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- Pune (MH), India
A common challenge faced by Factories while implementing the Industry 4.0 Standards is connecting their Legacy Machines to a Cloud Server. This involves making PLC Systems, Sensors and Analog Gauges internet connected.
I developed a device around a scalable method of extracting data from these Systems.
Scalably extracting data from third-party Industrial Devices is challenging. The biggest hurdles come from:
Our Industrial customer needed several such Machines to be IoT ready. Most I/O ports and interfaces on their Machines used proprietary protocols. I did an extensive study of these Systems and found that most of these Machines used dedicated RS232 or RS485 ports for debugging and programming (an extremely rare use case). Being low level protocols, these could be used for data extraction across Machines by an external device (the IoT-izer) with minimal configurations over a static hardware design.
This allowed the hardware for extracting data from the PLC Devices to be scalable. The only case-by-case changes would be at the configuration or protocol level and could be handled from the firmware.
The IoT-izer is designed to be a universal data extractor that connects to a WiFi network, continuously reads a RS232 or RS485 Serial Data Stream and pushes it to the Cloud.
By extracting data from these Industrial devices and inserting them into their Industy 4.0 Server, we were able to provide Factories with rich insights from various 'dumb' Machines.
IoT-izing PLC Controllers
Most PLC Controllers use Modbus over RS232 ports. By appropriate firmware configurations, the IoT-izer could connect to the Serial Interface and receive data streams at a minimal investment.
IoT-izing Energy Meters
We converted RS232 capable Energy Meters into Cloud-connected Energy Meters. This was again by extracting data over the Serial interface.
In the case of Energy Meters, the data set is standard and is streamed between fixed time intervals. This adds value to the management of critical Electrical Equipment.
IoT-izing Gauges and Sensors
Most providers of Analog Gauges offer calibrated Serial Convertors with RS232 outputs. We used these on each Gauge to extract Serial data.
Using this approach we were able to IoT-ize the Gauges on a test rig at a Pump Manufacturer's facility. There were gauges of different makes, with different Analog Signal standards (0V to 10V, 4mA to 20mA, etc).
The IoT-izer connected to the output from the Serial Convertor and pushed the data to a Cloud Dashboard.
We used the IoT-izer to add data sources from different equipment to an existing Industrial Analytics platform.
I worked on this project with a development team containing a PCB Developer, a CAD Designer and a Fabricator. I defined the overview of the device based on discussions with the Customer and led my team on executing it. My contributions were in helping my team define and create the Product and developing the firmware.
This product brought immense value to the Customer in terms of savings. In comparison, the IoT-izer was a technically elementary solution. I realized through this that there isn't always a correlation between the complexity of a problem and the complexity of it's solution.