Are smart devices giving us too much information?

Is over communication putting your plant at risk?

By John Rezabek

As we're hurried forward into the promised new "Industrial Internet of Things" - the "IIoT," a.k.a. "pervasive sensing," will we find the presumed wealth of previously hidden information useful or interesting? Surely there will be something I care about—like that "thing" that broke and caused the fire that crippled crucial production. I wish that "thing" had been on the network and would have called me at home before the vapor cloud escaped and ignited. Or that "thing" that fouls my turbines and exchangers and causes me to take numerous shutdowns for cleaning and repair. Is that thing going to be on the network somewhere so it can send me some email? The thing that caused a spill or release – will it have an IP address on the Internet? The trouble is, for every "thing" that I can imagine communicating and potentially saving me from some adversity, there are 20 things already flooding the network with data. Somewhere among all those hundreds or thousands of messages is one I wish I could read right now, but how do I go about finding it?

The situation is largely analogous to the process industry's problem with alarm management. Alarms on process data became "free" with the advent of the PLC and DCS – a few mouse clicks and any piece of data could be made to make noise (sound the horn) or change color on the HMI. And that's what we did. On my system, every module template has a minimum of five alarm parameters configured. Multiply that times a few hundred or a few thousand, and you have the makings of an alarm flood. As for device alerts, we don't have to wait for the IIoT; we're really already there. Rather than obscuring the real urgency and priority of process malfunctions that require timely action, the host of information-laden smart devices obscures or desensitizes us to device problems that would benefit from prompt attention. It could be the sort of attention that would avert some of those process problems, and that's where the real value lies.

To learn more about Industrial Internet of Things, read “All Instruments Connected to IIoT Seems Ideal, Smart and Practical, but Is It Really?” from Control.

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