Helping provide reliable flood protection in Switzerland.

11/04/2018

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common throughout the world, making flooding a growing threat. Flood defence measures have traditionally been based on mechanical equipment, but innovative automation technology can now be used to provide greater protection for people and the local environment. AWA – the Office for Water and Waste in the Swiss canton of Berne – is using this latest technology to regulate water levels at the region’s Brienzersee, Thuner and Bielersee lakes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Water level regulation must protect people from flooding and prevent damage – ideally in an economically justifiable way,” said Dr Bernhard Wehren, head of maritime regulation at AWA. “Some of our important control operations are particularly time-critical, but until recently, we relied on dataloggers that only sent the different measurements we require every few hours or so. Now, thanks to the new state-of-the-art technology we have implemented, this happens in real time. It is therefore very important that the data communications technology supports this by reliably meeting all the challenges and requirements of our unique mission-critical communications infrastructure.”

Modernising facilities
To help provide the most reliable flood protection, AWA decided to modernise its water regulation facilities for the lakes, encompassing four historic locks, the large Port of Bruggweir and accompanying hydropower plant, and a flood relief tunnel. Due to the increasing demand for the availability of more data, AWA also decided to upgrade all the measurement stations with state-of-the-art technology. The measurement stations play a crucial role in regulating water levels in the lakes.

When developing a plan to modernise the equipment, great attention was paid to both operational safety and system redundancy. There was a need to address the obsolete electrical engineering at Port of Brugg. This would include the conversion of all existing drives and the renewal of the energy supply, a large part of the cabling and the control and monitoring elements for the five weirs. Regulation and control technology also needed attention. Not only was there a need for redundancy in the event of a device failure or a line interruption, but also in case of communication disruptions, such as interruptions to the internet connection.

BKW Energie AG was appointed as the technical service provider and after a thorough review of suitable data communications technology companies, they chose Westermo to provide its robust networking solutions for the project.

Fast communication performance
“Crucial to the selection of Westermo was that their products met our high standards and requirements for the project. This included fast communication performance, multiple routing ports per device, high MTBF periods, extended temperature ranges and very low power consumption,” said Rénald Marmet, project engineer at BKW Energie. “Another factor was the operation and parameterisation of the networking hardware via the WeOS operating system. Also, the extremely efficient and time-saving update capability provided by the WeConfig network management software, which enables the central configuration and management of all Westermo devices.”

The main control network incorporates the AWA control centre in the capital, Berne,and further control centres at the water locks, Thun and Interlaken, each with one SCADA server and redundant controller. The control centres connect to 29 substations (measuring points). Eight SCADA clients access these servers. There is also a SCADA server located in the hydropower plant, providing BKW employees with access. The hydropower plant part is monitored by the BKW control centre in Mühleberg.

Westermo networking technology allows all data to be transferred in real-time between the participating sites. Should an emergency arise, this enables those responsible to take the appropriate measures immediately to ensure the best possible protection against flooding. Also, maintenance and software updates for all the installed Westermo networking devices can be performed easily and quickly with just a few mouse clicks.

In total, Westermo provided thirty of its RFIR-227 Industrial Routing Switches, twenty-seven VDSL Routers, twenty-fiveMRD-4554G Mobile Routers, thirty-five Lynx 210-F2G Managed Ethernet Switches with Routing Capability, thirty-six L110-F2G Industrial Layer -2 Ethernet Switches, and over eighty 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps SFP fibre optic transceivers via multimode and single-mode fibre for distances up to 80km.

Greater network redundancy
The three control centres all have two firewall routers connecting them to the internet providers and enabling them to receive or set up the IPsec and OpenVPN tunnels. There are also two redundant Siemens Simatic S7-400controllers installed in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and a WinCC SCADA server connected to the local network. The AWA SCADA station has the same design, but without the control functionality.

BKW took care not only to create network redundancy, but also to set up redundant routes to the internet providers. The VDSL routers use the service provider Swisscom, and the MRD-455 4G mobile radio routers are equipped with SIM-cards from Sunrise. The heart of the main network – the three control centres and the AWA control centre- are linked by IPsec-VPN Tunnels and Generic Routing Encapsulation(GRE) and form the automation backbone via Open Shortest Path First(OSPF) technology.

The result of this is that even should there be simultaneous connection failure to an internet provider in one location and the other provider at another station, or the total failure of one provider, communication between all centres, the connected remote stations and the remote access by BKW or AWA is still possible.

