Industrial IoT made fast and easy

With the tools available today, implementing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is not as hard as people think.

By Arlen Nipper April 7, 2022
Courtesy: Inductive Automation

 

Learning Objectives

  • Message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) is a message protocol designed for constrained devices and low-bandwidth, high-latency or unreliable networks.
  • Sparkplug is an open-source software specification that provides MQTT clients with a framework to integrate data.
  • Two oil and gas midstream companies used MQTT and Sparkplug B to streamline and improve data efficiencies.

There’s a strong trend in just about every industry today: CEOs, CTOs and other executives want access to more data. The industrial enterprise is thinking about DataOps, the development of data flows, and the continuous use of data across the organization. People want to make better, faster decisions based on that data.

The key to capturing, sharing, and using data at scale is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT has many benefits, but many companies are still struggling to adopt the right technology to realize them. Most companies implementing IIoT projects use a spider web of proprietary technologies and end up finding the process to be difficult, expensive and labor-intensive. They often fail as a result.

However, tools are available that use open standards and make IIoT fast and easy to implement at scale. Open-standard and interoperable IIoT tools including message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) and Sparkplug B can provide a non-proprietary, single source of truth throughout an enterprise, from edge to cloud.

Complete data also sets the foundation for machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The use cases for using operational technology (OT) data are almost endless once IIoT is implemented correctly.

Let’s dive into how to implement IIoT to satisfy these demands and help organizations keep pace with competitors in this age of rapid digital transformation.

Figure 1: Open-standard and interoperable IIoT tools including message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) and Sparkplug B can provide a non-proprietary, single source of truth for a data architecture system. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

Figure 1: Open-standard and interoperable IIoT tools including message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) and Sparkplug B can provide a non-proprietary, single source of truth for a data architecture system. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

IIoT doesn’t have to be hard

Industrial enterprises are complex with many assets, industrial automation systems, cloud computing and enterprise systems. Some factories are well connected while others are still getting there. There are hundreds of complex industrial protocols across various manufacturers, each with their own language that creates a barrier to sharing data from OT to information technology (IT) or cloud systems.

Completing this data exchange is often referred to as bridging the IT/OT gap, but most manufacturers are not doing it very well. Companies often get overwhelmed because there are hundreds of tools on the market to solve these complexities. Moving from proprietary tools and coding on operating system solutions to open-standard technology is not hard, but it does require a shift in thinking.

Most companies assume digital transformation will be expensive and require ripping and replacing hardware, software, control systems, and more. In fact, the MQTT messaging protocol can be implemented on top of existing technology to decouple data and allow it to flow to enterprise applications in a one-to-many approach. The open-source Sparkplug B specification adds features to help with the data contextualization to extend IIoT use cases.

Here’s how organizations can enable IIoT with these open standards on top of existing systems, without needing to rip and replace or spend a lot of time and money in the process.

Figure 2: The right supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or IIoT platform can connect assets from any number of sites to publish data from the edge. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

Figure 2: The right supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or IIoT platform can connect assets from any number of sites to publish data from the edge. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

MQTT and Sparkplug B enable industrial communication integration

Establishing a single source of truth for OT data is an important step. Once this is accomplished, any IIoT use case from predictive maintenance to AI can be implemented. MQTT and Sparkplug B provide the mechanism.

First, IIoT needs a platform, or a mechanism to connect to shop-floor systems. The right supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or IIoT platform can connect assets from any number of sites, from the field, from anywhere OT assets live, to publish data from the edge. MQTT is a data-transfer protocol designed to push data from thousands of devices across numerous sites to industrial and business applications. Sparkplug B adds context to the data to extend use cases.

“You need an IIoT platform that’s based on open standards, has unlimited licensing, and provides a DataOps pipeline to enable true digital transformation at scale,” said Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation. “Leveraging MQTT, you can easily decouple devices from applications, get data to more places, and avoid turning SCADA into middleware.”

MQTT is a lightweight publish/subscribe messaging protocol designed for constrained devices and low-bandwidth, high-latency or unreliable networks. MQTT offers a way to connect to existing infrastructure, create a standard data layer and push the data up to make it available to any cloud or enterprise system. Companies can create a manageable, low-cost IIoT proof-of-concept and scale it without requiring a great deal of programming or expertise.

MQTT’s value comes in enabling IIoT is it decouples devices and applications and establishes a single source of truth for multiple data consumers. Companies can streamline their data pipeline to gain access to more data and then share it throughout the enterprise.

Figure 3: There is a constant need for better and consistent data flow in the control room so engineers can make better-informed decisions. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

Figure 3: There is a constant need for better and consistent data flow in the control room so engineers can make better-informed decisions. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

Three ways Sparkplug B enables data interoperability

While it provides an excellent and trusted engine for delivering IIoT data, MQTT doesn’t make the data interoperable across the enterprise. That’s where Sparkplug B comes in.

