The gains in connecting legacy machines to the Industrial Internet of Things saves businesses time, money, and resources whilst also helping to design better products. But where do you start?
1. Define your goals
Like all projects, starting off with a comprehensive plan and clear outcomes will put you on the road to success. Ensure your goals are measurable by KPIs. This will give you a strong foundation to build on.
2. What information does your business need to collect?
You’re not collecting data just for the sake of it, you want to make absolutely sure that this data has a purpose. Talk to everyone involved with a stake in the manufacturing process. This exercise should not just be limited to your production staff, engineers and quality team. Your sales, marketing, customer service teams are likely to be immersed in customer feedback relating to their needs, wants and expectations. A finger on the pulse of how production impacts your brand, revenue and your bottom line that would have otherwise been overlooked is really useful.
Your legacy machines are good, but they may not be perfect, and you might already have some goals in mind to improve their efficiency. The IIoT analyses, categorises, and summarises data in real-time and allows you to refer back to it often.
3. Perform a machine audit
Make a list of all the legacy machines you wish to connect to the IIoT. Look at these machines and make sure you know exactly what data you want to collect and how you can collect it reliably. It’s advisable to always select a machine that can be used for an initial trial installation and ‘proof of concept’. This is an iterative process where testing and tweaks to the configuration of both device firmware and IoT platform software assures that you will get what you want from your IoT investment whilst ensuring a more rapid factory-wide deployment.
4. Connecting legacy machines to your IIoT solution
Some machines can be easily upgraded to connect to your network. Machines controlled by a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) may provide some or all of the data you need and interfacing is straightforward. Others, like analogue machines, may require sensors, adapters and connectors. These can be off-the-shelf items for just a few £s, $s or €s, or sometimes custom-built devices or sensors are required.
The addition of SBCs (Single Board Computers) like the SanCloud BeagleBone® Enhanced
can also provide edge computing power and decision-making if required. Its onboard memory also protects against data loss in the event of an internet outage. It can also facilitate the introduction of an HMI (Human Machine Interface) or barcode/QR code scanners providing factory floor traceability and workflow data.
5. Site Infrastructure implications
Now it’s time to thoroughly consider your facility’s infrastructure. It may not be set up for the internet and, this being the Industrial Internet of Things, is a critical part of the process.
You may not want to or be able to rely on Wi-Fi as it can be unreliable given most factory floors house lots of metal machines and potential electromagnetic interference. This could be a big issue if your internet frequently drops out, so you’ll need ethernet and cables running to your machines.
Depending on your machine inventory, some or all can be connected over a serial interface like RS485 or RS232 using Modbus, Profibus and CANbus communication protocols. Later equipment may be connected by USB or network interface. The extra cabling can pose a health and safety hazard so seriously consider all angles.
Talk to your IT department to make sure you have the right digital infrastructure such as routers and Internet speed in place. We can help you ask the right questions or ask on your behalf. With the ability to extract data and communicate with your machines, a reliable method of internet connection, you now need to establish a secure communication protocol with the IoT platform. This is usually done through numerous protocols: MQTTS, HTTPS or COAP to name a few.