3 Reasons Modern Farmers Are Adopting IoT Technology at an Astounding Rate

It seems like everything today is touched in some way by the Internet of Things. It is changing the way goods are produced, the way they are marketed, and the way they are consumed. A great deal of the IoT conversation has revolved around transformation in industries like manufacturing, petrochemical, and medicine, but one industry that has already seen widespread adoption of IoT technology is often overlooked: agriculture.

Of course, many of us are very familiar with some of the efforts that have been made to optimize food production. As populations continue to grow, there has been a serious and sustained drive to increase the crop yield from our available arable land. Some of these efforts have not been particularly popular with consumers (i.e. pesticides, GMOs).

With the advent of new technology and the Internet of Things, farmers are finding new ways to improve their yields. Fortunately for us, these new ways are decidedly less disturbing than toxic chemicals and genetic manipulation. Using sensors and networked communication, farmers are discovering ways to optimize already-known best practices to increase yield and reduce resource consumption.

If it’s surprising that the agricultural industry would be technological innovators, it’s worth considering how agriculture is in many ways an ideal testbed for new technology.

There are a few good reasons for this:

1. Ease of Deployment

Unlike in other industries, deploying sensors and other connected devices on a farm can be relatively easy and inexpensive. In a heavy industrial environment like a factory or refinery, new technology must replace old technology that is thoroughly embedded in the production infrastructure. There are concerns about downtime and lost revenue, as well as concerns about finding the right products or group of products to integrate into their existing technological ecosystem. On a typical farm, there is no need for downtime, and usually no concern for any existing technology that may be incompatible. Inexpensive sensors placed in various parts of a cultivated field can quickly yield very useful actionable data without disrupting a single process.

2. Instant Value

Another reason that agriculture has provided such a fertile testbed for IoT technology is the speed with value and ROI can be realized. Pre-existing metrics of precision agriculture can be applied more easily, maximizing the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheremones. Of course, there is the obvious and very tangible benefit of decreased resource consumption and increased yield. A modest investment can yield measurable results within a single season.

3. Continual value

In agricultural IoT deployments, the same practices that provide instant value will continue to provide value for as long as they are employed. Conservation of water and waste reduction provide repeated value, as well as the increased yield brought on by precision farming. There are also opportunities to improve the equipment that farmers use every day. A connected combine or tractor can record useful information about its operation and maintenance. It can also allow for certain processes to be optimized and automated.

There are some real concerns about our ability to feed our ever-growing population in the future. While controversial technologies like genetically-modified-organisms have helped to increase food production, these techniques are not exactly popular with the general public, several of whom have voiced concerns about the long-term impact of a genetically-modified diet.

The good news is that similar increases in food production are possible without the need to modify the food; we simply have to modify the processes used to produce it. And it’s not just about food production. Plants are also used for biofuels and as raw materials in manufacturing. By increasing yield and reducing resource consumption, growers are also having a positive impact on numerous other industries.

For instance, a Colorado-based company called Algae Lab Systems is helping algae farmers improve their output by introducing sensors to measure environmental factors like temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen in their photobioreactors and algae ponds. Algae growers are now able to continuously monitor their crops from any location, also allowing for larger and geographically dispersed operations.

A case study detailing Algae Lab Systems provides some insight into how they are transforming the algae farming industry, and aquaculture in general.

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What Should We Expect From the ‘Smart Cities’ of Tomorrow?

virtualvillemenuimg4website

There are an awful lot of ‘smart’ things these days. Even many things that were previously ‘dumb’ are becoming ‘smart’ through the addition of sensors and decision logic. From street lamps to subways and everything in between, the very towns and cities we inhabit are joining the trend.

As cities like Seoul and Vienna (among many) are using technology to revamp their communication infrastructure and resource distribution, we all have an opportunity to learn some things about what we can expect when the ‘smart’ label gets slapped onto the towns and cities we call home.

So, what makes a city smart?

Unfortunately, the term ‘smart’ applies only to the city itself and not its citizens. A global tour of the world’s smartest cities is not likely to be any more personally enlightening than a stroll through any of our regular old ‘dumb’ cities. However, this global tour would likely reveal some of the common traits that these smart cities share, and shed some light on how and where resources are being applied to make these cities smarter.

A city is generally considered smart when it distinguishes itself from other cities in terms of its technology, urban planning, environment, and/or overall management.

Smart cities are expected to be cleaner, safer, and more efficient than their dumb brethren. This is accomplished primarily through the application of new technologies, but also frequently requires entirely new models for organization and management.

Some of the more prominent features of today’s smart cities include:

  • Green Buildings: Smart cities tend to erect new buildings (or enforce laws requiring others to erect buildings) that have the least possible environmental impact – both during construction and operation. Older buildings can be retrofit with more efficient appliances and sensors to help control lighting and temperature.
  • Smart Mobility and Transport: Bike-sharing programs, smart traffic lights, sensor-based parking availability detection, and real-time communication about public transportation are some of the hallmarks of a smart city.
  • More Efficient Utilities: In addition to employing alternative energy sources like solar and wind, smart cities are frequently more inclined to employ smart grid technology and use sensors to manage the distribution of water and reduce waste.
  • More Engaged Citizens: Another common trait of smart cities is a pronounced effort to be more responsive to the needs of their human resources. Whether through smart street lights, cleaner streets, social media involvement, digital signage, and many other initiatives, smart cities are putting more effort into involving citizens in the city’s governance.

