Leveraging the IIoT for Asset Performance Management (APM)

How well is our equipment performing?  Are we getting the best mileage from it?  When will machine/pump/motor X fail?  What can we do better?  How can we even find out?  These are the kinds of questions that keep production managers awake at night, and that may eventually lead them to consider implementing Asset Performance Management.

The term “Asset Performance Management” or APM, has been broadly defined by MESA International as “an approach to managing the optimal deployment of assets to maximize profitability and predictability in product supply.”  In other words, APM means making sure your equipment works, and works well.

The need for APM is clear.  Asset failure costs millions of dollars in lost production each year.  But that’s not all.  Workers who lack of critical data about the state of their equipment can make expensive mistakes.  Broken or poorly-functioning machinery can cause accidents.  Failure to manage assets properly will eventually lead to higher insurance costs.

A New Approach to APM

Until recently, APM has been used mainly for high-cost, mission-critical machinery.  Data collection was based on scheduled manual readings of sensors mounted on machines, a costly, time-consuming effort.  Performance stats for less expensive assets were typically derived from plant walk-throughs, operator experience, and educated guesses.  In some cases it was more cost effective to simply allow equipment to run until failure, and then replace it.

The advent of the IIoT is changing all of that.  As the cost of sensors drop, as wireless technologies improve, and as Big Data systems come online, it is now becoming cost-effective to monitor more and smaller assets, and do it in real time.  Doing APM in real time allows managers to run advanced analytics on the data, and do predictive maintenance.  Now, instead of shutting down a process to replace a burnt-out fan motor, or guessing when the motor might need to be replaced, an engineer can run the motor until just before failure, and then switch it out at the optimal time.

Early Adopters

Commenting about APM, Rich Carpenter, the Chief Technology Strategist for GE Intelligence Platforms, said, “The purpose of running advanced analytics is to have early detection of problems, so that we can prevent in real time, rather than react in real time.”  GE follows a simple, four-step process for IoT-based APM:

  1. Connect to sensors on the plant equipment or for the control system.
  2. Send the sensor data via DMZ or other protected environment to the cloud.
  3. Organize the data, according to type of customer, site, machine, etc.
  4. Run advanced analytics to manage the assets.

Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB), an industrial insurance company, has a vision that IoT-powered APM may transform their business into becoming an industrial service provider.  Instead of simply insuring against mechanical failure, by putting IoT-connected sensors on their customers equipment, the company can check performance, find the risk of breakdown, and recommend timely replacement or repair.  “The Internet of Things is the next industrial revolution and we have to position ourselves,” said Greg Barats, CEO of HSB.  “IoT start-ups are a fantastic way of jump-starting your thinking.”

What visionaries like GE and HSB have in common is an understanding of the potential of IIoT to be a game-changer for APM.  We share that vision.  In fact, we see APM as a logical application for IIoT technology, and supply the necessary software and services to securely access the necessary data in real time, to make it happen.

Turning IIoT Data into Value: The 5D Architecture

What’s in it for me? Sure, the Industrial IoT is getting a lot of press—it’s been riding high on the Gartner Hype Cycle for years. But now that most people have beheld the vision and survived the deluge of glowing predictions, they are starting to ask some down-to-earth questions. In particular, engineers who have to assemble the pieces and managers who need to justify the costs are asking, “What are we going to get out of it?”

The benefit of the IoT, according to Finbar Gallagher, CEO and Founder of Fraysen Systems, is its ability to turn data into value. To explain how that happens, Gallagher has boiled down every IoT implementation into a common “5D architecture.” In his article, The 5D Architecture – A Standard Architecture for IoT, he says, “IoT systems are complex, very large scale and present many pitfalls for the system architect. Thinking about these systems in terms of the problem to be solved: turning data into value…”

The article breaks down the process of turning data into value through the interaction of five core elements, the 5D of the architecture, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Data collection
  2. Detecting events based on changes in the data, and analysis
  3. Dispatching (decide and plan) an action based on events
  4. Delivering the action
  5. Developing value, which underlies and unites all of the above

Surrounding, connecting, and acting upon these 5D core elements are four services:

  1. Communication
  2. Presenting information
  3. Storing data and information
  4. Managing the 5 core elements.

Although these services are sometimes considered to be core elements, Gallagher separates them, because he says they do not in themselves create value. Each of these services relies on a person to extract value from them. Ultimately, value is not intrinsic to the data, analysis, plans, or actions either, but rather depends on human interaction to derive it. To make his point, Gallagher quotes a production manager who once said to him, “So if I don’t look at the charts this system presents, the system doesn’t deliver any value, does it?”

