How to navigate the future of IIoT systems

05/11/2017


Figure 3: The core gateway architecture promises to evolve into an internet that enables the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, the spacing between standards gives room to grow well before this becomes commonplace. Courtesy: Real-Time InnovatOneM2M

To determine if you should use oneM2M, consider these questions:

1. Do you know what "ICT" stands for, and does it describe what you do?

2. Is the cellular network your primary connection technology?

3. Are your target applications largely composed of moving parts?

4. Can the components of the system tolerate intermittent connections and loosely-controlled latencies?

5. Will the system leverage services provided by a communications provider such as a telephone company?

These questions differ in character from the questions about the previous technologies. OneM2M results from cooperation among many mobile wireless providers. It targets networks of mobile devices that communicate mostly or only through the base-station infrastructure.

The following points examine why oneM2M is implied by these questions:

1. Surprisingly, most target users of DDS and OPC UA cannot even correctly define the name of the industry as information and communication technology (ICT). There is, of course, overlap. But, if you consider yourself in the ICT industry, then you need to consider oneM2M since it was designed for that industry.

2. The core design of oneM2M is to define services that mobile devices can use to cooperate and integrate. If you are going to use those services, plainly, you need to connect to them. They will be running in the platform layer (cloud) connected mostly through the cellular data infrastructure. Other technologies also use the IP traffic over the cell network, but they usually also heavily leverage LAN, local wireless or WAN networking technologies in their designs.

3. There is a potential future market for 5G wireless integration of fixed assets such as manufacturing cells. However, this technology is still years away. OneM2M shines for mobile assets. One especially powerful aspect is that oneM2M abstracts differences in protocols to those devices. Thus, it can integrate different ways to connect to similar devices.

4. Wireless, mobile systems are not reliably connected. Thus, applications must not fail when communications are offline for a few seconds or minutes.

5. OneM2M system designers assume the cloud in their designs. They heavily leverage the "three tier" architecture. Again, the core of oneM2M is the standard services layer. You can't use those services if you are not using a telephone company or its partners. 

MQTT

MQTT is a simple protocol designed mostly for the "data collection" use case. It does not qualify as a "core connectivity standard" per the IICF guidelines, because it has no standard type system. Thus, it can communicate only opaque data types, not typed data structures. Without a type system, it cannot offer a standard ability to interoperate at the "syntactic" data-structure level.

Nonetheless, MQTT enjoys significant awareness. Because of its simplicity, simple questions about your system will help determine if it's appropriate:

1. Do you think of your application as data collection?

2. Is there little device-device communications?

3. Is interoperability not a consideration?

4. Do you have many small devices?

5. Is software a minor challenge?

Again, if the answer to three of these questions is yes, consider MQTT. The following are the reasons why:

1. The first "T" in MQTT stands for "telemetry," or data collection at a distance. This is its main use case.

2. MQTT is designed as a hub-and-spoke design. It doesn't support direct inter-device communications, so it's hard to develop code that must do that.

3. Without a type system, MQTT applications are not interoperable with any other applications. The only way to build interoperability is to somehow share types outside of the standard. Most all MQTT applications are standalone systems.

4. MQTT is by far the simplest technology considered here. If you have many small devices that are simply connected, simple software can handle your challenge.

5. On the other hand, MQTT offers almost nothing to ease software development. There is only one QoS setting (reliability). It has no defined services. It offers no data or device modeling. All of the software will then have to be written from scratch, which is only practical for a simple software challenge. 

Working together

Much of the IICT is dedicated to an architecture for integrating these technologies. This is critical for the emergence of the "Internet" part of the IIoT. The reference architecture requires standards-based core gateways between core connectivity standards as shown in Figure 3.

Someday, there will be integrations, such as manufacturing systems integrated with transportation and power. Sophisticated autonomy software will reconfigure workcells, creating a bold new world for component device vendors. Wireless 5G systems will interoperate with freeway controllers and autonomous vehicles. Wireless 5G may even directly control factory devices, eliminating wiring in manufacturing.

However, designers should consider the vastness of the space. Today, there are few concrete needs to bridge the light years between connectivity systems. That doesn't mean the industry isn't responding to the obvious need. For instance, a recent demonstration at an IIC testbed shows a bridge between DDS and OPC UA. Long term, these integrations will allow bigger systems to combine technologies. For now, designers must understand the vast differences between technologies and choose the one that best fits their problem space.

Stan Schneider, PhD, CEO of Real-Time Innovations Inc., and member of the Industrial Internet Consortium Steering Committee. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, eguenther@cfemedia.com.

MORE ADVICE

Key Concepts

Understanding the IIoT space and IIoT systems.

Determining which technology to use for each application/project.

How to choose the right technology for the IIoT space.

Consider this

Once the proper technology is chosen, what is the next step in implementing a true IIoT solution in the industrial space?


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