For increased safety, the external zones are segmented further. The service technicians can connect to the control centres through an OpenVPN tunnel and have access to all measuring stations on the network.

There are two different types of measuring stations. The high availability station consists of two completely separate networks. Each PLC is installed ‘behind’ a Westermo Lynx 210 device, which acts as a firewall and establishes the connection to the control centre via an OpenVPN tunnel. The redundant internet access is provided either via a VDSL router, which is connected to Swisscom, or a MRD-455 with Sunrise as the provider. A ‘standard’ station has only one PLC with a Lynx 210 acting as a firewall router and building the VPN tunnels in parallel via the two internet routers.

Security requirements
As well as network redundancy, security was also part of the requirements to guarantee high communication availability. The network implemented by BKW and Westermo provides the necessary security in accordance with recommendations found in the BDEW whitepaper and IEC-62443 standard. The outstations not only form their own zone, but other areas are also segmented where necessary. The network for the SCADA servers in the control centres is also decoupled from the backbone using two VRRP routers.

The flood defence system now has one of the most modern data communication systems in Switzerland. Explaining why this is so important to AWA, Dr Bernhard Wehren said: “Protection against flooding must be guaranteed at all times. Depending on the meteorological or hydrological situation, the availability of the required measured values is critical. Because access to the measuring stations in the extensive regions of the canton is generally very time-consuming, network device failures and communication interruption must be kept to a minimum. It is therefore extremely important that all components of our communication systems meet the highest standards, offer extreme reliability and can be upgraded to meet new requirements.”

“We were able to simplify processes, make them secure, redundant and transparent for the engineering department via VPN connections. This contributes significantly to the simple, safe and efficient maintenance of the system,” Rénald Marmet said. “Thanks to the extensive cooperation with Westermo network engineers, we were able to create the ideal solution that meets all requirements and was delivered on time. Westermo’s reliable networking technologies have given AWA and BKW the opportunity to build individual data communication solutions for critical industrial applications, while providing scalable, future-proof applications. The solution also offers all involved a high degree of investment security.”

#Switzerland. @Westermo @bkw #Environment #PAuto
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Cybersecurity pitfalls!

09/03/2017

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation discusses three cyber security pitfalls that industry should prepare for – the weaponisation of everyday devices, older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock and vulnerabilities in industrial control systems.

IBM X-Force® Research
2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index

In 2016, IBM reported that manufacturing was the second most cyber-attacked industry. With new strains of ransomware and other vulnerabilities created every week, what should manufacturers look out for in new year?

‘Weaponisation’ of everyday devices
The advantages of accessing data from smart devices include condition monitoring, predictive analytics and predictive maintenance, all of which can save manufacturers money.

However, recent attacks proved that these connected devices can quickly become weapons, programmed to attack the heart of any business and shut down facilities. In a recent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, everyday devices were used to bring down some of the most visited websites in the world, including Twitter, Reddit and AirBNB.

Such incidents raise a clear alarm signal that manufacturers should run their production line on a separate, highly secure network. For manufacturers that use connected devices, cyber security is even more important, so they should conduct regular cyber security audits and ensure security protocols are in place and up-to-date.

Don’t forget the oldies
According to the 2016 Manufacturing Report, manufacturers are more susceptible to older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock. These are serious vulnerabilities found in the OpenSSL cryptographic that allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications and steal data directly from users.

Industrial computer systems generally aren’t updated or replaced as often as consumer technology, which means that some still have the original OpenSSL software installed. A fixed version of the programme has since been released, meaning that manufacturers can avoid this type of attack by simply updating their system.

Keeping industrial control
Manufacturers understand the need to protect their networks and corporate systems from attacks, but their industrial control systems also pose a risk. If an attacker deploys ransomware to lock down manufacturing computers, it could cause long periods of downtime, loss of production and scrap of products that are being made when the attack happens.

This is particularly true in the era of Industry 4.0, where devices are connected and processes are automated. One of the most effective means of safeguarding automated production systems is cell protection. This form of defence is especially effective against man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby the attacker has the ability to monitor, alter and inject messages in a communications system.

In its report, IBM also stated that cyber security awareness in the manufacturing industry is lower than other sectors. The truth is that any company can be the target of a cyber attack. The only way to avoid a cyber security breach is by planning ahead and preparing for the unexpected.

#PAuto @StoneJunctionPR @IBMSecurity

Communication analysis: Industrial Ethernet & Wireless v Fieldbus.