Be that as it may, people still need an IIoT system to access their data for extracting value.  And the better it functions, the more value they get. A good IIoT service will provide optimal data collection, event detection, dispatching, and delivery of action through secure and rapid communication, accurate presentation, and fully-integrated storage of data and information. Gallagher suggests some specific criteria, such as:

  • The ability to collect data from a wide range of sources, including legacy PLCs, log files, historians, and devices that may use different protocols.
  • Low latency data communication through direct, real-time connections whenever possible, avoiding high-latency approaches such as having a sender write data to files and requiring the receiver to read them.
  • Consistent event detection: repeatable and verifiable.
  • The ability to provide feedback (with or without human input) so that the system supports the ability to learn and modify action plans.
  • Data communication should be easy to use, resilient, and able to preserve structure. To these we would also add secure by design.
  • Data storage should be flexible, fully integrated, and minimal latency.

Anyone familiar with Skkynet’s approach to Industrial IoT will see that it meets the criteria that Gallagher proposes. On our own, we can’t turn data into value. That depends on you, the user. But we can provide you with easy, quick, and secure access to your data, so that you can make the most of it.

Tech Talk and Action in IIoT Data Communications

Is summer over already?  It may be hard to accept, but on my morning walks the sun rises later each day, the wind is more brisk, and the leaves are turning yellow and red.  Before fall arrives in earnest, I’d like to share a bountiful harvest of summer activity here at Skkynet.  While most of the world was on holiday and taking it easy for a few weeks, our technical team took the opportunity to jot down some of their thoughts on our specialty: data communication for Industrial IoT.

In this first installment of a new series of Tech Talk blogs, lead developer and company CEO Andrew Thomas discusses IIoT security, data protocols, best practices, and common pitfalls.  He starts by introducing the unique requirements for Industial IoT, and he challenges the assumptions that lead to inherently insecure system design.  He then discusses each of the data protocols often suggested for use in the IIoT: UDP, MQTT, OPC UA, and REST, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each.  The best approach, he argues, exhibits the best qualities of these and more, as well as supporting edge and fog processing and public, private, or hybrid clouds.

This is the thinking that underlies SkkyHub, Skkynet’s secure-by-design approach to Industrial IoT.  Combined with our ETK and Cogent DataHub, the result is Industrial IoT that actually works.  You can install it in green field or brownfield projects, and connect to new or existing systems, use open protocols, and provide secure, robust, real-time performance at speeds not much slower than Internet propagation speeds.  And it is available today, right now.

This fall we are putting SkkyHub, DataHub, and ETK on display and into play in several arenas.  We will be at conferences and trade shows in North America, Europe and the Far East, including OPC Foundation Seminars in Vancouver and Toronto, Industry of Things World 2017 in Berlin, Sensors Midwest in Chicago, ARM TechCon in Santa Clara, SPS Drives in Nuremberg, and SCF in Tokyo.  If you are attending any of these, please stop by.

In the field, SkkyHub customers are enjoying the benefits of the service, and some have expressed an interest in sharing their experiences.  We will be blogging about those soon.  Meanwhile, the tech team has shfited back into development mode, and we expect some exciting news from them soon as well.  Summer may be winding down, but Skkynet continues to move rapidly ahead.

Will Low Oil & Gas Prices Prod an IIoT Embrace?

There’s no doubt about it, oil prices have dropped over the past couple of years. Even if you don’t follow the news or the markets, you can tell by prices at the pump. Now averaging below $50 per barrel, the price of oil is a far cry from its heady climb to $140 per barrel in 2008, or even the $80 – $100 prices from 2010 to 2014.

As good as this news is to anyone who drives a car or takes the occasional flight, as helpful as it might be to ease pressure on the economy as a whole, oil and gas companies have had to scramble to cut costs. That’s OK for the short term, according to Craig Resnick at the ARC Advisory Group, but medium to long term they need to find a new and different way of working. And this, he says, means embracing the Industrial IoT.

In a recent blog, The Oil and Gas Industry “New Normal” Pricing Justifies Greater IIoT Investment, Resnick said, “To increase capital efficiency and profitability; reduce marginal costs; minimize downtime; improve health, safety and environmental conditions; and capture the knowledge of the retiring workforce and productivity gains hidden in data and workflow silos; the oil & gas industry must embrace IIoT and digital transformation fully, from assets to the oil field; and from design to process and operations.”

Whew! That’s quite a list of benefits. And look how deeply it needs to penetrate the industry. To achieve that level of integration, as Resnick points out later in the article, success in IIoT is impossible without a corresponding convergence of IT and OT. Done well, this combination results in a complete end-to-end solution that connects the sophisticated data processing and analytical experience of IT to the hard data coming from production machinery—be it legacy equipment that has been hammering away for decades or newly installed systems with the latest digital technologies.

Resnick’s vision of a full embrace of IIoT may seem far-fetched to old-timers, indeed to anyone who was responsible for designing industrial automation systems 20 or even 10 years ago. But “new normal” pricing in the oil & gas sector has set the bar to a point where people have to pull themselves out of their old mindsets. The rewards are tempting—the benefits of IIoT may bring the industry into a new era of prosperity. Who knows? Five or ten years from now people may wonder how anyone was able to turn a profit without it.

