At iMACHINE we continue to develop state of the art modular technology for Real-Time Industrial IoT, remote distributed battery power and wireless control and have invested heavily in R&D, allowing our customers to benefit from this new wave of innovation. Automation and IoT can be complicated, however our aim is to simplify your projects and minimise your risk, for a seamless IIoT deployment. Please reach out and contact us if you need any assistance. Here are some of the frequently asked questions our customers ask...
FAQ - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: IoT is very broad in applications, but there are some elements which imply some boundaries in which the SmartNode operate. For example, wireless communications imposes some limits on response times/scale-ability of systems, what are the limits on data intensive applications?
A: Good observation. You are right about both latency and data bandwidth, the SmartNode has some limitations due to the wireless protocols. When utilising our optimised Zigbee network, we have observed round-trip latencies as low as 50-100ms for small systems (less than 6 nodes). When scaling the number of nodes up to 30 or more, the round-trip latency can range from around 2-5 seconds, depending upon several application and site factors. The Zigbee Mesh Network is not designed for large bandwidth data transfer, such as video or images. The network is optimised for deterministic data packets for high speed wireless monitoring and control, which is where it excels. We have engineered a nested layer of protocols with Daytech's ControlMesh API's that improve reliability for wireless control and automation applications. As far as latency is concerned with Zigbee, it depends upon the number of nodes in a network, which does limit the scale-ability per gateway. For very large scale applications (1000s of SmartNodes) where real-time control is required, it can be achieved through multiple mesh networks operating and interfacing through multiple gateways.
For larger data transfer applications and gateway functionality, the SmartNode can be implemented with WiFi or 3G/4G LTE, where real-time internet connectivity and user interaction with the on board web server is not only possible, but can be very fast if the network bandwidth and quality is good.
For further information on network topologies and expected latency, please contact our engineering team about your application to discuss the details.
Q: How scale-able is the SmartNode system, how many nodes can be connected to a Gateway?
A: The number of SmartNodes per gateway is limited by the required network speed in the application. For low speed monitoring requirements, up to 30 SmartNodes can be connected to a SmartNode-Gateway. For control and automation with real-time requirements, the maximum number ranges between 1-20 SmartNodes and needs to be calculated based on the required maximum latency. To achieve larger networks, say 500-1000 SmartNodes, you will need multiple Gateways, networked to each other via the internet, WiFi, 3G/4G LTE, or where internet is not available, Zigbee network bridging with data buffering in each gateway.
For further information on network topologies and expected latency, please contact our engineering team about your application to discuss the details.
Q: What is the network speed for the SmartNode with Zigbee Mesh Network Protocol and Daytech's ControlMesh protocol and API's? What factors effect wireless mesh network latency?
A: When utilising our optimised Zigbee network, we have observed round-trip latencies as low as 100ms for small systems (less than 6 nodes). When scaling the number of nodes up to 20 or more per Gateway, the round-trip latency can be around 5-10 seconds, however it does depend upon several other application factors, it can be faster or slower depending upon these factors:
Site topography (buildings, trees, hills, valleys, metal objects such as tanks etc);
Network topology design (number of Gateways, SmartNode locations, routing);
Signal attenuation and RSSI;
Distance between SmartNode and Gateway;
Number of SmartNodes per Gateway;
Number of mesh network hops;
Radio module selection (2.4GHz, 915MHz, PRO version modules etc);
Performing a radio path survey, correct network topology design and implementation will optimise the mesh network speed. For further information on network topologies and expected latency, please contact our engineering team about your application to discuss the details.
Q: Can the SmartNode communicate with insitu PLCs, DCSs, SCADA systems etc?
A: The SmartNode is actually designed to integrate with PLC's, DCSs and SCADA, where it augments these systems as an IoT conversion or as wireless expansion if required. It can act as an IIoT master, connecting to these existing systems to provide remote access, UI/UX, dashboards, data collection and more modern alternative to SCADA with AI/ML technologies. Alternatively it can operate stand-alone for full wireless automation of distributed systems. The SmartNode has on board protocols including RS232, RS485, MODBUS RTU, MODBUS ASCII and CAN Bus. These protocols can be utilised to interface and integrate with a wide variety of existing control systems and equipment.
Q: Can we dispense with the Edge processing and process in the cloud? Why do you focus on processing data at the edge in the Gateway?
