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Bridging the IIoT gap with learning tools for engineers, students and makers

Author : Heiko Luckhaupt is Industry Sector Marketing Manager at RS Components

05 May 2017

Heiko Luckhaupt, Industry Sector Marketing Manager at RS Components discusses the gap between the IoT and the industrial world and a new open Arduino-compatible development platform for students and other learners to help bridge the divide.

The SIMATIC IOT2020 from Siemens

The Internet of Things (IoT) and its industrial variant, also recognised as Industry 4.0, are two global trends that are expected to change the world over the next few years and beyond: it is predicted that there will be tens of billions of Internet-connected devices in the coming years. The IoT is already well advanced in proliferating many different market sectors including energy, automotive and healthcare, but perhaps most notably in the industrial world.

Industrial IoT

Like the ‘consumer’ version, the industrial IoT (IIoT) involves similar elements with the secure management of assets such as connected devices and embedded systems, accessible in a variety of ways from smart devices such as smartphones and tablets and usually via highly customised user interfaces. The industrial IoT also sees the deployment of sensors and highly automated processing taking advantage of newly interconnected intelligence. For example, operational and environmental data can be collected via sensors and fed via IP gateways and networks up to the cloud or other IT infrastructures. Basic operational information can be fed back to users or systems can even make real-time autonomous decisions based on advanced software analytics in the smart-factory environment, for instance. This can enable significantly higher operating efficiencies in control and automation systems, or deliver preventative and predictive maintenance or other new services.

In both the commercial and academic environments, much development for the IoT is ongoing. Students and ‘makers’ across the world are already learning high-level programming languages and beginning to start developing IoT applications using open-source IDEs and hardware. These highly flexible IoT development platforms are becoming increasingly affordable and therefore available to all. RS is supporting this activity by making available low-cost development and prototyping equipment, as well as providing free design software, information and other design resources via its DesignSpark initiative, for example. However, in their industrial ivory towers engineers are developing more esoteric IoT automation applications that make use of hardware based upon industrial standards and protocols such as MQTT, MODBUS and PROFINET, along with proprietary programming languages in many cases. 

At the application level, the worlds of electronics and automation are merging. But in terms of technology platforms, the situation is very different. While electronics is being driven by the easy availability of open hardware and software and rapid prototyping, automation is focused on improving the reliability of devices and the security of data transmission. What is required is education and tools that can bridge the gap between the two worlds of the IoT and its industrial sibling.

Education

Educational establishments such as schools and universities are increasingly looking to develop environments where engineering creativity can be nurtured and ideas can be translated into practical designs. To ensure that students and makers have the knowledge necessary to begin realising their ideas and to innovate and build in this complicated landscape, it will be necessary to develop the appropriate skills. It will require appropriate resources to suit all levels of knowledge and methods of learning with practical examples, software tools and market-specific development kits. 

RS is already working closely with schools and universities to provide wide and constantly updated ranges of the most relevant products and technologies. For example, the company recently launched its Education Hub-Programme to support academic establishments. The Hub-Programme focuses upon a wide range of solutions that have an industrial engineering focus including robotics, industrial automation and electronic engineering, as well as mechanical-based applications including 3D printing, process automation and motion control.

Learning gateway

To help students, makers and young developers in the transition from simple IoT projects and prototypes to entry-level industrial applications, the SIMATIC IOT2020 from Siemens is a highly valuable tool for university laboratories and academic environments active in the field of electronics and automation. IOT2020 is an Arduino-compatible industrial IoT gateway and builds a bridge between the two worlds by combining the flexibility of open-source ecosystems and high-level programming languages with the standards and established communication protocols. The system provides a simple way for engineers to get started with the industrial IoT, while meeting the challenges of an increasingly connected world. The highly affordable device comes with industrial certificates such as UL and CE. While being suitable for a large range of industrial customers, it is also perfect for educational purposes and provides students with the ideal platform to get a rapid experience of practical development. It also enables start-up companies and makers to develop, transform and build ideas into professional industrial projects and applications. 

The IOT2020 is an open and flexible IoT gateway that is designed for continuous industrial operation. It can be used to retrieve, process, analyse and send data to almost any kind of device due to its various interfaces including Ethernet, USB and micro SD. The gateway is compatible with open-source software such as the Arduino IDE and Linux, as well as third-party hardware such as PLCs and sensors from various different brands via Modbus or PROFINET. The product is also compatible with Arduino shields and various programming languages, including high-level languages such as Java, C++ and JSON via a range of IDEs that include Eclipse and compilers for Yocto Linux. It is also expandable via an on-board PCIe port. Compatibility with the Arduino IDE and Arduino shields will enable students and makers to scale up their existing desktop-built projects and start getting familiar with industrial standards and communications protocols.

Overall, the new system brings together industrial standards with the flexibility of open hardware and software and will be a valuable tool for students and makers facing the challenge of developing industrial applications in an increasingly hyper-connected world.


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