06/03/2017

Industrial Ethernet and Wireless growth is accelerated by the increasing need for industrial devices to get connected and the Industrial Internet of Things. This is the main finding of HMS Industrial Networks’ annual study of the industrial network market. Industrial Ethernet now accounts for 46% of the market (38 last year). Wireless technologies are also coming on strong, now at 6% (4) market share. Combined, industrial Ethernet and Wireless now account for 52% of the market, while fieldbuses are at 48%.

Fieldbus vs. industrial Ethernet and wireless
HMS’s estimation for 2017 based on number of new installed nodes in 2016 within Factory Automation. The estimation is based on several market studies and HMS’s own sales statistics

HMS Industrial Networks now presents their annual analysis of the industrial network market, which focuses on new installed nodes within factory automation globally. As an independent supplier of products and services for industrial communication and the Internet of Things, HMS has a substantial insight into the industrial network market. Here are some of the trends they see within industrial communication in 2017.

network-shares-according-to-hms-2017-jpg_ico500
Industrial Internet of Things is boosting Industrial Ethernet growth
According to HMS, industrial Ethernet is growing faster than previous years, with a growth rate of 22%. Industrial Ethernet now makes up for 46% of the global market compared to 38% last year. EtherNet/IP and PROFINET are tied at first place, with PROFINET dominating in Central Europe, and EtherNet/IP leading in North America. Runners-up globally are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.

Anders Hanson

Anders Hanson

“We definitely see an accelerated transition towards various industrial Ethernet networks when it comes to new installed nodes,” says Anders Hansson, Marketing Director at HMS. “The transition to industrial Ethernet is driven by the need for high performance, integration between factory installations and IT-systems, as well as the Industrial Internet of Things in general.”

Wireless is redefining the networking picture
Wireless technologies are growing quickly by 32% and now accounts for 6% of the total market. Within Wireless, WLAN is the most popular technology, followed by Bluetooth. “Wireless is increasingly being used by machine builders to realize innovative automation architectures and new solutions for connectivity and control, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions via tablets or smartphones,” says Anders Hansson.

Fieldbus is still growing, but the growth is slowing down
Fieldbuses are still the most widely used type of networks with 48% of the market. Fieldbuses are still growing as many users ask for the traditional simplicity and reliability offered by fieldbuses, but the growth rate is slowing down, currently at around 4% compared to 7% last year. The dominant fieldbus is PROFIBUS with 14% of the total world market, followed by Modbus-RTU and CC-Link, both at 6%.

Regional facts
In Europe and the Middle East, PROFIBUS is still the leading network while PROFINET has the fastest growth rate. Runners up are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.
The US market is dominated by the CIP networks where EtherNet/IP has overtaken DeviceNet in terms of market shares.
In Asia, a fragmented network market is very visible. No network stands out as truly market-leading, but PROFIBUS, PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, Modbus and CC-Link are widely used. EtherCAT continues to establish itself as a significant network, and CC-Link IE Field is also gaining traction.

More and more devices are getting connected
“The presented figures represent our consolidated view, taking into account insights from colleagues in the industry, our own sales statistics and overall perception of the market,” says Anders Hansson. “It is interesting to see that industrial Ethernet and Wireless combined now account for more than half of the market at 52%, compared to fieldbuses at 48%. The success of a series of industrial Ethernet networks and the addition of growing Wireless technologies confirms that the network market remains fragmented, as users continue to ask for connectivity to a variety of fieldbus, industrial Ethernet and wireless networks. All in all, industrial devices are getting increasingly connected, boosted by trends such as Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. From our point of view, we are well-suited to grow with these trends, since HMS is all about ‘Connecting Devices.’”

 @HMSAnybus #PAuto #IoT

Systems integration for Industrie 4.0.

22/11/2016
The latest trends and challenges in systems integration.

Our world is getting smaller every day. Never before have remote locations been more accessible thanks to communications technology, smartphones and the internet. Connected devices have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including the most traditional industry sectors. Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager of Boulting Technology, discusses the challenges connectivity poses for industry, particularly with regard to systems integration and the water industry.

boulting_industrie_4-0One question industry has been unsuccessful in answering refers to the number of connected devices that exist in the world at the moment. Gartner says that by 2020, the Internet of Things will have grown to more than 26 billion units. According to Cisco, there will be 10 billion mobile-ready devices by 2018, including machine to machine – thus exceeding the world population.