A: We have optimised the SmartNode's ability for real-time control and monitoring, where the edge processing is key to this architecture at present. Gateway edge processing is at present the best way to achieve high reliability and lower latency, with cloud systems used as UI, analytics and historical data collection. The class of applications that could leverage direct sensor to cloud environments more, is data collection, analysis and monitoring, which has some very strong and fast growing use cases. LP-WAN's are highly optimised for this. This is why there has been a lot of market focus around low cost, low power LP-WANs (LoRAWAN, Sigfox, NBIoT) in recent years. They are strong for data-collection but weak for anything low latency, mission critical or control applications. The SmartNode is a multi-function, edge processing and industrial IO control/monitoring device, which is agnostic to wireless communication protocol and any sort of module can be installed to achieve the desired network architecture. We do however, have a preference for high speed, low latency Zigbee Mesh Networks, due to it's suitability for real-time automation and control IIoT applications.
Q: You use IoT and IIoT throughout the documentation - does that reflect industry language or have a specific meaning?
A: IoT is the generic all-encompassing term and IIoT is simply the industrial version. The language is loose and really denotes the applications and general hardware/software design compatibility, not any strict standards or protocols. We have always set out to focus on IIoT, however the Smart Agriculture end users are very interested this technology too and these end users can sometimes be regarded as IoT... As far as our documentation is concerned, we use IoT and IIoT interchangeably.
Q: What radio frequencies and regions are your radio transceivers approved for?
A: The XBee form-factor radio module allows us to factory fit a wide variety of frequencies and IoT protocols. 915 MHz or 2.4 GHz have been the frequencies that we have selected and shipped in the SmartNode to date. We prefer Zigbee for most applications, as it is higher speed with better reliability, compared with LoRaWAN, however some customers specify LoRaWAN and we can ship this. In our experience, LoRaWAN is good for low power and long range sensor data, but is not very good for anything faster then 2 minute poll rates, also it is not reliable enough for control applications, whereas Zigbee together with our ACORN APIs and specially designed stack is optimised for faster monitoring and control.
Q: How do we remote access our SmartNode and is it secure from hacking?
A: We use a fleet management tool for safe internet tunneling from anywhere in the world, that allows remote access to multiple SmartNodes and the web-servers on the SmartNodes. The SmartNode Gateway contains all the software and logic and runs this "at the edge" meaning it hosts the web server and processes data locally within it's operating system. It is possible to purely integrate with cloud platforms via API's without direct access to the SmartNode, however we usually like to allow both.
Our fleet management tool allows users to securely access the SmartNode ACORN platform via any web browser, without having the need for the SmartNode to publish the web page to the WAN. This vastly improves security of the system, as the web page cannot be sniffed or found online. We built all the logic and software, including web server into the SmartNode, which allows faster real-time processing. This is superior to cloud based systems, which have an additional point of failure and are slower in speed.
Q: What if the SmartNode internet connection or platform collapses or doesn't work, how will the control functionality of the system perform? For example, we have a pump running via our SmartNode platform, if the communication to the fleet management tool or SmartNode is lost or gateway is malfunctioning due to any reason, what impact would that have on the field side, what will happen to the pumps?
A: . Good questions, the ACORN SmartNode Gateway will run independently of the internet connection and also independently of the fleet management tool. You can regain access to the unit locally via WiFi, or once the internet connection has resumed. Control functionality is separate to internet connectivity, which is very important for Industrial IoT applications, particularly for process control. If the Gateway and SmartNode network fails, the system will malfunction and the equipment control will not operate. It is important to design the electrical hard-wiring of the systems to fail to a safe state, where this is a safety hazard. Always perform a Risk Assessment of your application and remember that the SmartNode is a software driven platform, with some real-time features, it is not a hard real-time system, like a PLC, even though it can perform control functionality like a PLC. It is most similar to utilising a SCADA software for control, so design your electrical and safety features accordingly.
Q: Can we write conditions in the SmartNode ACORN platform for the automatic on/off functionality of pumps? Can we develop auto sequences the same way as done in a PLC? If so, how reliable is the program and functionality. I guess that we can do the auto operation functionality only for the non-critical applications, for critical applications would you suggest to use it?
