started in 1976, in the USA, by Dr James Truchard and a colleague, who are still involved in the business. Now sales are $1320 million, and they have 7400 employees worldwide. Their declared Mission is to “equip scientists and engineers with systems that accelerate productivity, innovation, and discovery” – and their focus has always been to supply research establishments and engineers with open, software-centric platforms with modular, expandable hardware. This gives its own logistics problems, with 35,000 customers served annually.

It is difficult for me, as an outside observer, to relate the NI systems to an oil refinery or chemical plant application: but it comes into its own when the data handling grows in complexity – for example in pharmaceutical and biotech applications, and the sort of plants where engineers have a major input in monitoring the application. Mention cyclotron or Tokomak, CERN or the Large Hadron Collider, and NI and its LabView are embedded in their engineering control systems. All 108 collimators on the LHC are position controlled using LabView.

National Grid UK, which controls the distribution and transmission of electric power round the country, has adopted a control system based on the NI CompactRIO for the whole network. With many new power generating sources, HVDC connections, variable inputs from solar and wind farms, and the phasing out of major fossil fuelled plants, National Grid found that traditional measurement systems did not offer adequate coverage or response speed to handle these new challenges and risks. They adopted a platform, based on the CompactRIO, to provide more measurements – and also adapt with the evolving grid for generations to come. This interconnected network includes 136 systems, with 110 permanently installed in substations throughout England and Wales and 26 portable units that provide on-the-go spot coverage as needed.  The associated software systems provide their engineers with customized measurement solutions that can be upgraded in the future as new grid modernization challenges arise.

In terms of IoT developments, NI has just opened an Industrial IoT lab at the NI Austin HQ in the USA, to focus on intelligent systems that connect operational technology, information technology and the companies working on these systems. Many other companies are co-operating in this venture, like Cisco and SparkCognition, and the lab intends to foster such collaboration to improve overall interoperability. In addition NI has partnered with IBM and SparkCognition to collaborate on a condition monitoring and predictive maintenance testbed: this will use the SparkCognition cognitive analytics to proactively avoid unplanned equipment fatigue and failure of critical assets.

(c) Nick Denbow 2017

Remaining Useful Life analysis via the Senseye cloud @ProcessingTalk #PAuto

Senseye, the Uptime-as-a-Service specialists, has launched a new version  of its automatic condition monitoring and prognostics software, which offers their ‘Remaining Useful Life’ calculations to all customers – whether they operate 10 or 10,000 assets. Senseye is unique in offering automated condition monitoring combined with Remaining Useful Life analysis.

Knowing the Remaining Useful Life of machinery helps their industrial clients to implement cost-effective predictive maintenance, typically leading to a 10-40% reduction in maintenance costs and a parallel downtime reduction of 30-50%. The software has already been adopted by a major automotive OEM, helping them to avoid their downtime cost – which is over $2m per hour.

Up until now, the Remaining Useful Life measurement has been an academic focus, accessible only to those with extensive data engineering skills.  The patent-pending Senseye technology makes it accessible to all. The automated analysis is designed to be easy to use by maintenance teams and managers and is backed by Senseye’s extensive background in condition monitoring, based on experience in the highly competitive aerospace and defence industries.

Robert Russell, Senseye CTO commented: “Being able to see the Remaining Useful Life of machinery – without requiring expert input – empowers site maintenance engineers to get maximum value from their condition monitoring solutions”.

Trusted by a number of Fortune 100 companies, Senseye offers a leading cloud-based condition monitoring and prognostics product. Their award-winning solutions are usable from day one and available as a simple subscription service, enabling customers to rapidly expand their predictive maintenance programs.

How DCS Vendors see their IIOT future

Engineers around the world are looking at how to benefit from various IIOT offerings: the survey below covering the approaches being adopted by some of the major DCS vendors was first published in South Africa, in the Technews South African Instrumentation & Control Journal, February 2017. Next month a similar article will cover the approach of some of the specialist suppliers to the process industries.

