The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a sea change for many in the manufacturing industry and beyond. It has brought about not just an incredible amount of new information but also new methods for acquiring this data. SCADA projects will benefit greatly from the integration of this intelligence.
SCADA has evolved over the years, and now our attention will be on supporting the architectures to acquire IIoT sensor information and consolidating it with the rest of the SCADA data in real time. This means adding IIoT data feeds into SCADA hosts that are currently using hardwired industrial IP networks, often with legacy serial communications in the mix.
Connecting to IIoT sensors
There are two emerging business models for Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) to connect to IIoT sensors. In the first, providers offer a complete infrastructure. An example of this kind of provider is Sigfox. The Sigfox business model is to provide a standard API for consumers for connecting to any IoT or IIoT sensor in the sensor’s environment. Sigfox provides the complete LPWAN including cell towers and servers. These systems are designed for updates on an infrequent basis when minimal data is exchanged. There is a fee charged each time the Sigfox infrastructure is used to acquire data.
A different approach is taken by the LoRa Alliance™ with its LoRaWAN™ technology. LoRaWAN is quite interesting for SCADA applications because it is not a turnkey infrastructure. The LoRa Alliance is an open, not-for-profit association of members who are collaborating on the LoRa protocol, LoRaWAN. It is possible to purchase LoRaWAN gateways and associate the gateways with IIoT sensors reporting back to a network server. The user (or third-party service provider) owns the equipment and therefore the data architecture and costs associated with transmission. This means that SCADA data does not have to go through the cloud but can be acquired and consumed at the local plant or facility.
Based on our industry’s history, we expect that SCADA data acquisition from the IIoT will have different flavors, and very likely we’ll see these in use in parallel. This is consistent with what has happened in previous networking evolutions, which is why SCADA platform providers still have and support serial communications. In the case of the IIoT, there will be some data in a cloud platform that our customers will want to integrate into their SCADA environment and other data that they need to acquire locally; our architecture options must support both.