Of course, these are just a few of the many ways that cities are remaking themselves as smart cities. In some cases – in cities like Santiago and Tokyo – entire smart communities are being developed according to all of these principles and more.

Since a real economic incentive can be attached to the idea of reduced waste and greater energy efficiency, it is very likely that this trend will continue well into the 21st century, until when eventually the smart cities of today will be referred to as simply “cities”.
Virtualville, USA

Tomorrow’s smart cities are going to require new tools to consolidate, organize, and analyze the voluminous data coming in from the city’s systems. New organizational models must be established and new technology must be deployed.

Remote monitoring and management systems like the one modeled in B-Scada’s Virtualville will become indispensable tools to city administrators, allowing management personnel a real-time view into any of the city’s systems from anywhere at any time. It also provides a means of automating certain processes according to particular rules.

To learn more about B-Scada’s Smart City platform, visit: http://votplatform.com.

Object Virtualization: Digitizing the World

Object virtualization is the enabling technology behind the IoT (Internet of Things)

We are changing our world. With the advent of new sensing and communication technologies, we are finding ways of making everyday objects more intelligent and connected. As we connect more and more things to one another, however, we are finding a need to democratize the process. We have to make different things the same, or at least equal. We are still trying to answer the Mad Hatter’s famous riddle: How is a raven like a writing desk?

Though Alice’s time in Wonderland may have come and gone, ours is just beginning. While we may not be connecting ravens to writing desks (though nothing would surprise me at this point), we do have a need to connect seemingly unrelated objects in new ways.

One solution to this dilemma is the process of object virtualization. By creating virtual models, or representations, of the things you want to monitor and manage, you are putting ‘things’ on equal footing, creating new opportunities for analysis and task automation.

To understand object virtualization, consider the contact list in your phone. A contact can be thought of as a virtual model of an actual person. It is something like a digital identity. Imagine you have a contact named Mary Smith. Mary has a name, a phone number (or two), an email address, maybe a photo. Mary can have a Facebook profile, a Twitter alias – you can even assign Mary a special ringtone. All of these things combine to create a virtual model of Mary stored in your phone.

Now, to make your model of Mary a bit more intelligent and useful, you could add her date of birth, her hair color, her favorite book, her pet cat’s name, or any number of different properties of Mary. If we slapped a bunch of sensors on Mary, we may know things like her current location, current body temperature, her heart rate, her blood pressure. If this information is communicated to your model in real time, you have an active, living representation of Mary that tells you more about her than she may know herself.

Imagine applying this same process to your house, your car, your toaster, or your favorite pair of socks. Now, maybe you can’t think of a good reason for your socks to talk to your toaster, but they may have a thing or two to share with your washing machine. And maybe your house and your toaster can have a nice conversation about lowering your electric bill. Of course, your things aren’t just talking to your other things. They can talk to other things anywhere. Do you think it might be helpful for your air conditioning system to know something about today’s weather forecast? Or for your car to know about that new road construction on your way to work?

Your virtualized house doesn’t care that it’s a house. It may as well be an elephant or a water balloon. The same is true of your car, your refrigerator, or your lawn sprinklers. Virtual models can share information with other virtual models without regard for where the data is coming from or how it got there. Virtualization can make every “thing” accessible to every other “thing”, and ultimately to you.

**B-Scada’s VoT (Virtualization of Things) Platform allows you to create virtual models using data from multiple and disparate sources, providing a simple platform for creating powerful and intelligent IoT (Internet of Things) applications. Learn more at http://votplatform.com.

OPC UA: The Communication Standard for the Internet of Things?

OPC UA

As we prepare ourselves for the expansion of the IoT (Internet of Things), many businesses today are looking ways to take advantage of the opportunities that are beginning to present themselves. Of course, as with anything new there are many questions and concerns.

Many organizations are struggling with interconnectivity. How do we get existing information systems to communicate with new information systems? If leveraging the IoT requires a wholly rebuilt information infrastructure and a complete reformatting of business processes – well, that’s just not going to work for most people.

There are also organizations who will have questions about how to make use of the unstructured data coming in real time from any number of different sources. How can they create the context to translate this endless stream of raw data into useful information?

And what about the scalability and flexibiilty needed to deal with growth and change. After all, if the changes implemented today need to be undone in order to keep up with the future needs of your organization, then is it really worth it?

Another common concern is that of security. Are we going to push sensitive information up to the cloud, where it may be exposed to any number of potential threats ranging from cyber-terrorism to corporate espionage? And even if our sensitive data is not being broadcast over the internet, how do we protect these interconnected systems from internal threats? How can we ensure that our employees and contractors have access to all of the information they need to do their jobs and nothing more?

These and many other questions are preventing some organizations from realizing the many benefits of the IoT. Some think it will be too difficult or expensive to implement; others may question the value of it. Fortunately for us all, these questions have been asked for several years, and there are answers.