The last year saw all the major DCS and process control systems suppliers re-assess their business positioning, in the face of the turndown in capital spending as a result of the continuing recession and fall in commodity prices, led by oil. Their problem is that their main business cycles between feast and famine, as it is dependent on investment project business. Harry Forbes of ARC Advisory Group notes that automation companies will do nearly anything to protect their installed user base, because that’s where they believe future revenues will come, and come more easily than winning projects. So the way to survive the famine is to provide on-going services to these asset owners, to maintain the business relationship, and be better positioned when capital investment returns. Plus they stop competitive suppliers gaining a foothold via similar service contracts.

The current area of interest for most manufacturing plants is IIOT, and so the automation vendors have been focusing on this, plus Big Data and analytics, offered by remote ‘cloud-based’ services. The different suppliers come from different market positions, and so their approaches, while offering the same, are tailored in different ways.

Emerson Automation Solutions

Peter Zornio of Emerson expressed his very clear view of this market back in April at their Global User’s Exchange in Brussels. Emerson is involved in the IIOT: this does not include the ‘Smart Cities’ that Siemens and ABB talk about, nor Industrie 4.0, which extends from production back up into design concepts – IIOT is just ‘Manufacturing’. I believe Emerson also recognise that their process control systems cannot be a part of IIOT, they must be fenced off, with firewalls etc, to prevent cyber-security worries, and blocked from external inputs. But this does not stop them transmitting information outwards, and the whole Emerson approach of ‘Pervasive Sensors’ – their major new topic for 2015 – is now an important feed, into IIOT analytics.

The resulting offering is a cloud-based service developed in co-operation with MicroSoft, using their Azure IoT Suite of cloud services. Having worked with MicroSoft for over 20 years, their Windows 10 IoT technology will be incorporated into both the DeltaV and Ovation control systems and in data gateways to serve plant data to the Azure IoT Suite. Emerson will then provide the data analysis services that feed back information and recommendations to the relevant plant personnel, for example about plant performance or equipment maintenance. Zornio described this as a remote service similar to the ‘Monitoring Centre’ typical of the electricity generation industry, or the ‘iOps centre’ typically described in the oil and gas industry – which shows the areas of focus for the Emerson control system business.

Since then, Emerson restructured their widely separated divisions, Process Management and Industrial Automation, into one business, Emerson Automation Solutions, under newly appointed president Michael Train. This brings in some of the factory automation aspects covered by the old Industrial Automation Division, and extends the potential for the same IIOT monitoring into other areas of the manufacturing plant, such as power supplies, packaging and even discrete manufacturing. However, as part of their restructuring, Emerson has sold off significant parts of what was their Industrial Automation business, bringing in significant amounts of cash. In December the Network Power business, serving mainly data centre and telecommunications customers, was sold to Platinum Equity for $4Bn: the business will be rebranded ‘Vertiv’. Then, just this month, the deal to sell the alternators, drives and motors businesses known as Leroy-Somer (France) and Control Techniques (UK) to the Nidec Corporation was finalised: their combined annual sales were $1.7Bn, but of more relevance now to Emerson, the resulting cash payment received from Nidec is $1.2Bn. So Emerson Automation Solutions has probably earmarked part at least of that $5.2Bn of cash for some interesting, relevant acquisitions, maybe in this IIOT services area.

Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation has a totally different customer profile, perhaps the reverse of that described for Emerson, having great strength in factory automation, food processing and discrete process control in general. Their product portfolio is strong on motor control, actuators, energy management etc, using Ethernet based systems and controllers, which give simple interfaces to remote data systems. Steven Meyer of SAIC reported that the Rockwell South African MD Barry Elliot commented at the Electra Mining Show that the challenge is ‘to do more with the assets the organisation already owns’. He added that “In most cases the data already exists: our challenge is to implement systems that enable us to turn this into actionable information to streamline productivity and efficiency”. Just what the customer audience wanted to hear.

In November Rockwell launched their ‘FactoryTalk Analytics for Machines’ cloud application, based on – the MicroSoft Azure cloud enabled capability – yes, them again! OEMs using Rockwell/Allen Bradley controllers on their machinery can embed a FactoryTalk Cloud gateway device, to interface to this Rockwell remote analytical service.  Back at corporate level, the new Rockwell CEO is Blake Moret, and his attention is also on developing the oil and gas process systems business that was actually doing well in Rockwell, but is smaller than that of rivals like Emerson: so he has acquired Maverick Technologies, one of their system integrator customers. First this give Rockwell access to the Maverick five years of experience in supplying remote operations support as a service. Second, Walt Boyes of the Industrial Automation Insider has pointed out that Maverick has craftily recruited many otherwise retiring process experts from such companies as Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil and other first tier companies, amassing a couple of hundred very valuable grey heads with continuous process management expertise. These are very useful for remote service support and advice, supplied even from their retirement homes!

