The Internet of Things, The Cloud
by Dale Whitfield, November 2013

What is The Internet of Things?

Many devices today are becoming connected in the sense that they can communicate via the Internet. Given that they are devices and not people on computers, phones or tablets, they are just things. Technically, if a device has an IP Address, it is able to be connected via the Internet.

How does this help us?

There isn't much to do, it all falls into place and takes care of itself.

The IPAV System deploys a number of devices around a production line at what are called points-of-interest. Typically that's one point at each significant machine on the production line.

Since the data flowing between these points-of-interest needs to be in real-time and secure, these devices are not individually addressable, in the IP address sense. There is also no real justification for making them addressable. They could be, but its more of a hindrance than of use.

The Globe device is Internet addressable and is joined to that network of devices on the production floor. It's physically located away from the production area and may be connected into the plant's Local Area Network.

Note that the data moved around always maintains individual machine data in its structure. Even though there is only one connected device, this represents all the devices at their points-of-interest. Now the analysis and processing of this data can be carried out, away from the production process.

Once the Globe device is on the LAN, it may be made available into the wider area known as the Internet. Data is now able to be securely moved from the plant to other plants, head office or simply into The Cloud.

The Cloud

This unfortunately, in my opinion, is where things can get a little fuzzy for many people because The Cloud phrase has been misused and misrepresented by those jumping onto the buzzword bandwagon.

The Cloud isn't just somewhere to store your files. That's a file-server which can be located locally or in a data-centre where you drop a file into a box and then fetch it again later from anywhere that's connected.

The Cloud is a resource that includes a computing component with that data storage. Some are more sophisticated than others. But in general its just an off-site computer resource that may be shared, a part or the whole of a real machine.

Again. How does this help us?

Well, here is where things get interesting. Data from production lines, and by implication individual machines, is now available in a central location. Machine data is able to be manipulated in the context of its production line. Multiple production lines may exist at one plant. Multiple plants may exist at various physical locations.

Since we're most interested in Data Analysis and Visualisation, there's a hierarchical way to look at it, from individual production lines to the organisation as a whole:

  • Individual production lines.

  • By plant / facility basis.

  • Company-wide.

For an individual plant we drill down into the interaction between machines and their effect on productivity and efficiency. This is happening in real-time at the plant but incidents that occurred in the past may be replayed and analysed at any time. The production process can be examined for consistency and trends can be picked up.

Comparing the performance of similar machines across production lines and locations is now possible. When it comes to a company-wide analysis similar comparisons can be carried out.

Processes and not Devices

The lines start to blur a little now because we've gone from points-of-interest at individual machines to seeing things at a production line level. And from there, the view of the plant and then across all plants from an even wider viewpoint.

We've moved from the flow of product to the flow of information about the technology that enables production. After all that, we don't want to lose sight of the point of the system which is to get more product into the warehouse.

Improvements in efficiency at the machine level will propagate up to the production line. Lessons learned can be shared across plants. Similar lines from different plants can be compared and analysed.

Processes and procedures now change. Improved processes will facilitate increased efficiency and productivity.

The Road

Improving efficiency with connected devices, a network of things, via The Cloud.