At Skkynet, the shift to IIoT has been fast-paced, and yet still somehow evolutionary. Sure, there are technical challenges, and security is a real issue. But whenever we step back from our work and take a look at what we are creating, we realize that it really can, in the words of Resnick, “support end-to-end process excellence, with enterprise integration and visibility that leverages existing systems and the strengths of industrial products.”

Who Owns the Factory?

My local Toyota dealer owns my car.  My name may appear on the ownership papers, but I know better.  The dealership tells me when I’m due for maintenance, what each thing will cost, and why it’s important to repair or replace it.  Sometimes I think they care more about my car than I do.  Of course, they get paid for this service, but it is also in their best interest to keep my car running in tip-top shape, because a satisfied customer is a repeat customer.

It wasn’t always this way.  In younger days when money was scarce and time was free, and I could do anything I put my mind to, I got a few books and set about doing my own car repairs.  After some trial and error, I was able to do normal maintenance, and even undertake a few more complicated repairs like change a radiator core or rebuild a carburetor.  But over the years cars have gotten more complex, and time has become more valuable.  Now I’m more than happy to turn the whole project over to the experts.  As far as I’m concerned, the dealership owns the car.

Who owns the project?

Seems like factories may be going in the same direction.  To get the most out of “smart” manufacturing, the IIoT, and Industrie 4.0, factory owners and operators are relying more and more on outside expertise.  System integrators are stepping in to fill the gap, and some of them are realizing that they can provide the most value to their customers by taking ownership.  Maybe not the factory itself, but the projects they implement.  The question, “Who owns the project?” really boils down to, “Who takes responsibility for it?”

Robert Lowe, co-founder and CEO of Loman Control Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), recently suggested this idea in an Automation World blog, End-User Asset ‘Owned’ by a System Integrator. He sees a need for system integrators to take on more responsibility by supporting their clients “beyond the project.”  He proposes a new acronym, SIaaS, for System Integration as a Service.  Providing “service and support for maintenance, machine monitoring, machine performance, process performance, reporting, technology upgrades, cybersecurity and so forth” frees the end-user to “focus on making its product and not be dependent on inside resources for sustainable performance.”

Lowe goes on to explain how system integrators are in a unique position to partner with companies on a project they have completed, because they understand well how it works.  Not only did they build it, but they have more experience monitoring, maintaining, and upgrading similar systems.  Rather than finding, training, and maintaining specialized staff to keep the system running, the plant owner can keep his or her people focused on the bigger picture of getting their product out the door.  And the system integrator who owns the asset will ensure that it performs well, because a satisfied customer is a repeat customer.

Skkynet supports system integrators who want to provide their expertise as a service.  On the one hand, our technical solutions—DataHub, SkkyHub, and ETK—are all available “as a Service”. More significantly, research and experience have shown that many IoT projects run into unexpected difficulties.  Rather than expending the resources to build and maintain a secure and reliable IIoT system on their own, plant management and system integrators can hand that responsibility over to those with the expertise, and cut their costs as well.

Industrial Speed IIoT

What does “real time” really mean in an industrial system?  And what does “real time” mean for the Industrial IoT?  For some people, updating their data within 5 seconds counts as real time.  For them, getting data updates once per second is blazingly fast.  For us, data updates for the IIoT should be as close to network latencies as possible, typically no more than a few milliseconds.

What does that look like?  Check it out.  We’ve created a SkkyHub demo page for industrial speed IIoT.  This simple demo shows how you can aggregate data from multiple data sources, visualize the data, and more importantly witness real-time Industrial IoT.

In the blue box, as you hover your mouse over the gray dot, it moves.  If you or a friend open the same page on a second browser or a phone and swap IDs, you’ll see a black dot for each other’s mouse (or finger, if it’s on a phone).  Select All, and when all other users move their mouse or finger, you’ll see their black dots move on your page and vice versa. You are participating in the IIoT, in real time.

How close to real time? You can see for yourself the latency of the SkkyHub system.  Just enter and submit your own ID.  Now when you move your mouse or finger around, you get a momentary glimpse of a black dot, shadowing each movement.  The black dot is generated by a round-trip data feed from SkkyHub.  The amount of time it takes for it to catch up to the gray dot is the latency of the data travelling round trip from your browser or phone to SkkyHub running in the cloud, and back.

Why is this useful?  The demo shows that the IIoT can be as responsive as most human operators need it to be.  There is no need to wait a few seconds for each action to have an effect.  This is most valuable for supervisory control, where an operator or manager may need to change a setting in an HMI.  The instant feedback of the SkkyHub service gives assurance to the operator that the system has picked up the change, and has responded accordingly.

At a machine-to-machine level, this kind of industrial speed, along with the ability to sustain multiple simultaneous connections, ensures that internal system activities are well coordinated.  A change in one machine or device propagates in real time to any or all connected devices.  This keeps the logic of the system intact, and ensures the smoothest possible performance.

When this kind of performance is coupled with a secure-by-design architecture and the ability to connect seamlessly to virtually any existing industrial system, then we feel confident in calling it Industrial IoT that works.