ABB and IoTSP

Maybe ABB will have an alternative approach? ABB has a concept described as the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP). They last year joined the Steering Committee of the Industrial Internet Consortium, an organisation founded by AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM, and Intel in 2014. Then in September they recruited Guido Jouret as their ‘Chief Digital Officer’ – he was at one time the General Manager of the Cisco ‘Internet of Things’ division. October, however, brought them back into line with Rockwell and Emerson, when their new ABB Ability offering was announced as standardised on MicroSoft Azure, “expanding the ABB leadership in energy and the fourth industrial revolution”: ABB will take “full advantage of Azure services such as Azure IoT Suite and Cortana Intelligence Suite to capitalise on insights gathered at every level from device, to system, to enterprise, to cloud”. Although ABB say they have had many years of successful collaboration with MicroSoft, from the website it appears Ability is a new venture – looking for applications in transport infra-structure, digital power substations, fleet management services, Smart buildings etc.

Yokogawa

Yokogawa started 2016 with two acquisitions, first ‘Data-as-a-Service’ provider Industrial Evolution Inc, who provide cloud-based plant data sharing services, followed by KBC Technologies, who specialise in offering oil and petrochemical production plants the advanced software needed for process optimisation and simulation. These two were combined to create their new Industrial Knowledge Division. Executive vp Satoru Kurosu commented that “Key strategic objectives of Yokogawa’s Transformation 2017 plan are to expand the solution service business, focus on customers, and co-create new value with customers through innovative technologies and services”.

They then followed up with a strategic investment in FogHorn Systems Inc, a Silicon Valley specialist in fog computing – said to be the solution to faster processing of IIOT data present in the cloud. At the year-end, Yokogawa made a further significant investment into IIOT technology, first with a $900k investment into Bayshore Networks, who specialise in cybersecurity, and have developed the Bayshore IT/OT Gateway for use in the cloud, separating IT Departments from OT (Operational Technology) infrastructure networks. More than that, Yokogawa announced the establishment of a new Architecture Development Division in California, to pursue the development of the core technologies needed to establish the robust and flexible architecture required to improve operational efficiency and productivity when using the IIoT. Their aim is to expand this US engineering centre to over 50 staff in the next five years.

In February 2017 Yokogawa published their own release describing how these businesses will work together, and introducing another co-operation with Telit IoT Platfoms LLC, who are said to offer “offers unmatched expertise, resources, and support to make IoT on-boarding easy – reducing risk, time to market, complexity, and costs for asset tracking, remote monitoring and control, telematics, industrial automation, and predictive maintenance across many industries and vertical markets worldwide”. The most interesting aspect of their approach is that they seem to be moving towards “Plug-and-play” technology expanding to enable sensors to automatically join and adapt to plant networks, plus cloud reporting and condition monitoring, making the plant engineer’s job a lot simpler!

Obviously Yokogawa have major ambitions to develop and offer IIOT cloud data services with the best in technology and cybersecurity, all with a reduced customer detailed input.

Developments in South Africa

With so many major suppliers stepping up to offer cloud based IIOT data analysis and reporting services, what do the plant managers do? Steven Meyer’s report on the recent conference on the topic organised by the African branch of the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association highlighted the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report showing that South African companies plan to spend around R6Bn per year, until 2020, to implement the ideas of the fourth industrial revolution. In a keynote speech, local PwC director Pieter Theron made the telling comment that companies will need to find the right collaboration partners in order to improve their business efficiency through the technologies of the fourth industrial era – very few have the capability to go it alone.

These comments ring true for many large businesses all around the World: and it is clear that there are several interesting potential partners for these potential IIOT users to evaluate!

