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Friday, October 14, 2016

Time Well Spent

Happy Friday, everyone!

Just a brief post today, and then the weekend begins! If you have 15 minutes, watch this video on mindfulness. Why? In a nutshell, because it's inspirational and positive and I honestly believe that using technology can make, in the words of Tristan Harris, a "net-positive contribution to human life."

What's that you say? Why wouldn't it?

Well, I challenge you: Why would it?

It's important to remember that machines are very literal and will only do what we ask them to do. If we think to program them with features that "Improve Humanity!", they will! And if we consciously decide to measure the successes of our IoT technology in how positively they impact human life, that is exactly what they will do.

Think about the things in this video for your family, your company, and your soul. Do it because, whether we know it or not, whether we feel ready or not, we are setting the foundation a machine-integrated, IoT-enabled, technologically-advanced future that we and our children will have to live in.

It's fun and exciting, and at least for me, a little bit daunting because, let's face it, it's a big responsibility. Let's be ready!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

IIoT - 3 Security Considerations

We are already sold on the idea that we need to encrypt our IoT data - we have passwords for my passwords' passwords.

But when we think about security in terms of the IIoT (no, I didn't slip and put an extra "I" in my title, that first I is for Industrial), we need to consider a variety of factors in a landscape that is still evolving and developing.
Here is some food for thought that I came up with as I was visiting #SensorsExpoMW16, the Sensors Expo Midwest 2016 today:

1. Consider End-to-End Encryption
Encrypt at both ends, and you are secure. Anything else is hackable.

2. Why are our wired and wireless devices using different encryption means?
It seems to be common in start-up IoT security companies to think of wired and wireless as completely separate beasts. As you find your way in this new landscape, consider the possibility that these 'different' data types can be treated the same way by your security methods.

3. How user-friendly is access to the data stream? I recently began using an email service that allows me to access the program as an admin and also assign different user levels based on their need-to-access. Can we do this in Industrial IoT? Of course we can! How useful this to you - think cost - depends on your company and your application.

Security is a never-ending conversation. I am curious what your security considerations are. What did I miss?

Loops and Noise and Power (oh my!)

We love to look forward. It's exciting to see what is possible that a few years ago was only sci-fi.

With that in mind, I would encourage you to remember that 1. we are still operating in the real world and 2. we still have to deal with physics. A few 'pro tips' that seem basic that we find people forget every day. Think the IoT is magic? It is! But physics. Still. Applies. Sorry!

Well, I can't offer chocolate as a consolation over a blog, but I can offer a few tips to soothe the reality check blues:

We are still dealing with different grounds. We have to keep the basic laws of electricity in mind even as we are going wireless and are able to read our data in the cloud as well as locally. Don't forget that our signals are still originating from a machine that is tied to its own earth potential, and it doesn't matter how IoT-enabled your plant is - if you have ground loop issues, that fancy cloud data is inaccurate. Read about ground loops here.

Wireless creates a different kind of noise. The more wireless devices we have, the more electronic 'noise' we might see interfering with machinery, sensors, or other devices in your factory. Important not to forget this factor as we troubleshoot new IoT gear.

Everything needs power. Seems simple. It's not. As we move towards more IoT-enabled equipment, we need to keep in mind that everything needs power, and our infrastructure has to expand to meet those new power demands on all levels. An IoT-enabled sensor requires more power to send a data stream to one more outlet, while all along the data path we must transmit said data. Battery-powered IoT devices really expose this weak spot.

Data compression can help as can reducing monitoring during down-times, but we also need to demand efficiency and low-power solutions as we investigate IoT solutions - it will help in the long run.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Basics of Signal Conditioning

We hope you find this presentation useful. It is a teaching tool for engineers and plant managers who want to learn the basics of signal isolation / conditioning.

Ideal if you are a industrial, mechanical, or chemical specialist or engineer who finds yourself in a position of managing production lines, plants, or facilities outside of your field of expertise.

We think you will also find it very helpful in understanding how to maximize your PLC or DAQ. Signal splitting, conversion, isolation, or conditioning is something that is plaguing those converting to smart systems as it has since the beginning of electrical engineering in industrial applications. Find out how you can apply it to your plant.

For questions or concerns about your specific signal isolation or conditioning application, you can always call us at 800-942-0315, 8am-5pm M-F CST.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rethinking IoT Conversion: Sensors to Solutions

The IoT, like all technological developments, is showing some lag between development and roll-out. Changing infrastructure takes time, due to factors such as cost and attachment to tried-and-true methodology. And let's face it - no one wants to be a 'guinea pig' when it comes to new technology.


