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Role of Microsoft Azure in Enabling Industrial Internet of Things

Today, the most complex problem for organizations is to pursue technical advancement in legacy systems and machinery. There is no unified visibility of the industrial processes as 54% of US manufacturers say they lack a unified view of their plant and building information. It is also found that 40% of profits are lost due to unplanned downtime in manufacturing units and an average $1B revenue is lost each year by manufacturing companies.1

To increase the ROI and production capabilities, technology advancement or digitization is important for organizations. Apparently, organizations are rapidly moving towards digital transformation, but it is not easy to adapt. A lot of questions come to one’s mind when thinking about adopting digitization, such as:

  • Should organizations consider digitization?
  • How much implementation time does digital transformation require?
  • Will it increase profitability?

Certainly, there are a lot of challenges in implementing digital transformation. Let’s have a look at the challenges of industrial transformation and how current technologies like IoT and Cloud help in this.

Challenges of industrial organizations

A typical industrial plant or factory consists of many heterogeneous components, machines, and devices such as legacy devices, PLCs, valves & actuators, conveyor belts, and other machinery. Industries like oil & gas, manufacturing plants consist of huge mechanical parts like drilling machines, pipelines, robotic arm, packaging machine setups, etc. The most challenging task is to connect the current OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture) system to the cloud.

Along with this, monitoring these devices in real time is a challenge because of the lack of visibility. A failure of any component can cause downtime that can eventually affect the productivity and profits projected from these assets. However, these challenges have started diminishing with rapidly growing technologies and the adoption of the Industry 4.0 concept, which is leading this transformation.

Digital transformation with Industry 4.0

With the Industry 4.0 adoption, machines and devices can be connected, and legacy devices can be monitored with the latest sensors and transducers in the market. These connected devices and sensor data provide the benefit of HMI (Human machine interface). Both embedded and stand-alone HMIs help improve working and monitoring of factory plants as well as processes, driving a big change in the efficiency of the overall manufacturing unit.

Another benefit of Industry 4.0 concept is it enables predictive maintenance. This simply means that a machine should not be repaired too late (after it fails), nor too early (when it is still in a good condition). To increase productivity and reduce maintenance costs, sensors can be integrated with machines to constantly monitor the production machinery.

Designing your Industrial IoT system | Connectivity, Analytics, and Control Solutions

The need for cloud in a successful Industry 4.0 enablement

The Industry 4.0 adoption enables connectivity between the systems. However, there is no real-time communication between the OT (Operational Technology) and IT (Information technology) across remote locations, which limits many capabilities of Industry 4.0 at the factory level only. The convergence of IT and OT world is important in the current era. Organizations should be able to analyze the performance parameters of devices and the machinery remotely from any location, with an ability to upgrade and update system firmware over the air (OTA).

Although IIoT is enabling IT-OT convergence, developing a whole IoT solution in-house consumes a lot of time and efforts in software and application development. Another issue is that the data that is generated from these devices are huge and the infrastructure cost to maintain them is also high. These issues can lead to delayed Time-to-Market (TTM). 

Here comes the importance of Cloud platforms. Cloud computing in Industry 4.0 brings high availability, scalability, and security, which are the three key aspects of any industrial Internet of thing solution. Cloud computing plays a key role in reducing the development efforts and even eliminating the need for an in-house infrastructure development at minimal cost. There are many cloud platforms in the market such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Watson, Google Cloud, etc. Of all these, Microsoft Azure is one of the widely preferred cloud platforms for enabling the Industrial Internet of Things or Industry 4.0.

Let us understand why:

How Microsoft Azure Enables IIoT

How Microsoft Azure Enables IIoT

Microsoft Azure has a host of IoT applications and accelerators that enable fully-customizable connected ecosystem and Industry 4.0 solutions with different capabilities.

  • The Azure IoT Solution Accelerator brings flexibility to connect IoT devices and machines with authentication. It uses a common preconfigured solution to accelerate the development cycle and reduce the time-to-market. In addition, it enhances the security aspects of the system in terms of hardware security, software security, and data security.
  • Azure IIoT System ingests bursts of data from device and sensors using Service bus, IoT Hub or the Event hub as per the need of a particular solution. For bursts of data, Azure Event Hubs are preferred as it offers high throughput data ingestion with low latency. After that, ingested data need to be processed for real-time insight and can be funneled to Azure Stream Analytics for real-time analytics.
  • On the other hand, Azure IoT Hub connects millions of devices and supports high-volume telemetry data ingestion to the cloud. In other words, it enables a bidirectional communication between devices and cloud. It sends the command and notification to the IoT Devices and tracks message delivery status with acknowledgment receipt. The Azure IoT Hub provides support for the AMQP/MQTT for cloud communication.

Industrial Interoperability from Sensor to Cloud OPC UA Integration into Azure IoT Suite

Source: opcfoundation.org

  • As shown in the above figure, the OPC UA collects data from industrial devices via PROFIBUS. Then, using the Modbus protocol, this data can be rerouted to the Azure IoT Gateway and at last, this data can be transferred to the Azure IoT Hub via AMQP/MOTT protocol.
  • Another benefit that the manufacturing industry can avail from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform is Device Shadowing. They can create a persistent, virtual version, or Device Shadow of each device. This includes the device’s latest state so that the applications and other devices can read and interact with the device while it is offline. The Device Shadow persists the last reported state and a desired future state of each device even when the device is offline. An organization can retrieve the last reported state of a device or set a desired future state through the API or using the rules engine.
  • In an industrial plant, there are many critical or complex machinery, which requires a continuous supervision. The data that is generated by these machines should be analyzed on priority because of its criticality. In this scenario, Azure IoT Edge provides an advanced Edge Analytics capability to the entire IIoT system. It enables a high-security interface from physical security-to-attack on the network. IoT edge also allows developers to deploy complex event processing, machine learning, image recognition, and other high-value artificial intelligence.The Azure IoT Edge consists of the same programming model as of Azure IoT Services, so it helps developers in early and easy development, as they do not need to start programming it from the scratch.
  • In terms of database maintenance, Azure provides a NoSQL, globally accessible database known as Azure Cosmo DB. It can be accessed from multiple locations with 99.999% high availability, 99th percentile latency as well as guaranteed scalable throughput, and consistency.

Conclusion:

The IoT accelerators from Microsoft Azure that we discussed above provides comprehensive solutions to develop, connect, monitor, secure, and manage billions of industrial devices and systems, enabling manufacturers to improve their industrial operations and ROI.

eInfochips has partnered with Microsoft Azure to provide customized IoT solutions to enterprises. We help clients in implementing a highly scalable, reliable, and cost-efficient infrastructure with custom solutions for IoT on the Microsoft Azure platform. Know more about our Microsoft Azure services.

Picture of Mohit Bhardwaj

Mohit Bhardwaj

Mohit works as Assistant Product Marketing Manager at eInfochips, focusing on marketing to Automotive, Industrial Automation, and Security Surveillance domains. Mohit has 5+ years of experience in Marketing strategy, communications, digital marketing, and presales. He holds Electronics Engineering degree from Pune University along with the Master’s in Marketing form Nottingham Trent University.

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