Yokogawa IIOT Collaboration plans

The following Yokogawa Press release announces that for future IIOT developments Yokogawa will work with Microsoft Corporation, FogHorn Systems Inc, Bayshore Networks Inc and Telit IoT Platforms LLC, to integrate their technology into an industrial IoT (IIoT) architecture for the delivery of new services. With this architecture, Yokogawa aims to transform its business model, expand its business scope, and help its customers run their businesses more efficiently.

Outline of the Tie-up

IIoT technology is now ready for practical use thanks to advances in network technology, the availability of low-cost, large-capacity data communications, and the shifting of corporate information systems to the cloud. However, the use of IIoT technology presents many technical challenges in such areas as sensing, automation, and security, and it is also costly to build such systems and develop the necessary applications. With its wide range of expertise in fields ranging from sensor technology to control logic and applications technology, Yokogawa will be able to help its customers address issues they face in their business by providing end-to-end solutions that incorporate sensing, control, and cloud-based processing.

Through this architecture, business process applications can be configured to enable the use of “plug-and-play” sensors, by providing the ability to automatically detect sensors and other instruments connected to the network, make appropriate settings enabling them to work immediately, sensing clouds with automatic provisioning for the efficient utilisation of cloud platforms to detect and connect sensors and other devices to the cloud and dynamically making the necessary changes for the exchange of data, database clouds, historian (data storage) clouds, and application development environments to work together. These four companies each possess technologies that will be key components of this IIoT architecture.

This undertaking will be led by the Yokogawa Architecture Development Division, based in California, which was set up in November 2016. Yokogawa’s IIoT architecture will integrate the cloud-based Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, FogHorn’s fog computing software, Bayshore’s layer 7 security technology which operates at the application (top) layer in the open systems OSI reference model, and Telit’s communication modules, sensor on-boarding, and device management.

Regarding this business tie-up, Tsuyoshi Abe, a Yokogawa vice president and head of the Marketing Headquarters, commented as follows:

Yokogawa has drawn up a long-term business framework and formulated a vision statement that reads, “Through ‘Process Co-Innovation,’ Yokogawa creates new value with our clients for a brighter future.” The IIoT architecture that Yokogawa will develop under this agreement will revolutionise the way in which value is delivered in sensing and plant information management. By working with these four companies, Yokogawa will rapidly establish its IIoT architecture. Under the corporate brand slogan of “Co-innovating tomorrow,” we will seek to expand partnerships such as these with leaders in each industry.

The Four Companies and their Technologies

– Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft is a worldwide leader in software, services, devices and solutions that help people and businesses realise their full potential. The cloud-based Microsoft Azure IoT Suite platform, which provides businesses with globally scalable, preconfigured IoT solutions, will enable Yokogawa to connect their devices, analyse previously-untapped data, and integrate business systems. The Azure IoT Suite provides the functions required for the construction and utilization of Yokogawa’s IIoT architecture.

– FogHorn Systems Inc

FogHorn Systems is a Silicon Valley-based startup that has been deeply involved in developing core software for fog computing and owns advanced technology in this field. Yokogawa invested in the company in July 2016. Fog computing is an architectural concept designed to avoid communication congestion by establishing a “fog” distributed computing layer between the cloud and devices in the field. Fog computing eliminates communication delays and fluctuations by locating the processing of certain data near the field devices and sending only essential information to the cloud. This technology is expected to lead to a number of new IoT applications.

– Bayshore Networks Inc

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Bayshore develops industrial cybersecurity solutions offering visibility, control, and protection for operational technology infrastructure and applications. The firm has a number of strategic partners in the IT sector and has gained a reputation for its expertise in IIoT cybersecurity. Yokogawa invested in this company in November 2016.

– Telit IoT Platforms LLC

Telit is a leading enabler of end-to-end IoT solutions. The company offers the industry’s broadest portfolio of integrated IoT products and services, including cellular communication modules, IoT connectivity plans, and IoT platform services. As a pure-play IoT company for over 15 years, Telit offers unmatched expertise, resources, and support to make IoT onboarding easy – reducing risk, time to market, complexity, and costs for asset tracking, remote monitoring and control, telematics, industrial automation, and predictive maintenance across many industries and vertical markets worldwide.

For Editorial comment, see the next article about DCS vendors and their IIOT plans….