The most popular station that everyone tunes into is WIIFM, also known as, "What’s in it for me?" Sometimes the station operator tunes out overused buzzwords or trends in an effort to stay focused on what is tried and true. The problem arises when popular trends gain both legitimacy and practicality, but the station operator remains unaware of that traction, and more so, how it can translate into real benefits for his or her industry.
One particular area of industry that is buzzing now (and showing no signs of slowing down) is the utilization of the machine-to-machine (M2M) innovation in industrial settings. M2M’s reach is so broad that we will focus on its application in the whole process control industry.
What is machine-to-machine (M2M) communication?
M2M represents the latest frontier in evolution of remote telemetry. When we talk about traditional remote telemetry, we are referring to the monitoring or controlling of an industrial system in a remote location by using radio frequency or telephone lines as the mode of communication between the remote site and the operation’s headquarters. The general setup in a process environment for a telemetry station includes the following:
- An instrument that senses flow, level, pressure, temperature or other common criteria.
- A PLC or RTU that can collect the data coming from the instrument(s).
- A mode of communication that allows the RTU to transport that information from the remote location over the traditional modes of radio and telephone, and more recently over fiber, Ethernet, or cellular networks.
- A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at the headquarters that can monitor and/or control the remote sites, depending on what the project requires.
The benefits of using M2M communication
While M2M terminology is starting to replace the use of "telemetry," it is essentially the same concept with updated technological capabilities. The benefits of using the newer forms of communication can include cost savings, more reliable data, and more functionality for both monitoring and control of the remote assets. In addition, when newer SCADA systems are installed, or when older versions are upgraded, several key advantages can be realized:
- Data can be transmitted wirelessly from the station to headquarters over cellular towers, reducing the infrastructure needed for radio towers or telephone lines.
- Cellular Modems can serve as backup communications to radio systems already in place.
- Mobile applications can be activated by most major SCADA providers to allow smartphone and tablet access to the system.
- With mobile access, operators can plan maintenance trips more effectively and be more equipped for issues when they do occur.
- If desired, controls can be activated rather than just the monitoring of data.
- Data can be transmitted over Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s) to add additional security layers to the data and controls.