The Industrial Internet of Things

Only fifteen years ago, an industrial plant operated on three separate levels. You had the plant processes or operational technology (OT), the IT layer and in between stood the grey area of middleware – connecting management systems to the shop floor. The problem in most enterprises was that the commercial and production systems were entirely separate, often as a deliberate policy. Trying to connect them was difficult not only because of the divergence in the technology, but also the limited collaboration between different parts of the organisation. For these reasons successful implementation of middleware was rare.

Fast forward to today’s smart factory floor that uses the almost ubiquitous Ethernet to make communications as smooth as possible. Supporting the new generation of networking technologies is an increased flow of data, collected and analysed in real-time. However, data is only useful when you can decipher and display it. The next step to industry nirvana is using relevant data for better decisions and predictive analysis, in which the system itself can detect issues and recommend solutions.

Smart manufacturing is based on a common, secure network infrastructure that allows a dialogue – or even better, convergence – between operational and information technology.

The trend goes beyond the factory floor and expands to big processes like national utilities, water treatment and distribution, energy and smart grids, everything in an effort to drive better decision making, improve asset utilisation and increase process performance and productivity.

In fact, some water and energy companies are using the same approach to perform self-analysis on energy efficiency, potential weak points and the integration of legacy systems with new technologies. In a highly regulated and driven sector like utilities, maximising assets and being able to make predictions are worth a king’s ransom.

System integration challenges
System integration in this connected industry landscape comes with its challenges, so companies need to keep up to speed and get creative with technology. Keeping existing systems up to date and working properly is one of the main challenges of industry and big processes alike.

Finally, ensuring your system is secure from cyber threats and attacks is a new challenge fit for Industry 4.0. Connecting a system or equipment to a network is all fine and dandy, but it also brings vulnerabilities that weren’t there before.

Systems integrators relish a challenge and they’re very good at adapting to new technologies. For this reason, some systems integrators have started working closely with industrial automation, IT and security experts to help overcome the challenges posed by Industrie 4.0.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about companies in utilities, manufacturing or transportation, the signs are showing that companies want to get more from their existing assets and are retrofitting systems more than ever.

Of course, retrofitting isn’t always easy. In many cases, upgrading a system without shutting it down is like trying to change the brakes on a speeding bus – impossible. However, unlike the bus scenario, there is usually a solution. All you have to do is find it.

Flexibility is essential for good systems integrators. Being familiar with a wide range of systems and working with different manufacturers is the best way to maximise industry knowledge and expertise, while also keeping up to date with the latest technologies. At Boulting Technology, we partner up with market leaders like Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Schneider, ABB and others, to design and supply tailor-made systems integration solutions for a diverse range of industries, processes and platforms.

The world might be getting smaller and we might be more connected than ever before, but some things never change. Relevant experience, partnerships and the desire to innovate are as valuable as they have ever been in this connected new world of Industrie 4.0.

@BoultingTech #PAuto #IoT #Industrie4 @StoneJunctionPR

Automation industry veterans are IoT pioneers and didn’t know it!

28/12/2015
Keith Blodorn, Director of Program Management at ProSoft Technology advises what to consider when starting your industrial internet of things journey

Do you consider yourself an Internet of Things Engineer? You should! Think about what the Internet of Things really means. According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things “is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices…” As an automation industry veteran, that sounds really familiar. We have been connecting intelligent devices to control networks for decades. We’re pioneers!

Acoustic coupler!

Acoustic coupler!

So, then, what’s all the fuss about? Looking through automation-oriented magazines and websites, the Internet of Things seems to be all anyone talks about. In the industrial world people call it the “Industrial Internet of Things” or “Industry 4.0” or any number of other names. But fundamentally, what is so different between this new-fangled buzzword and connecting a motor overload relay to a plant communications network like we were doing twenty years ago?

On one hand, these are basically the same idea. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about intelligent devices like overloads, photo eyes, variable frequency drives, or PLCs providing data that we use to make our processes more efficient. IIoT is a name for a trend that has been going on in manufacturing and process control for years – remember “shop floor to top floor”? IIoT is about gathering more data from more intelligent things, and using powerful analytical tools to find and eliminate waste.

Remote Monitoring and Equipment Access
I know, we’ve been connecting to PLCs remotely for as long as most of us can remember! In the old days, remote access meant installing a serial modem connected to a dedicated phone line, so the machines we made remote access-capable were limited to the most critical operations.

