1. Global description of technology area
The connection of devices, machines, sensors and processes is not new in the industrial world. Modern industry depends on a multitude of field devices and communications networks that have enabled a high level of automation, from oil refineries to manufacturing lines.
The subsequent introduction of M2M (machine-to-machine) systems has allowed direct connection between machines in order to perform operations independently of human interaction, in a step towards more autonomous systems. Historically, these operation technologies (OT) have operated in independent networks, with robust protocols that provided high reliability and security that was not achieved with consumer technology. However, the new emerging requirements for the factory of the future require to separate from the strict and closed character of classic industrial architectures, which usually present strong limitations in terms of integration, flexibility, speed and scalability.
In a world where the Internet has revolutionised the way we interact with information and people, the Internet of Things (IoT) is presented as the solution that allows to take advantage of this network of networks in our devices and machines.
Y es que IoT trata de networking, y Internet es la mayor solución de integración de redes. IoT se presenta como una solución de conectividad universal y ubicua, un nuevo paradigma con diversos puntos de vista y actividades multidisciplinares. IoT introduce la presencia ubicua de los objetos en el entorno digital (Smart Objects), mediante conexiones cableadas e inalámbricas y esquemas de direccionamiento único que permiten la interacción con ellos, así como cooperar con otros objetos para crear nuevas aplicaciones y servicios.
Los dispositivos inteligentes se apoyan en las plataformas IoT para para disponer de conectividad y generar servicios y aplicaciones. Estas plataformas son las responsables de ofrecer todo lo necesario para el correcto funcionamiento del sistema completo, lo que implica clásicamente tres bloques de servicios:
- End device control, operations and communications management, device monitoring and management, security and firmware upgrade;
- Data acquisition, processing, persistence and management
- Components supporting the development of IoT applications, including event-based processing (CEP), analytics, connection and adapters between different systems and platforms, visualisation or application programming.
IoT applications are gradually moving from vertical solutions with a single objective, to multi-purpose and collaborative applications that interact between industry, organisations, consumers and products, representing a fundamental pillar for the new digital economy. Many of these applications have not yet been identified, but IoT provides the tools for service companies and users themselves to get involved and deliver this innovation.
The arrival of IoT to the consumer world which has led to a new paradigm of great connectivity with minimal barriers, where low cost is one of the most relevant characteristics. However, the industry presents a completely different situation, where security, reliability and latency are still at the top of the list , and where stopping systems due to failures or maintenance tasks is not an option.
This is not surprising, since these characteristics directly affect the quality and efficiency of processes and products, which directly affects the ultimate benefit of the company. In addition, a failure can trigger severe consequences that might affect the safety of operators or company assets. This high level of technical and business requirements acts as an input filter for these new technologies: those IoT technologies capable of overcoming this filter and offering operational guarantees for business critical environments are now called Industrial-IoT (IIoT).
IIoT offers factories a new dimension of applications and services that revolve around production, improving the efficiency and quality of their production processes, offering greater agility and flexibility, enormous integration potential, ubiquitous access to systems, a standard and more intelligent language, and a practically natural connection with Cloud and Big Data Analytics solutions.
IIoT allows other facilities and collaborating companies to access production and logistics information in real time, creating collaborative networks that improve performance and reduce service stops, improving inventory and raw material management, and improving relations with delivery systems and the end customer. And above all, if people do not have to take data, since they have devices and machines connected, they can concentrate their efforts on analysing this data, making decisions and improving solutions, and this is precisely what is leading us to the next information revolution.
IoT se presenta como el paradigma más relevante en la comunicación de datos entre dispositivos de todo el mundo. Sin embargo, es todavía un paradigma muy joven e inmaduro en el ámbito industrial, la dinámica que rodea a las aplicaciones IoT emergentes son muy complejas y algunos problemas como el establecimiento y conectividad de red, la integración de sistemas, los servicios de valor añadido y otras funciones de gestión, aún tienen que resolverse para conseguir conectar dispositivos inteligentes en aplicaciones IoT complejas.
Aún existe un gap importante entre el nivel de satisfacción del usuario y su valoración sobre la importancia de características clave como la fiabilidad, el coste y la vida de las baterías (ver fig.01).
En las encuestas realizadas sobre qué elementos son los mayores inhibidores a la hora de decantarse por una solución de redes de sensores inalámbricos, se puede comprobar como cada vez la fiabilidad es un problema menor, puesto que los protocolos de comunicación son cada vez más robustos, pero la seguridad, la complejidad y la falta de estándares siguen suponiendo un problema (ver fig.02).
Fig. 01: Valoración y satisfacción de diversas características de WSN para industria.
Fig. 02: Inhibidores: qué echa atrás a los usuarios para la utilización de WSN en industria.
It should be noted that IIoT solutions will not generally be implemented by communication technology experts. IIoT solutions must be able to form networks in an autonomous and automated way, so that the installer can leave the site with a stable network running. During its operation, the system must be able to self-repair, evaluate weak connections or channels with high interference, re-plan, self-diagnose when service is interrupted or there are problems with a node, etc., in order to avoid visits by technicians and plant downtime. In addition, the deployment phase is often a complex task that requires prior planning, coverage studies, connectivity tests, and becomes complicated when nodes are installed and uninstalled continuously, as they do in inspection or audit tasks. The scientific community is devoted to this type of solutions, called “Plug&Play&Forget”, where we can already find some very promising technologies . However, it is still an open field of work.
During the next 5 years, advances in IIoT will be focused on reducing equipment costs, improving communications and meshed solutions, promoting data standardisation and interoperability, reducing installation and maintenance complexity, increasing security, and finding better energy harvesting solutions. What is certain is that IIoT technologies will continue to play a major role in industrial automation, and we will increasingly see wired devices replaced by wireless technologies. Furthermore, if telecommunication companies and governments play their cards right, 5G technology could be a revolution for IIoT, and the final trigger to exploit its full capabilities as an enabler for digitisation.
3. USE CASES AND APPLICATIONS.
An important area of application is to deploy solutions for smart scenarios, where connectivity and networking are the enabling technologies, and where the IoT paradigm provides the tools to maximise the effectiveness of these solutions. This includes IoT architectures, reference models and best practices, as well as cloud platforms to ingest the data and generate the business logic. Research efforts are focused on analysing and evaluating communications standards and proposing solutions to improve their performance in different scenarios.
A very robust communications stack is being developed for industrial environments, allowing the use of wireless sensors with high service guarantees and low consumption. There are technologies that provide a robust communications stack and a platform that assists the user during deployment, configuration and commissioning of the wireless sensors, and that include distributed intelligence to help self-manage and maintain the network nodes, minimising the need for additional hardware. This is very useful in public and industrial sector applications, as well as in audits, since it allows non-specialised personnel to deploy measurement nodes, take data, and collect the nodes to the next location, saving time and costs.
Another application is the digital twin, which is a powerful tool for diagnosis, process improvement and simulation of new production scenarios in Industry 4.0. It is a key element in the race to increase productivity and efficiency in an increasingly competitive world. This concept consists of a high-precision mathematical model, which replicates the behaviour of a real system, and is supported by a real-time connection with the physical system, which permanently provides feedback. Here, the IoT concept plays a fundamental role for horizontal and vertical integration in the field. Since factories are not going to become Industry 4.0 overnight, both paradigms (3.0 and 4.0) will have to coexist for several decades, and this is where this type of solution minimises the possible impact of this transitional period.
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