The Internet of Things (IoT) is helping industries worldwide become more efficient with managed and scalable digital solutions. More specifically, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) focuses on connecting machines and devices in key industries such as oil and gas, hydropower, as well as manufacturing. In factories, the application of connected sensors to machines is being used to collect valuable data for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance purposes. The goal is to use this data to improve overall operations and make business decisions faster and more accurately. An integral part of condition monitoring is providing data that can be used for predictive maintenance. However, for predictive maintenance to be effective in an industrial setting, the following components are required:
- Machine sensors
- Communication protocol/gateway
- Data repository
- Predictive analytics tools
The idea of using sensors to monitor machines is not particularly new. Factories have been measuring and tracking equipment performance parameters for years, and have evaluated everything from equipment effectiveness to maintenance, and overall operations. What’s different about the IIoT is that mass adoption is now possible thanks to the proliferation of smart sensors, the adoption of wireless networking options, and the increase of data analytics applications.
Part of the proliferation of smart sensors in IIoT is using Bluetooth Low Energy. Many of us think of Bluetooth as a consumer-oriented technology, but the technology has now been widely leveraged in IIoT.
Several reasons for this include low-power consumption, low cost, ubiquity, and interoperability. However, despite its widespread adoption in IIoT, several challenges remain.
Let’s take a look at current challenges facing Bluetooth technology in IIoT, possible solutions to overcome these challenges, and the benefits of using a long-range gateway and centralized management system for Bluetooth to improve scalability, flexibility, security, and ease of management.
“Many of us think of Bluetooth as a consumer-oriented technology, but the technology has now been widely leveraged in IIoT.”-Cassia Networks
Bluetooth IIoT Challenges
In the ongoing effort to improve manufacturing operations and performance, many industrial enterprises have incorporated condition monitoring and predictive maintenance approaches as part of their operations strategy.
An important component of this strategy is choosing a wireless protocol. There are many connectivity options to choose from each with its advantages and limitations, but the ubiquity of Bluetooth Low Energy provides a substantial competitive edge.
For industrial enterprises using Bluetooth Low Energy as part of their operations strategy, there were limiting factors that prevented factory personnel from having the real-time visibility needed to mitigate any equipment issues. Below are several Bluetooth technology challenges that industrial enterprises continue to face.
Data Collection is a Time-Consuming Process
Most Bluetooth devices are limited by short-range connectivity; therefore, data capture only occurs when someone is physically onsite and within proximity to inspect, monitor, and gather data from the equipment.
This manual approach to data collection becomes a time-consuming process. Furthermore, during offline hours, valuable data is not being collected in a continuous and automated fashion which can be problematic since the probability of missed failures can be high.
A study conducted by McKinsey & Company states that downtime, whether from repairs, breakdowns, or maintenance, can keep machinery out of use 40 percent of the time or more. The financial repercussions can damage an organization’s bottom line as well as the negative long-term effects on customer satisfaction.
Limitations With Short-Range Connectivity
The growth of affordable short-range wireless devices using protocols such as Bluetooth Low Energy as well as the rise of IoT gateways has enabled industries worldwide to benefit from lower deployment costs and improved operations.
However, limitations concerning range and connectivity still exist. Most Bluetooth gateways are limited by short-range and one-to-one connectivity. In a factory environment with thousands of machines operating simultaneously, there would have to be a substantial number of gateways to provide the necessary coverage.
Unlocking the Potential of Bluetooth for IIoT
For industries to take full advantage of the capabilities of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, a comprehensive approach must be considered. The move to a wireless connectivity solution can be complex and involves a wide range of considerations that include redesigning existing business processes, retraining personnel, and investing in new tools and technologies.
However, the benefits of deploying a more scalable and flexible wireless solution can result in significant cost savings. Bluetooth technology has evolved and is now recognized by industries worldwide as a cost-effective and flexible wireless solution for several reasons.
Low-Power Consumption and Long Battery Life
Compared to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy consumes much less power and therefore has a longer battery life. For example, the transmission power of low-power Wi-Fi and standard Wi-Fi devices is typically around 11mw to 100mw and the transmission power of Bluetooth Low Energy is typically around 1mw.
Consequently, the battery life of a Bluetooth sensor can last much longer compared to the battery life of a Wi-Fi sensor. This is critical for enterprises using wireless sensors that rely on batteries for power.
Significant Cost Savings
Traditionally, enterprises have used a wired solution to solve the connectivity challenge. However, the high costs and complexities associated with rewiring an entire factory and repairing any damaged cables did not yield a positive return on investment, not to mention the extensive planning, money, and time required before a wired solution can be fully operational.
Furthermore, wired solutions are complex and don’t provide the flexibility needed in industrial environments. For instance, if the layout of the factory changes, the process of re-wiring each sensor is not only very costly, but it is also very time-consuming. As a result, many enterprises are looking to Bluetooth technology as a low-cost alternative for their wireless solutions.
Another significant cost benefit of Bluetooth technology is the competitive price of its chips and modules. It is estimated that by 2023, nearly 1.6 billion Bluetooth Low Energy devices will ship each year. One reason for this is because of the very low cost of a Bluetooth chip and module. The total cost (including supporting components) of a chip and module is much lower compared to other wireless chips and modules, including Wi-Fi.
Interoperability and Ubiquity
Bluetooth protocol is very open. All of the certified Bluetooth devices are guaranteed to interoperate with each other. Tens of thousands of different types of Bluetooth sensors and devices are available on the market today and are widely used for many different applications.
Furthermore, the 2.4GHz unlicensed band in which Bluetooth operates is globally available. Consequently, there is no need to make different types of Bluetooth sensors for each country.
Become IIoT Ready
To successfully become IIoT-ready and benefit from the advantages that condition monitoring and predictive maintenance can offer, device manufacturers and system integrators must take a holistic approach when designing the end solution.
Key considerations should include sensor selection, the right wireless protocol and gateway, and a management platform for easy management, analysis, and data security.
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- Industrial Internet of Things
- Predictive Maintenance
- Remote Management