Sparkplug is an open-source software specification that provides MQTT clients with a framework to integrate data. The specification articulates three goals:

  1. Define an MQTT Topic Namespace optimized for IIoT
  2. Define MQTT State Management to take advantage of continuous session awareness
  3. Define the MQTT Payload.

Sparkplug makes interoperability fast, secure and is open-standard so anyone can make use of the framework. Device manufacturers are beginning to support Sparkplug, which means its built-in natively on devices on the OT floor.

A SCADA platform with MQTT and Sparkplug B saves time and money for several reasons. First, the tools are free and open-standard. Second, assets are automatically discoverable, and tags are automatically learned, which makes scaling easy. Implementing an IIoT project with MQTT and Sparkplug B doesn’t require a whole new infrastructure to realize a constant flow of data from OT to IT.

Figure 4: MQTT and Sparkplug B can help engineers have better data flow and operate a SCADA system from their phone. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

Figure 4: MQTT and Sparkplug B can help engineers have better data flow and operate a SCADA system from their phone. Courtesy: Inductive Automation

MQTT and Sparkplug B save time for oil and gas service provider

NGL Energy Partners is a midstream oil and gas company that provides multiple services to producers and end users, including transportation, storage, blending, and marketing of crude oil. To improve its operational efficiency and revenue-generating capabilities, NGL embarked on a project to create a new SCADA system for its saltwater disposal facilities. The result is a smart field created in eight months that uses MQTT and Sparkplug B and includes 114 water treatment and disposal facilities, 178 pipeline tie-ins, 31 boosters and around 1.25 million tags.

MQTT was helpful in dealing with two key issues for NGL: remote locations and limited bandwidth.

“MQTT was a crucial part of this project,” said Cox, who worked on the SCADA system for NGL. “MQTT’s ability to do publish/subscribe at the edge was extremely valuable for NGL. And MQTT’s reduced bandwidth requirements allowed us to use cellular modems for most of the communications at the edge, which would have been difficult to do with traditional polling.”

Sparkplug B also save a lot of time. With 114 sites and over a million tags, the system integrator couldn’t spend a lot of time configuring tags at remote sites and the headend. With Sparkplug, they could define the tags in the field and have those automatically published and discovered at the gateway, giving NGL a single source of truth.

MQTT helps oil and gas midstream company

ARB Midstream, based in Denver, provides midstream and marketing solutions for crude oil, refined products, and liquefied petroleum gas. ARB needed to build a SCADA system for an oil pipeline with 37 sites, while doing hardware upgrades, creating a new network, and building a control room from scratch, all in six months.

As part of the project, ARB replaced some older VSAT equipment and cellular equipment at some of its remote locations, which led it to using MQTT. MQTT helped ARB quickly implement a secure, cost-effective and scalable infrastructure.

MQTT uses little bandwidth and reports by exception, which can be a big improvement over traditional polling.

“On the first day, ARB saw a 35% difference in data-plane utilization, because they weren’t sending up tags that didn’t need to be sent up,” Cox said.

On this project, a weak cellular network meant that even basic communications were having trouble getting through. With the lightweight MQTT protocol, the data made it up to the cloud very quickly.

IIoT strategy must enable data insights

The future will include IIoT and open standards. If companies don’t go down this path, they’ll be left behind. A complete IIoT strategy must enable data insights across the enterprise with data standardization and easy integration with various data consumers ranging from cloud services to AI and ML applications. Failed projects are often based on proprietary protocols specific to one use case, and the result is not scalable.

Open-source tools such as MQTT and Sparkplug B are allowing organizations to enable IIoT in the field or in a factory in a way that’s cost-effective, repeatable, interoperable, fast and secure. MQTT allows OT data to be consumed to bridge the IT/OT gap and Sparkplug B provides the contextual information that enables DataOps teams to gain insights that lead to increased productivity and insight.

Arlen Nipper is president and CTO of Cirrus Link Solutions. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

MORE ANSWERS

Keywords: Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT, MQTT

ONLINE

https://mqtt.org/

CONSIDER THIS

What benefits can your facility gain from MQTT and Sparkplug B?


Arlen Nipper
Author Bio: Arlen Nipper is president and CTO of Cirrus Link. He brings more than 40 years of experience in the SCADA industry to Cirrus Link as President and CTO. He was one of the early architects of pervasive computing and the Internet of Things and co-invented MQTT, a publish-subscribe network protocol that has become the dominant messaging standard in IoT. Arlen holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (BSEE) from Oklahoma State University.