A: At this point in time, almost any logic that can be done in a PLC can be done in the ACORN platform and the software runs on the SmartNode Gateway. It would be equivalent to running logic in a SCADA software, which is not a hard real-time system but can still perform supervisory control with UI interfaces and also some controls. For this stage of the system's development, we do not recommend it's use for high risk, mission critical applications. A PLC will be more suitable for high speed control. That being said, our new architecture that we will bring to market later this year, will change this and make the SmartNode a viable competitor to the PLC in any application, complete with wireless IoT capability. Right now, you can use the SmartNode for process control and monitoring applications where latencies of around 5 seconds are acceptable, with electrical hardware fail-safes in place where equipment failure modes may cause risk. As mentioned above, always perform a risk assessment on the design and process before selecting any control equipment.
Q: What cyber security safety features does the ACORN SmartNode Platform have?
A: Another good question, the ACORN SmartNode Gateway has several security features, such as the use of specialised IoT fleet management software for secure remote access and it doesn't need to publish it's IP address to the WAN. The WiFi is secured via encryption and so is the Zigbee network, with 128 bit AES. We have covered the most high risk attack vectors. If the application is connected to mission critical or high profile equipment or systems, we do have cyber security experts available for a review on a case by case scenario, if required. Or we are happy to work with our customers experts in a risk assessment an analysis process.
Q: How much is the data storage capacity of the ACORN SmartNode platform, are there any limitations ?
A: The data is stored locally in the SmartNode, with 8GB of flash storage. If remote backup of data is required, we can program this as an automatic background feature separately, or the flow programming tool can be used to program remote data backup periodically to a server or cloud. If you need a cloud integration for historical data then the cloud retains this data separately. Locally, sensor and process data can be automatically saved in files and sent to email addresses or FTP or many other ways, typically we write time/date stamped data to a CSV file and email it to the interested parties.
Q: Is the process logic and user control program backed up, what happens if it is lost?
A: The user project data (flows), programmed on the ACORN Flow Platform tool, is stored locally in the SmartNode, along with historical process data, with it's 8GB of flash storage. In addition to this the SmartNode firmware can be remotely updated OTA (Over the Air). If remote backup of project data is required, you can manually backup to a remote repository or we can arrange for this to be an automatic feature. The flow platform's logic (project) is a small JSON file and can be backed up over the air and/or stored to our repository or yours as required.
If for any reason the SmartNode is damaged or looses memory, the flash memory can be replaced as an SD card sent from Daytech. The firmware can be reloaded OTA and project files can be downloaded from the remote repository and restored.
Q: What sort of wireless range can the SmartNode reach?
A: The ACORN IIoT-SmartNode with Zigbee mesh network modules, can achieve up to 15km LOS (line of sight) wireless communication range. This is in an ideal, clear and flat land, outdoors scenario with minimal signal attenuation and good antenna selection. We have seen up to 5km in urbanised environments when installed correctly. It is best to perform a radio path survey for optimal results. Daytech can assist in this process where required.
The ACORN SmartNode Platform Presents a Unified, Modular Solution for some of the toughest Industrial IoT applications. Key advantages include:
Our technologies greatest strength lies in tightly integrated hardware and 'digital clone' software for Real-Time IoT at the edge (remote wireless monitoring and control).
Modular and high capacity rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, allow flexible and reliable off-grid powering of communication equipment, sensors and equipment, for maximum speed and reliability in remote automation and control applications. For mains connected systems, the batteries provide a built-in UPS for increased reliability.
This allows high speed data acquisition, automation capability (not possible for most IoT technology) and a great UX (User Experience) for customers, who enjoy the real-time control and monitoring abilities.
The ACORN IoT Platform, including wireless mesh SmartNodes, gateways and edge processing software is scale-able and Inter-operable for site wide and inter-site IoT unification.
The modular hardware/software platform reduces time to market, lowers implementation and process risk and makes IoT a lot faster and easier to deploy.
We provide our customers with their own source code and free access to our drag and drop development environment, so they can retain control over their investment and make changes to their process and UIs if they decide to do this in house. Of course, we are always happy to provide development services to help support their systems too.
The platform provides many easy Cloud integrations (packaged API's), function blocks and application templates.
Customisation and rapid prototyping of new IoT hardware products for customers.
We are helping industries by delivering complete IoT solutions, with real-time edge processing capabilities on the ACORN platform for industrial automation, mining, precision agriculture, water infrastructure, energy and resources applications.
The Product Roadmap will open up the platform for developers and systems integrators, providing opportunity to approved "Channel Partners", which gives access to the drag and drop IoT flow programming tools, the API's and the SDK.
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