What’s changed in the IIoT world is the proliferation of wireless connectivity, especially cellular networks and wireless LAN. By some estimates, 85 percent of the world’s population will be covered by high-speed cellular data networks by 2017. This has had several effects that change how we should approach remote access and equipment monitoring. First, it’s becoming feasible to gather a LOT more data from remote machines. Since 2008, the average cost per MB of cellular data has dropped 98 percent, from $0.46 per MB to just $0.01 per MB. Now, all that data that we used to deem not important enough to transmit can be made available from our remote sites.

Second, as consumer demand has driven rapid development of Internet- based user interfaces, these same technologies are making remote access to industrial equipment, and especially to process data, more accessible for more people throughout the organization.

Finally, machine builders and control engineers responsible for widely dispersed global operations can build reliable connectivity into their systems without the need for custom infrastructure and integration at the end site. Cellular technology that works on networks worldwide allows these engineers to design their system around a standard remote connection, and reasonably expect that connection to work wherever the machine ends up. For mobile equipment, access is available just about anywhere the equipment goes.

Machine and Process Control
IIoT technology is not just about cellular connections to remote machines. We are seeing new networking approaches to the old requirements of connecting sensors, operator interfaces, controllers and ERP systems that take advantage of the networking technology of today’s Internet. Major automation vendors like Rockwell Automation® and Schneider Electric® have been offering industrial Ethernet connectivity for PLCs and related devices for more than a decade. Industrial Ethernet protocols like ODVA’s EtherNet/IP provide the kind of performance required for automation systems, while also enabling interoperability with the massive Internet Protocol-based network infrastructure found in virtually every organization.

In many industrial applications, moving equipment presents a major challenge for communication to the sensors, actuators, and controls on that equipment. Many products exist to try to solve this problem, from slip rings to flexible cable trays to festoons.

However, these hard-wired solutions add cost and complexity while increasing the maintenance requirements for the machine. Meanwhile, we roam around our offices and homes with continuous connection to the Internet – no festoons in sight! Today’s automation engineers are taking advantage of the Internet Protocol-based industrial technologies to design more reliable networks for moving equipment.

Asset Mobility
One area of automation where IIoT technology is creating new opportunities involves taking the network connection anywhere in the plant. Old systems offered only so many places to “plug in.” Operators had to run the machine from one place – the operator panel. Maintenance had to jot down measurements and observations to enter into the maintenance management system when they got back to the shop. Control engineers could only program PLCs by plugging into the PLC, or to the PLC’s physical network through a proprietary adapter.

In a world where I can set my home thermostat while walking through an airport, we don’t have to live like this! Automation systems are now benefiting from the same “network everywhere” mindset as our home and office environment.

Things to Consider

Keith Blodorn - the author

Keith Blodorn – the author

The Industrial Internet of Things opens up some interesting new possibilities for automation, so you should begin planning how you can get your system “IIoT Ready.” The good news is that you likely have many pieces in place already – intelligent field devices, industrial networks, perhaps even some Internet Protocol-based infrastructure. Here is some food for thought as you consider how your system can fit into this new world of connected machines.

• Network Migration – While many of your field devices are likely already on a network, it is probably not an Internet Protocol-based network. Not to worry! As you see the need to move device data up to higher-level systems, you won’t need to scrap that tried-and-true device network. Gateway devices and in-rack protocol interfaces in your controller allow you to easily connect those older networks to the IP-based applications that need that device data. Serving up data from smart devices adds value to your operation, but it doesn’t necessarily require changing everything that is already there.

• Cybersecurity – While the interoperability of the IIoT brings great benefits, it also opens up new risks that we need to address. In reality, many automation systems are already “connected,” so cybersecurity should already be on your mind. It is important to understand what equipment can be accessed by whom, what connections are necessary and not necessary, and how data that’s transmitted outside the boundaries of your organization’s network is protected.

• Start Small – Vendors everywhere have grand visions for what the IIoT can do for manufacturers. But remember, you don’t need to dive in head first to get benefits from IIoT. Look for applications in your industry that make sense, and give them a try. One of the best parts of the IIoT concept is its scalability – Internet-based applications can just as easily serve one deployment as one million. Pick an interesting application, and run a pilot in a small area. There’s no better way to learn about a new technology than by giving it a go.

