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Creating a Connected Factory: Connecting the Dots of the IoT

By ·Categories: Industrial IoT·Published On: November 12th, 2021·7.1 min read·

During our most recent OnLogic Live event, we discussed the benefits of a connected factory and how you can begin connecting your facility to the cloud quickly and easily. You can watch the event on demand here – or read the recap below! 

What is a Connected Factory?

There are a lot of terms used to describe a connected factory, or other connected facilities. For example – there’s Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and Digital Transformation. It all comes down to a combination of hardware and software that lets you capture data about the performance of your facility, and use it to gain visibility into, and insights about, your processes and products.

A connected factory empowers you to improve the efficiency and output of your operations. But, we know that getting started can feel daunting. We’re here to cut through the complexity and talk about how you can begin connecting your facility quickly and easily. In fact, you could be up and running in about an hour. 

OnLogic Live Introductions

Arlen Nipper, President and CTO, Cirrus Link Solutions.

Arlen Nipper

Arlen is an IoT pioneer, thought leader and co-inventor of the MQTT protocol, which is widely considered to be the gold standard messaging system for the Internet of Things. 

Mike Walsh, Product Manager, OnLogic

Mike Walsh

With over 25 years in the technology sector, Mike is the Product Manager of the OnLogic industrial line of hardware. 

Patrick Metzger, Partnerships, OnLogic

Patrick Metzger

Combining his skills and interests in technology, business relationships, and marketing, Patrick is passionate about exploring the areas where tech and people connect.

What are the most valuable benefits of a connected factory?

Arlen Nipper: Right away, we see businesses realize the benefit of visibility of their processes. There are many sensors and data collection points already deployed: PLCs, smart transmitters, industrial control computers – but they are all in a silo. The data can’t be shared or analyzed. Once the data becomes visible and accessible, processes can be optimized and workflow improved. 

The Connect Kit enables machines to bring data to an Ignition dashboard then to the Amazon cloud for analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. People start to see the art of the possible. 

At the high level view – it looks complex! People wonder where to start. But you don’t need to build a rocket ship to go to the grocery store. The Connect Kit brings it down to the operational level. We can help you keep it simple by connecting portions of your facility quickly and simply. The Connect Kit gives you the ability to start simply and prove immediate value in the real world – no coding required. 

What is the Connect Kit by OnLogic and why was it created?

Mike Walsh: The Connect Kit is a bundle of everything you need – OnLogic hardware, cables, pre-imaged partner software, and an hour of expert consultation.  

When we created the Connect Kit, we first selected one of our most versatile computer systems which can be used in both industrial and rugged environments. Even if your environment has challenges with temperature, shock, vibration, or anything else, our Connect Kit system can take it. 

We bundled it with the cables most frequently needed. Users can just plug their devices in without a need to be looking for the right cable to get started.   

Key software is pre-installed so that the system can be connected and generate actionable data quickly, without the hassles of writing specialized code.

Finally, every Connect Kit comes with a consulting session with our partner Cirrus Link. They bring extensive experience enabling businesses in their digital transformation journey.

What does that first day of connecting to the cloud look like for facilities?

Arlen Nipper: We start simply – we don’t want to eat the elephant in one sitting! So we pick one machine and identify the data we want to collect. Then, we build a model in Ignition. Then we can build a dashboard and securely connect to Amazon. That security is paramount. Now you have all that real-time data flowing into the cloud. Once you have one machine up and running, then you can move to the next machine! 

What excites me about the Connect Kit is there is no coding required. The solution is very OT-centric, data is contextualized and can be leveraged. Data is not left on the table. 

Is the Connect Kit secure? Will my IT team approve?

Arlen Nipper: The Information Technology (IT) team can often be a blocker for installing new hardware in a facility due to strict security requirements. MQTT was originally invented to be secure for real- time, mission-critical data. It was adopted readily by IT because it is built on top of TCP/IP making it secure from the ground up. MQTT is used because of the security – it makes sure you can’t connect from the cloud back to the factory.  

What are the next steps to scale?

Mike Walsh: Once you have your facility connected with the Connect Kit and you’ve proven the value of digital transformation to your stakeholders; now it’s time to scale and connect more – whether it be ten machines or thousands. 

Bring in the Experts

When you are ready to take the next step, it’s a good time to bring in the OnLogic team of experts who can work with you to design the ideal scalable solution for you.

For example, there could be a lot of different environments, configurations, and mounting situations you may want to support. In addition, we offer a huge amount of I/O options including legacy options for your different controllers. We have a large variety of choices and we can help you select the best solution for your business. 

We also have the capability to do pre-configuration and pre-imaging. Whether you are getting just a few units or a few hundred, we can simplify that process of getting them ready to go with the software you need. We encourage customers to reach out as early as possible in their process. OnLogic and Cirrus Link can provide a lot of help and guidance in designing the solution you need.

Connect your Legacy Equipment

Arlen Nipper: The rugged PC in the Connect Kit also allows for more uncommon and advanced connections as you scale your transformation. In my office I have a flow computer from the 1980s connected to the OnLogic system now. I have the ability, with the tools I get from the Connect Kit, to do RS 232/485/422, multiple ethernet ports, so I’ve got everything I need to connect brownfield legacy equipment. 

How do I transmit data from a location without an ethernet connection?

Mike Walsh: The Connect Kit includes wireless and Bluetooth connectivity. So if you have a wireless router near the location you’re good to go. If not, we offer cellular connectivity so that you can take advantage of 4G LTE.

Arlen Nipper: When we created MQTT, the aggregate bandwidth that we had was 300 baud. MQTT is a lean protocol with 80-95% bandwidth efficiency. Even if you are on public cellular, it’s secure and you can reduce data transfer fees when utilizing 4G LTE.

In the past, if the network went down, you had a blindspot – that data was lost. With store and forward, if the network goes down, the data is kept in a store and forward queue. When the network comes back up, you don’t want a data storm, it slowly backfills the data that you would have lost had you not been using MQTT. 

Attendee Questions

As a baby step, do we have to point the Connect Kit to a cloud broker or can we point it to a broker within the Process Control Network? And would that even make sense or add value?

Arlen Nipper: You can point the Connect Kit at any MQTT broker on your network. It doesn’t have to go to the cloud, it can all stay on-prem. It still has all that value. 

Does the Connect Kit offer similar functionality to Node-RED?

Arlen Nipper: You can think of the Connect Kit as Node-RED on steroids!  

Learn more about the Connect Kit and how you can start your digital transformation today. 

Watch OnLogic Live on Demand!

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About the Author: OnLogic

OnLogic is a global industrial computer manufacturer that designs highly-configurable, solution-focused computers engineered for reliability for the IoT edge.