The Mixed Reality of IIoT

30.3.2017

If I told you it was possible to use a mixed reality device to control a manufacturing robot using HMI/SCADA software for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), would you believe me? Certainly there is a “wow” factor in being able to do so, but it is a reality today.

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Take a moment to parse through that statement and you can appreciate the multiple technological advancements that have had to take place to lead to this opportunity. There is the evolution of HMI/SCADA and analysis software to take advantage of the Internet of Things. There are the continuous breakthroughs in operating systems, databases and business intelligence, as well as in augmented/mixed reality and wearable devices.

This combination of technologies was not thrown together by coincidence either. It is based on real use cases from manufacturers who want to be able to leverage their investment in existing automation systems, while applying the latest breakthroughs in IoT and wearable device technology. Such an innovation will be on display at Hannover Messe 2017 in April, where global automation software provider ICONICS will demonstrate its IoT-integrated Holographic Machine Interface (HMI) and analytics solutions working in collaboration with Microsoft Azure and a Comau robot.

Let’s take a step back and look at what it has taken to make this a (mixed) reality.

IIoT Compatibility

Companies looking to enhance their operations by connecting to the Industrial Internet of Things should know that there are off-the-shelf solutions available today. Adding IIoT connectivity helps organizations to scale operations when necessary, to ensure against IT hardware obsolescence, and to provide global access to connected systems. Plus, this can be done without requiring any expensive retrofitting or costly new IT infrastructure.

Combining low-cost, small footprint IoT gateways with proven HMI/SCADA, analytics, and mobile technology running in the cloud gives customers global visibility, scalability, and reliability. Those gateways connect companies’ core equipment to their preferred cloud platform (e.g. Microsoft Azure), communicating via the most popular communication protocols, such as OPC UA, BACnet, SNMP, and Modbus. However, best-in-class IoT gateways should provide functionality beyond basic connectivity – a form of “connected intelligence”, so to speak. Users should look for included IoT gateway software that provides additional capabilities such as data collection, web-based visualization, edge analytics, alarm management, fault detection and diagnostics, and energy management to name a few. Such bi-directional control provides complete contextualization of an organization’s data, making the previously invisible knowledge points now visible.

Some customers are not sure where to start, given the plethora of affordable gateway devices available on the market today. To assist with this, ICONICS recently initiated its own IoT Alliance Program for qualified hardware providers to complement its end-to-end IoTWorX™ solution. This alliance program is geared toward original device manufacturers (ODMs) and offers end users the ability to select from a number of pretested, approved devices from preferred providers.

Microsoft Software/Hardware Integration

Recently, some of the most interesting developments in cloud services, business intelligence, machine learning, and data analysis have come out of Redmond, Washington. Such new products and services add to Microsoft’s proven legacy of operating system, desktop productivity, database, and web connectivity solutions. Gartner has recognized Microsoft as a leader in its Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Application Platform as a Service (in 2016), as well as for Infrastructure as a Service (in 2015), so manufacturers are now more readily embracing and investing in software solutions built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. IoTWorX leverages the Azure IoT Hub for rich connectivity to things, secure cloud communications, and built-in real-time visualization and analytics.

Another of Microsoft’s extraordinary technology breakthroughs is its HoloLens self-contained holographic computer. HoloLens is an evolution in user interfaces, allowing the wearer to see and interact with a “mixed reality” of 2D and 3D holograms superimposed over the real world environment. “HMI” has been redefined through ICONICS’ development of a Holographic Machine Interface, which uses HoloLens technology to perform remote monitoring, asset management, and predictive maintenance on production equipment.

Robots … and Other Connected Machines

As part of a working relationship with Comau, a business within the Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) Group, a Comau Racer 3 robot will be featured at Hannover Messe 2017 this spring. While visiting the Microsoft booth, attendees will be able to interact with the robot with associated data visualized, analyzed, and mobilized via high-tech software solutions.
However, as cool as using a HoloLens with integrated HMI/analytical capabilities to monitor and control a robot over IoT seems, it is only partially representative of the multiple applications where these technological breakthroughs can be applied. Process, factory, and building automation applications can all benefit from the openness and standardization of IoT-connected visualization and control. Organizations now have their pick of easy-to-add IoT gateways with onboard software that includes energy, building and industrial protocols (including BACnet, OPC UA, Modbus and Web Services) with the latest in security measures and the ability to be configured from anywhere in the world.
  
Those looking for the latest in HMI/SCADA and analytical software that integrates with cutting edge technology in a wide array of applications in multiple industries should pay close attention to what’s going on at Hannover Messe in April. Because there’s no denying the (mixed) reality of it all.

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