• Get Help – Most importantly, work with vendors you can trust. When it comes to industrial networking, ProSoft Technology® has been helping engineers get different equipment all talking the same language for more than 25 years. We can help you navigate your IIoT course, from connecting older Modbus® and PROFIBUS® networks to enabling remote equipment connectivity via cellular networks. When you’re ready to start the next phase of your IIoT journey, we’re here to help make it happen!


“Were you made for me?” – Choosing the right connector spec.

14/09/2015

Connectors come in all shapes and sizes depending on environment and application. There are literally thousands of options, sometimes for the same job. Inevitably, this can cause a lot of confusion. To make sure you find the best product for every job, there are a few questions you might want to ask yourself before making a purchase. Here Amy Wells, business development manager at Electroustic poses the questions you need to be asking when specifying a connector.

ELE060First things first, size matters. Do you know the physical size of the connector you need, or are you limited in space and height by the job? Hundreds of connectors are used in wire looms; perhaps even thousands if these are part of an automated manufacturing line. In each case, the requisite space needs to be analysed and the correct connector specifications chosen. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often people come a cropper. 

The next question you need to be asking yourself is how many poles the connector needs.

Different applications require connectors with different poles. Future-proofing your choice can be a good idea, especially for a new product. So it’s worth considering whether you should go for more poles than originally required.

Do you know how many mating cycles the connector needs be able to make? Despite what you might think, mating cycles refer to the number of connection or disconnection operations the connector can withstand, while still meeting the specifications for maximum resistance and pull force. Every connector has an expected number of cycles before efficiency is compromised and the connector needs replacing.

This brings us nicely onto the proper protection. Connectors may be susceptible to ingress of foreign materials, such as moisture or dust. Connector protection is provided by the housing and the seal. The IP standard rating system defines the degree of protection provided. The first digit defines the protection against the ingress of dust particles; the second digit defines the protection against the ingress of water. Choosing the right connector for the job is key.

One of the most important factors is knowing what applications and environment a connector will be operating in – we can’t stress that enough. Electromagnetic radiation can interfere with electrical equipment. In applications where electromagnetic radiation is likely to be higher than usual or where operations are critical, connectors need to have electromagnetic fields (EMF) shielding.

Similarly, connectors used in explosive environments must be ATEX certified and components used in military applications need to have Mil-Spec to ensure the highest levels of performance. 

Furthermore, connectors in particularly harsh environments – like those in the oil and gas industry – need to be up for the job at hand. Knowing the minimum and maximum operating temperature is essential for specifying a rugged connector that meets the temperature range set by the application.

It’s not just the connector’s specs you have to be aware of when planning a job. Lead times from manufacturer to supplier can be lengthy, running from anywhere between four to sixteen weeks. It’s no good specifying a part that has a typical 16 week lead time if it will hold up the production process. To combat this potential issue, a good distributor will always hold a substantial amount of stock on the shelf.

Speaking of distributors, they will also be able to advise you on cost effectiveness.  When crafting wire looms, connectors are ordered in bulk, with the resultant savings passed on to the customer. However, if you need just one connector – perhaps if it’s a specialist part – you won’t be quite as lucky. A good working relationship with an experienced distributor can result in alternatives being sourced for a fraction of the price.  

Finally, as any lifestyle magazine will tell you, compatibility is paramount. If you’re retrofitting new connectors to old or simply mating two together in a loom, they need to be intermateable. If not, you risk damage to the system and or data/power loss.


The road to Wireless – which wireless standard suits you best?

17/08/2015

WiFi, Bluetooth or Zigbee? Tom McKinney of HMS Industrial Networks offers a review of the available short range wireless standards for industrial applications.

Tom McKinney, Business Development Manager at HMS Industrial Networks

Tom McKinney, Business Development Manager at HMS Industrial Networks

Recently the buzz around Industrial IoT has grown to a deafening roar. The market for IIoT devices is projected to grow exponentially over the next several years as businesses start to capture more data regarding their operations. That data will be used to monitor and optimize processes, and as companies learn to use the data they capture to improve processes, the result will be increased productivity. Beyond internal productivity, this data may lead to improved company-to-company operations benefiting both the producer and the customer.

Multiple technology advancements have converged to make large-scale Industrial IIoT deployments possible. These advancements include reduced cost of data storage, lower power RF solutions and higher levels of network accessibility. Another important enabler for Industrial IoT is wireless standardization.

