The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the 800lb gorilla in the room in 2019. It’s been talked about with ever more frequency since 2010, and probably has a couple more years before it reaches any level of full maturity.
It is a good thing. Connected devices, low bandwidth communication, data you might not have had access to otherwise now informing your business decisions. More devices mean you can easily pull in data about the weather, utility usage, and many other useful pieces of information. This also means more work needs to be done on reporting and analysis to gain insight and value from this data. Regardless, having access to the data as those tools are improved upon is a good thing as it allows you to go back in time and discover new connections.
The question is how do we get from where we are today to a fully mature ecosystem of devices, data, and decision making?
Back in 1999 Andy Stanford-Clark from IBM and Arlen Nipper now of Cirrus Link sat down and hammered out the MQTT protocol. This defined a low bandwidth way to send data from remote or edge devices to central SCADA systems, other devices, or wherever it needs to go. Each system will have at least one “broker” acting as a central hub for data to pass through, and passes along data to any subscribers. When data changes at the edge devices, they publish the data to the brokers, and the broker pushes the updated values to subscribers.
MQTT leaves a lot of the work up to the people implementing the protocol. It requires defining a topic definition, or a way to spell out what devices and data is being communicated. It also defines a generic payload of data, requiring additional structure to be applied by the developers.
At this stage, we have a new protocol, MQTT, which gives us a low bandwidth way to send data but still requires we spend time developing our actual implementation on top of the specification. If everyone is developing their specific applications independently, we could end up with systems that don’t communicate with one another. This is good because we can set up networks with less bandwidth for the same amount of information being passed from remote devices. It lacks where it doesn’t provide any additional structure over things like Modbus, OPC or other protocols.
Along Came Ignition
Inductive Automation released the Ignition platform in the early 2000s with the goal of making it simple to get data out of PLCs and into databases. Their “unlimited everything” licensing model turned the rest of the automation industry on its head. No longer did you need to worry about tag counts, client licenses, or anything else for a growing system, you got it all with one purchase. They also took a modular approach, meaning you can easily add precisely the functionality you need without spending a lot on things you will never use.
Inductive Automation disrupting the marketplace opened the floodgates for data in an automation system. No longer are you limited by tag counts, you are merely limited by your capabilities and imagination. Looking back on the last 10-15 years, it is almost like Ignition and MQTT were destined to integrate.
Ignition makes it easy to integrate as much data as you can throw its way, and doesn’t make you think about limitations. MQTT does the same thing, and reduces the overall bandwidth requirements, making it cost-effective to get data into Ignition. The only hurdle is building a definition of how the data should be structured, working with suppliers to implement the definition into their products, and making it simple to get this data into Ignition.
Start Your Engines
Arlen Nipper and Cirrus Link, roll out the first MQTT modules for Ignition, including the Sparkplug specification. This is the game-changing moment for MQTT in the manufacturing world. Not only do you get the power of MQTT, combined with the power of Ignition, but you also get AUTOMATIC tag generation, with a definable structure. This is powerful. You write your PLC code as you would before, you get instruments like before, commission and implement everything the same way you always have…and you use devices that support Sparkplug. Now you get all of that data into Ignition with no extra work. Just set up your system, connect everything, and your information is already available.
Add a new piece of equipment? Data is already there through MQTT and Sparkplug. Build a new production facility with Sparkplug enabled devices? No additional work to add your information. Reports can be populated with no extra work, all of your analysis tools are ready to go, and all you had to do was put everything on the network.
This is the Future
This is truly the power of IIoT. It doesn’t simply use devices you never had before, sending data to your control system. IIoT is about making life simple, adding value, and reducing the overall workload. It is using what you already have, getting more value from it, and using a streamlined approach to the human and technological bandwidth required to get you there.
Winning with IIoT is using the best tools for the job and improving those tools, enabling you to do more amazing things. That is the power of IIoT.