Everything is smart nowadays. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), computer-enabled intelligence has become the name of the game. Smart cars, smart homes, smart cities – we are told that the ability to network devices so they can share data in real time has the potential to make virtually everything we do more straightforward, more efficient.
In industry, the concept of linking machines together so they can interact in one way or another is nothing new. Automation as a concept was first coined by the Ford company in the 1940s, but by then the use of feedback controllers, electrical timers and protective relays to connect different processes in the automotive industry had been established for a decade or more. This can be seen as an early form of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication,
With the arrival of industrial IoT, we are entering a new phase of automation. It is no longer just about machines and systems doing things for themselves to reduce waste and improve output. It is about actively finding new ways to boost efficiency and productivity through continuous monitoring and analysis. It is about using real-time insight to respond to issues and opportunities in the moment, moving from reactionary to proactive improvement methodologies.
In the smart age, the data our networked systems generate is as valuable as the connections themselves, if not more so. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI), there is a great deal of emphasis placed on ‘smart’ automation, on AI-enabled systems making active best-choice decisions based on sophisticated analytics, rather than the passive X-triggers-Y approach of traditional automation.
But while this all no doubt opens up exciting new horizons in industrial performance, we need to be careful we don’t lose sight of what remains a critical element in every industrial operation – people. Automation is ideal for enhancing accuracy and cutting waste and costs from repetitive processes, but for decision making you still cannot beat the human brain.
Many industrial operations are already at an advanced stage of connecting equipment and infrastructure through sensors, robotics and other information systems. To really unleash the possibilities this brings, we need to ensure the data these networks generate is not locked into M2M sharing only. We need to ensure this data can be leveraged as intelligence by people through secure, efficient, real-time machine-to-human communication as well.
A role for two way radio
With the arrival of digital technology, two way radio has evolved from a tool used more or less solely for wireless voice communication into a device capable of a much broader range of data services and integrations. According to ABI Research, the incorporation of complex data services into two way radio is seeing wireless radio crossover and fulfil functions normally associated with internet or mobile data connectivity.
One such function is providing a remote monitoring and control interface for industrial IoT. Two way radio and industrial communications vendor Motorola Solutions talks about creating ‘networks of networks’, integrating M2M and SCADA systems through LTE and two way radio networks combined. The idea is not just to have networked machines creating an internet of things, but instead to aim for an internet of everything – machines, infrastructure and people, with all data and intelligence shared between all points in real time.
SCADA, for example, has long played a key role in safety and process control in automated systems. By integrating SCADA RTUs with two way radio, operatives can monitor control data in real time as they work and move around a facility, or send instructions. The same applies to M2M modems – with an appropriate analytics platform, the data being fired between all the various sensors in a network can be turned into meaningful intelligence available to operatives via their radio handsets at any time.
The advantage of two way radios is that they are already part of the fabric of many industrial operations. As more and more businesses upgrade to digital handsets and software platforms for communications, they open up a whole new world of possibilities. Alongside voice communication, modern digital two ways radios can act as the interface between people and machines in an industrial IoT set up, integrating all modes of communication and making the sharing of data and intelligence instantaneous across all channels.
The sum outcome is more agile response to issues, leading to decreased downtime and extended life for your assets. It also helps to improve safety monitoring and risk management, as well and drive gains in efficiency and productivity.
James Miller is Managing Director of Brentwood Communications. For more information about two way radio for industry and about Brentwood Communications, visit the website