The IoT is anything but new. Anyone who followed the Hannover Messe in April knew that it revolved around IoT developments. The developments were precipitated, according to Jayanth Kolla of LiveMint.com, of $7.5 billion being poured into IoT concepts and development from 2010 through 2015. In his article, "Industrial IoT will score over consumer IoT," the author points out that $2 billion of that came in in 2015, and so we are seeing an increase in development. But the reality is that IoT development began even before 2010.

"Art & Industry" Photo by Chris Browne for Absolute Process Instruments, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The IoT, or Internet of Things, is defined by all the 'things' that are able to connect to each other using sensors and smart technology. If the 'thing' can go online, and especially if it can transmit to receive input from other 'things' online, it has become part of the IoT. Humans still have to program the devices and tell them how they should communicate with each other, but even this is evolving. Kolla points out that current trends are focusing on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

For most, enabling every machine in a plant or factory to be IoT-enabled is daunting, if for no other reason than we tend to think of replacing existing machinery. But what if this were unnecessary?

Bill McCabe, considered a Top 50 Authority on LinkedIn's respected Pulse, gives us a rare glimpse of how smart engineers and plant managers are actually applying this technology.

In his piece, "How the Internet of Things Will Transform the World of Manufacturing Automation, McCabe states two very key points: "Sensors must be placed in technology and a host system installed." Nowhere does he state that technology must be replaced.

And in fact, we already have the on-site engineering skills and infrastructure to move our plants in the direction of the IoT. Because, you see, we already have machines transmitting information to PLC's or DAQ's. So what if plant engineers or managers can convert key sensors to those that are IoT-enabled? A multi-million dollar infrastructure replacement might suddenly become a several-thousand dollar sensor overhaul.

Though there are machines and systems coming on the market who have integrated IoT systems, and you can plan ahead for such major infrastructure changes, integration and increased efficiency now just might be easier than you think!

Monday, August 1, 2016

3 Tips to Connecting and Disconnecting with the IoT

As a plant manager, you are quite aware of the double-edged sword of IoT technology, which can often result in a mass of incompatible protocols and therefore ‘things’ if you are not careful. I currently work in marketing, but as an employee of a small manufacturing company, Absolute Process Instruments, Inc. outside of Chicago, I am quite aware of the challenges both our customers and our own plant manager faces and I have found two articles that I hope will help guide some of your research.

The first article is called Early Industrial IoT Adopters Will Clean OutThe Competition and is co-written by Karen Field and Brian Buntz of ioti.com. The piece outlines how consumer technology is being applied to industry, while reminding us our ‘dumb’ machines will not keep up in the future. Citing the possibility of “digital exhaust,” the article reminds us that the sheer amount of data, for example, from a wind turbine with 200 sensors reporting every second needs to be collected, analyzed, and used for it to be helpful – and not a waste. At the end we are strongly advised to consider SaaS (software as a service) as a business model for the future, one where a company not only sells its products but the means by which to understand what their products are saying.
The second article, entitled What Engineers Need to Know aboutCommunication Protocols When Choosing IoT Management Software, is by ShawnWasserman of Engineering.com. The author cites the difficulties all engineers face when “actually implementing IoT,” not the least of which is proprietary software that do not speak – yet – due to a lack of IoT Management software - what Wasserman aptly calls a “network of networks.” He goes on to discuss the IoT management options available today, concluding that there is a real lack of standardization that is ultimately inhibiting growth and giving us a few directions plant managers can take in order to make as informed decisions as one can given the current state of affairs.
Here are three steps you can take towards making IoT-related decisions for your company:
  1. Talk To Others
    And not just anyone. I recommend joining the Industrial Internet Consortium, iiconsortium.org, or another IoT Consortium.
  2. Do Your Homework
    Stay knowledgeable about any new announcements by the major players in the industrial IoT game: PTC’s ThingWorx, Autodesk’s SeeControl, Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub, and Amazon’s AWS IoT are the major players according to Wasserman.
  3. 5 Minutes a Day
    It’s best to read about one company five minutes a day once a week than to research all these companies at once and forget about them for a month. Technology moves fast – stay with it.
The IoT seems to be coming whether we like it or not. Both articles’ authors emphasize that waiting could hamstring companies long-term, but at the very least it behooves us to do our homework so that, whatever decision we make, it is an informed one.

Cara Sawyer currently works as a Marketing Associate for Absolute Process Instruments | Cecomp Electronics in Libertyville, IL. In a past life she was a full-time professional freelance Classical musiciann and is now enjoying applying the infinitely transferable skills of music to marketing.  This post is an assignment for the Social Media Specialization course through Northwestern University and Coursera.org. She can be reached at @ApiCecomp

API manufactures high-accuracy industrial Signal Conditioners & Isolators, and Cecomp specializes in manufacturing ultra-ruggedized digital pressure gauges for companies like Boeing to the racing industry and everyone in between.