One defining question before taking step to IIoT in many project managers mind is : How do I manage different devices from different sources on the same network? The acquisition of devices—to collect data from field sites—usually goes smoothly, it’s usually the management of the whole kit and caboodle that makes things complicated. Imaging deployment of hundreds or even thousands of devices—most probably sourced from different vendors—on your site will most certainly bring you nightmare. So, let’s talk about what you need to do to managing these different devices. These tasks may include device provisioning, testing, configuration file backup, deployment, troubleshooting, remote access and upgrade, and device monitoring. Furthermore, if these devices are installed at remote sites, operation and maintenance costs could increase tremendously. Therefore, extensive and time-consuming planning and testing are essential before any deployment of devices to ensure lower maintenance costs in future operations. Nowadays, Industrial IoT solution providers squeeze their brain to help end users manage massive numbers of devices by offering a handy configuration tool, device management software, or troubleshooting utilities, which help lower the total cost of ownership of the entire Industrial IoT system. To give you an overall concept about what software can be used to easily manage these devices, we will elaborate on some tips to evaluate different IIoT vendor solutions.
Use a User-Friendly Web Console and Utility for Faster Configuration
Configuring a single device is easy, but it is another story when it comes to configuring multiple devices. A web console is a good and important configuration tool, not only for configuration but also for maintenance purposes. A user-friendly web console walks you through the entire setup process on a single device; all that is needed is a computer equipped with Ethernet and a web browser. When conducting a maintenance task, a field engineer can simply bring along a laptop computer and Ethernet cable, without installing any software, to easily check and configure a device at a remote site. A Windows-based utility is useful when multiple devices need to be configured simultaneously. The utility should provide an auto-search function to search for devices already connected to the network. Furthermore, it should be able to duplicate a configuration as a template for multiple connected devices, where different settings could simply be an IP address or a device name.
A user-friendly utility should also provide a quick protocol mapping function, which can save engineers time since they won’t need to reference registered addresses in different vendors’ user’s manuals. An offline configuration tool offers a ready-to-configure feature that does not require you to first buy a device. Users can simply download an offline configuration tool from a vendor’s website, install it on a PC, and start configuring the device right away. It can help users determine whether a device’s functions are sufficient for their applications without spending money unnecessarily by blindly buying devices. Let’s take a controller, which provides control logic capabilities, as an example. It is difficult for users to ensure, by reading a datasheet or user’s manual, whether the control functions meet the requirements. An offline configuration tool should provide a simulation function to test whether the configuration is correct before updating it on the device to prevent any disasters or fatalities at a remote site.
Deploy and Troubleshoot a Large Scale of Devices Efficiently
Installing a device at a remote site is pretty easy, but confirming that the device is running correctly is easier said than done. Sometimes the configured devices pass tests with flying colors in an office environment, but then issues may occur at a remote site. It may be an issue related either to the hardware or the software, and a field engineer may not have enough knowledge to immediately clarify and fix the issue during the installation process at a remote site. A handy troubleshooting tool can help diagnose the issue on a device or record all commands and responses that pass through the device, assisting engineers in determining the root cause of failures. If the issue can be solved quickly, it will mean fewer man-hours and savings on labor costs. Also, speeding up the installation process would deliver the required results sooner to the end user.
Monitor and Maintain Multiple Devices on a Remote Site
How can we ensure that hundreds or thousands of devices always run smoothly and correctly at a remote site? Accidents and breakdowns may happen and cause a system error. Engineers in control rooms need to be alerted immediately so they can react promptly to mitigate the impact. Even better, the ideal solution is that engineers should have ample warning that a stress situation is building up in a system so that they can enact a contingency plan in advance to keep the main system running. SCADA software is designed for remote monitoring and controlling your main system—but not for all of your IIoT devices. A handy device management tool should provide integrated status overview for all the connected devices at a remote site, such as running status, firmware version, and configuration settings. It should also provide settings that can be configured from a central site to fine-tune the device without sending engineers to a remote site. Furthermore, it should also be able to update a device’s configuration from the central site without disrupting its operation. In addition, the device management tool should provide reliable remote access and software upgrade capabilities from a central site to reduce maintenance labor costs. It also should help manage device firmware and configuration versions to keep the device’s software current and reliable.
So, let’s review when you need a solution to configuring, deploying, troubleshooting, and maintaining devices on a large scale.
- Use a user-friendly web console and a utility for faster configuration
- Deploy and troubleshoot large numbers of devices efficiently
- Monitor and maintain multiple devices at remote sites