The growth of connectivity devices, and applications that operate on the network’s edge, will prove to be a key technology trend in automation and control as we move further into the IoT era. This new technology is enabling fast deployment of sophisticated application monitoring, along with an ability to collect data without disrupting existing operations.
The approach is to provide out-of-the-box connectivity and security solutions that can be setup in minutes, typically without requiring retrofits to the current automation and control system architecture. Potential gains are an ability to securely collect and analyze a wide range of data and deploy predictive algorithms for remotely monitoring and diagnosing machine issues.
One factor that makes these edge devices particularly attractive is the ability to use them as “testbed” applications where data collection can be easily implemented with minimum disruption to internal networks, using software integration tools that simplify integration with cloud-based platforms.
Field Agent Technology
Field Agent technology from GE Automation is one example that offers new and potentially important connectivity links within the IIoT chain for easily implementing this type of cloud-enabled analytics. This solution is designed to provide pre-configured hardware/software for secure data collection and conveyance from machines, and offers connectivity with the company’s Predix Cloud to simplify applications development that typically requires edge processing by creating a layer of logic that runs close to the machine.
|A range of Field Agent products can address a variety of applications, creating an ability for users to select a combination of form factor, protocol, tag capacity, connectivity and controller functionality that meet specific application needs. Source: GE Automation|
GE’s Field Agents are using Predix as a cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) built for industrial environments. By integrating Field Agents with Asset Performance Management (APM) and Brilliant Factory solutions, operators have tools to improve asset output and operational efficiencies. Once machine data is collected, operators can run local analytic models to improve asset performance and predict failures before they occur. Local analytics can improve the performance of OEM machinery locally.
Oil and Gas Monitoring
An example of how the Field Agent solution works is remote, real-time monitoring of 18 gas tanks at GE’s Oil & Gas manufacturing facility in Florence, Italy. The system is used to monitor tank levels and pressure to determine how much gas is in each tank and identify possible leaks. Refill orders can be placed before supplies run out, and the system monitors the main and backup power systems for each tank indicating when the tank cabinet is opened or closed, and that a delivery has been made. The company uses historical data to understand usage patterns and improve the ordering process by verifying how much has been delivered and eliminating billing discrepancies.
|GE’s pilot program to monitor the gas tanks at its Florence plant deployed a solution comprised of Field Agent hardware and RSTi-EP I/O to communicates real-time data to its Predix* Industrial Internet cloud connectivity platform. Source: GE Automation|
With the success of the pilot program, the company’s Facility and IT teams are looking to connect a much wider range of physical assets at the Florence plant including HVAC, LED lighting, cranes, water flow meters, and electricity usage panels.
“This pilot is not only helping to prevent downtime in the shop, but it’s fully scalable to anywhere refills are necessary, and to other plants where similar needs are present,” said Michele Serpi, General Manager Sourcing in TMS at Oil & Gas.
In the broader deployment, Field Agent technology will enable GE to track all utility usage to help drive down energy costs. Assets will be monitored to predict and mitigate equipment failures and gauge machine performance. Analytics collected from the assets will allow the Florence facility to drive productivity in many ways including lighting management and water waste and leakage detection.