Secure peer-to-peer data sharing on the plant floor

Rockwell Automation's Kyle Reissner introduces Project Stanton, which will turn mobile devices into smart nodes.

By Thomas Wilk, Editor in Chief

The Plant Services Disruptive Technology series continues this month with collection of five interviews on how mobile technologies are reshaping the way that maintenance and reliability teams are doing their jobs. This story features Kyle Reissner, ‎industrial automation mobility platform leader at Rockwell Automation, on how their work with Microsoft is extending mobile productivity to everyone in the plant. Links to all five interviews are collected on this page.

PS: What does the mass availability of mobile technologies mean for maintenance strategies?

KR: We believe in a "spherical world" of mobility, where you enable the user and you allow them to be portable – going beyond just replicating user interfaces that weren’t designed for small form factors. It's a foundationally a different experience for the user depending on the piece of glass they are using. and this makes mobile more useful which results in higher productivity.

I think from an end-user perspective, the expectations are that things are just natively extensible to these devices. I don't think it's a demographic issue of, for example, the Millennials are coming in and they're demanding this. I think that even the 50-plus operators, engineers and technicians, they just expect it to be there.

PS: Where do you see the next wave of change occurring?

KR: We have a prototype that we’re now showing publicly where the concept is that, moving into the app world, we don't do a different app for every single product Rockwell Automation offers. We look at the app experience as being a system experience that brings new functions to drive productivity that aren’t in the market today. Many offerings in this app space are isolated to one or two people operating them or accessing them; and many players are doing one off apps in the market. We’ve chosen to focus on a new persona-focused app platform, where the platform is in the app – and it works offline, independent of products and has within it modules that drive pointed value. The app platform stitches together all of our products into a platform that allows users to do things that they have never thought of in mobile, and really extend mobile productivity to everyone in the plant.

We announced a partnership with Microsoft around this initiative: they have a project called Project Thali (@Thaliproject), and we have a project called Project Stanton (@project_stanton). These really are one joint project that happens to be working across both companies. Microsoft is working on an open source initiative to liberate mobile devices to be more than just clients, and this is perfectly aligned with what we are doing and what our objectives are.

Project Stanton is very much a prototype at this stage, but what this is, is a full-on server in your phone with the database in the phone. From a simple perspective, within the Project Stanton app, we have an app module called an incident module. You simply go to a machine, you identify what's wrong on the machine, you add some pictures, some video, text, etc. This can all be aggregated because Project Stanton allows us make that server, or the app itself, aware of other instances of Project Stanton in a secure peer-to-peer way. So that incident created is shared with our team. That peer-to-peer capability within the platform’s engine can be over the cloud, Wi-Fi, or using a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi directly with other users device.

Phones of course can communicate through the cloud or an on-premise server. But, if this phone over here is completely isolated, this maintenance worker is not connected to a network, not connected to the cloud, then how does this user get value? Well, he’ll securely sync to his local team for that – Project Stanton uses the local radios to pass data and to sync (see Figure 1). It hops in a secure way, phone to phone to phone, and creates a local peer-to-peer network. And then when they decide to put Wi-Fi infrastructure into the plant or that user connects to the cloud, it just gets better. This eliminates friction to the initial value for that companies don’t have to install wireless to see a boost in productivity; rather they set up a team in Project Stanton and securely share data across that team. And if customers already have that infrastructure, the engine is opportunistic and ends up providing a more robust paths to end users because in industry, connections always go in and out.

In essence, it's turning what’s typically viewed as only a client into a smart node. It might seem like a pretty obvious thing to do, but it's really hard to do because we wanted the same core engine code running on iOS, the same code running on Android and on Windows 10 in the future when we see Windows 10 pickup on phone form factors. In fact, Microsoft has been critical in developing with us to specifically run this on every platform – we’re very thankful for Yaron Goland and his team at Microsoft for that we’re truly breaking new ground here. To be truly universal, we also are running parts of this engine on something as small as a Raspberry Pi, so we are truly in the realm of being an app that's more than just a client and that can be truly multi-platform. This is why we call it our app platform and not just our mobile platform - this is Project Stanton.

It’s a modern way of looking at things, rather than just a “mobile” way. People want to be portable, they want to be enabled, and the specific device doesn't matter. People are expecting to do different things on the phone that, traditionally, industrial systems couldn’t do, and that's where we’re pushing the envelope with Project Stanton and co-innovating with Microsoft with the Thali Project.

Figure 1. Project Stanton uses local radios to pass data and to sync.

Read more interviews from "Going mobile: Advice from the experts"

How mobile won the plant floor
Zebra's Jim Hilton talks about how mobility and production processes are redefining each other.

Free your data and uptime will follow
Fluke's John Neeley explains how mobile innovations are enabling reliability-centered maintenance.

How mobile is disrupting field services, operations, and logistics
Honeywell's Rohit Robinson argues that the greatest risks related to mobile tech are not adopting it soon enough.

Mobility is a standing expectation in plants
Schneider Electric's Saadi Kermani says to get a mobile plan in place to help become more agile as a business.

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