An awful lot of time and effort is put into discussing factor floor protocols like EtherNet/IP, PROFINET IO or Modbus TCP (some might say too much). Do you use OPC UA or MQTT or some version of HTTPS? Many people focus on that one decision, and it’s an important one, but its not the only decision of importance.
One decision you need to figure out before moving forward is how to turn your factory floor data into actionable information. Manufacturers have their choice from very basic platforms using common, well-known tools to sophisticated cloud platforms that can be complicated and expensive. Below are a few of the more common choices.
DIY (Do It Yourself)
If your needs are temporary or simple, there is no need to get some fancy IoT application. You can get along just fine with a simple database or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. In fact, this is the best way to start any IoT project. Get some data into Excel and play with it to see if it can be valuable to you. Once you get into the habit of collecting data, you now have information you can analyze and use to make decisions. Then, look to get more involved and sophisticated tools that can accelerate or simplify your data collection and analysis process.
The big boy on the block is Amazon. AWS (Amazon Web Services) created the entire cloud computing industry and is the leading provider. AWS provides a wealth of applications that you can use to manage factory floor data, generate insights and create actionable information from your data. You can find everything you need and more: databases, compute engines, analytics, security, storage, etc. The applications they provide are useful to every industry from automobiles to wastewater. AWS provides technology to build AWS-friendly devices, software to enable current devices for AWS and protocols like MQTT and OPC UA that you can use to send your data into AWS.
The downside of AWS is that it can be complicated. There are lots of ways to get data into AWS. You can get third-party devices, you can get software from Amazon, you can even get devices from Amazon like vibration monitors. It takes some effort to wrap your head around all the possibilities.
Recommendation: AWS is the market leader and the most expensive of the cloud computing platforms. It’s also the most nimble and arguably provides more services. You rarely go wrong by using the market leader. Unless you have a significant business relationship with Microsoft, select the market leader.
Azure is Microsoft’s online cloud computing platform for accessing and managing the application services that process data. Like AWS, Azure offers over 200 services, but they’re divided nicely into 20 categories for a more user-friendly experience, all of which provided lots of opportunity to generate insights into plant floor data. The Azure IoT Hub is the main tool for transferring data from supported IoT devices to Azure Data Explorer. Common ways of ingesting plant floor data include JSON packets, OPC UA and MQTT.
Recommendation: There is a lot of hot debate around the benefits of Azure vs AWS. Both are sophisticated platforms with a wealth of tools. You aren’t going to go wrong with either of them. Select Microsoft Azure if your company already has a significant business relationship with Microsoft.
These aren’t the only two but they are the largest. You can use any one of the thousands of IoT applications that are being offered. In fact, you could spend months researching, cataloging and understanding what’s out there.
In the end, your best bet is simplicity. Don’t overcomplicate it.
As mentioned earlier, figure out how to turn your factory floor data into actionable information, pull the data you need and then find the best solution that quickly and easily (and cheaply) takes that data and allows you to use it to your advantage.
With so many tools and mechanisms for collecting and processing data, you will be able to find something that meets your needs.