Wireless is nothing new
Wireless networks have been used for over 30 years in the industrial market. In the past, these networks were typically sub 1GHz proprietary systems. The solutions used simple modulation techniques like amplitude-shift keying (ASK) or frequency-shift keying (FSK). Radios that supported these types of modulation could be created easily with a handful of discrete parts. The drawback of these solutions were a complete lack of security and limited bandwidth.

Over the last twenty years, several standards have been developed to define robust radio solutions. The most recent standards are secure enough for broad deployment. In addition, several new free-to-use frequency bands where introduced in the 80s including the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Deploying a standardized radio solution today is a cost-effective secure way to both monitor and control devices in the field or factory. Given the number of wireless standards to choose from, the question becomes which standard is the right standard to deploy.

Summary
1) WiFi
a. Pros
i. Highest Bandwidth up to 600Mbits/s with 802.11n
ii. Fixed 25 MHz or larger Channels
iii. Support for 2.4 and 5GHz channels
iv. Extensive security features
b. Cons
i. Range is lower with higher data rates and 5GHz
ii. Not a good match for battery powered sensors
2) Bluetooth/BLE
a. Pros
i. Very low power
ii. Massive deployed
iii. Very good performance in congested or noisy wireless environments
iv. Ease of use, no frequency planning or site map requirements
b. Cons
i. Max data rate of 2Mbits/s
ii. No automated roaming standard
3) Zigbee
a. Pros
i. Very low power
ii. Fixed channels between WiFi channels in 2.4 GHz band
iii. Support for sub 1GHz bands
b. Cons
i. Complicated mesh network
ii. Max bandwidth of 250Kbits/s

So let´s take a look at the three most common wireless standards deployed in the 2.4GHz band: Bluetooth, WiFi and Zigbee.

WiFi
WiFi or IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n is the widest deployed consumer and enterprise wireless TCP/IP network solution. WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity and is a standard used to identify Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) devices. The committee managing this standard is aims to create the best possible wired TCP/IP network replacement. The committee prioritizes security and speed over all other tradeoffs. As a result, 802.11n has the highest bandwidth of any short range wireless standard. The drawback is power consumption and processing power required to effectively manage the 802.11 stack. These drawbacks created a gap in the market and several standards have emerged to address the very low power wireless market.

Bluetooth
Bluetooth and Zigbee were both introduced to address markets not serviced well by WiFi. The Bluetooth standard addressed the needs for a low power Personal Area Network (PAN). A PAN is defined as the network that surrounds a person or a smart device. The requirements include fast association, simple human-to-machine interfaces and low power. In a PAN, multiple transmitters can be placed very close together – Bluetooth includes timing to ensure device transmitters don´t overlap. Bluetooth was also designed under the assumption it would have to co-exist with WiFi and includes a frequency hopping algorithm to ensure Bluetooth messages can get through even when multiple WiFi channels are active. Finally, because Bluetooth uses a very low power transmitter, it is less sensitive to multi-path compared to WiFi. As a result, Bluetooth can be deployed successfully without extensive RF site reviews and planning. The system is very resistant to noise and interference.

Zigbee
Zigbee is based on IEEE 802.15.4 which is a general-purpose, low-power wireless radio standard that allows different protocols to be built on top of the standard radio. Zigbee set out to support low power sensor networks capable of covering a large area. Zigbee uses meshing networking and a very aggressive power profile to meet the needs of this niche market. Zigbee´s protocol is designed for quick turn-on and turn-off, thereby saving power. Several other protocols have been built on top of 802.15.4 including ISA100, WirelessHART and 6LoWPAN.

Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was introduced as an update to the Bluetooth standard. Leveraging some of the techniques used in 802.15.4, BLE was able to achieve even lower power points when compared to Zigbee and support many of the features originally created by the Zigbee standards effort.

Selecting the standard for you
So which standard is the right standard to deploy? That depends on the system requirements. In summary, WiFi has the highest bandwidth and most comprehensive stack but Bluetooth, BLE and Zigbee offer features ideal for particular applications. For example, if monitoring battery-powered sensors over a very large area, Zigbee would be the ideal standard. Bluetooth/BLE works well as a cable replacement point-to-point technology or for monitoring sensors over a smaller area. BLE has a huge installed base of tablets and phones making it an excellent choice for human-to-machine interfaces.

Although technology standards may vary, there is no doubt that more and more applications will be wirelessly connected in the near future. With the advent of Industrial IoT, billions of devices will need to hook up to the Internet, and many of these connections will undoubtedly be wireless.