The communication protocol often cited as the best fit for IoT applications has already been developed, tested and deployed in live environments around the world since it was fully released in 2009.

OPC Unified Architecture (UA) is platform-independent, service-oriented architecture developed and maintained by the OPC Foundation. As the interoperability standard for industrial automation, OPC has become an integral part of most SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems. As data systems expand beyond their traditional roles to include more sensor data and consolidate data from multiple systems, it makes sense that the OPC Foundation has remained at the forefront of the standardization process and and have developed a communication standard that has been embraced by proponents of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things – companies like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, GE, and many others,

OPC UA is universally embraced because it directly addresses the obstacles faced by organizations involved in IoT implementation projects. The problem of interconnectivity, for example, is exactly the problem that the communication standard was developed to address. Today, OPC drivers exist for thousands of different devices, and many devices today are manufactured with embedded OPC servers to allow for exactly this type of interoperability with other devices and systems.

The concerns about the usefulness of multi-system data is addressed by information modeling. The OPC UA information modeling framework turns data into actionable information. With complete object-oriented capabilities, even the most complex multi-level structures can be modeled and extended. Information modeling also makes an OPC UA-based system significantly more customizable and extensible. As virtual representations of actual systems, information models can be modified or expanded to meet the changing needs of a modern company.

Of course, one of the most important considerations when choosing a communication technology is security, which is one of the great benefits of OPC UA. Security is provided in a number of ways, including: Session Encryption, Message Signing, Authentication, User Control, and Auditing of User Activity.

While it is difficult to say that there is anything “standard” about the Internet of Things, OPC UA is the closest thing we have to a communication standard, and every day it is becoming more widely accepted and adopted. To learn more about the synergy between OPC UA and Industrial IoT applications, read the following whitepaper: https://opcfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/OPC-UA-Interoperability-For-Industrie4-and-IoT-EN.pdf

** B-Scada’s IoT software is built on OPC UA and leverages the full power of these capabilities to provide fully customizable and extensible applications that consolidate and organize data from disparate sources for secure real-time visualization on any device. Learn more at http://scada.com

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Are We There Yet?

The cat is no longer in the bag. In fact, she’s already rummaging through businesses and homes in your hometown – maybe in your neighborhood. Before our eyes, the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved from a nice idea to a measured experiment with tangible results. As expected, early adopters are primarily large enterprises with significant resources to dedicate to new technology, but the IoT does not always require a substantial investment. Sometimes, it is as simple as finding a better way to use your current technology and associated data. Some industrial enterprises have already seen the benefits of machine intelligence and the marriage of people and processes. Other organizations are using the IoT to provide better customer service and more targeted marketing. Is it safe to say the experiment is over? Have we burst through the hype bubble to arrive at a practical understanding of what’s at stake?

The Industrial IoT promises more efficient production processes, reduced resource consumption and waste, safer workplaces, and more empowered employees. There are many success stories already, and more are sure to come.

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama

Honda’s largest light truck production facility in the world – a 3.7 million square foot plant – was faced with a problem all too common to large manufacturing facilities. Over the years, a number of different automation systems were introduced to help streamline production. With operations including blanking, stamping, welding, painting, injection molding, and many other processes involved in producing up to 360,000 vehicles and engines per year, it is not surprising that they found themselves struggling to integrate PLCs from multiple manufacturers, multiple MES systems, analytic systems, and database software from different vendors.

Of course, on top of these legacy systems, Honda continued to layer an array of smart devices on the plant floor and embed IT devices in plant equipment. The complexity introduced by this array of automation systems turned out to be slowing down the operations they were intended to streamline.

After reorganizing their business structure to merge IT and plant floor operations into a single department, Honda proceeded to deploy a new automation software platform that enabled them to bring together PLC data with the data coming from MES and ERP systems into a common interface that allowed the entire enterprise to be managed through a single system. This also allowed Honda to manage and analyze much larger data sets that revealed new opportunities for further optimization. While this reorganization required a significant investment of resources, they were able realize benefits immediately, and ultimately positioned themselves to maintain a competitive edge through the next decade or more.

ABB

As one the world’s foremost suppliers of industrial robots and modular manufacturing systems, ABB has had their finger on the pulse of industrial technology for years. As the IIoT emerged, ABB was quick to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented. The company has installed more than 250,000 robots in numerous industries worldwide: plastics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and many more.

Before the IIoT, in order to provide service ABB needed to dispatch technicians to remote sites to perform diagnosis. Today, a small operations team in a centralized Control Center are able to monitor in real-time precise and reliable information about each robot’s current status and activity. This has not only enabled ABB to substantially reduce the cost of their maintenance and operations, but the data collected has allowed them to develop a set of predictive KPIs to anticipate problems before they occur, helping their customers benefit from less downtime and increased productivity.

Kennametal

Kennametal was able to increase the productivity of their discrete manufacturing operations by using machine tool data and complex event processing. Whereas the traditional approach to increasing productivity was to reduce downtime, Kennametal focused on improving productivity by reducing cycle time. The solution employs complex event processing software that gathers and analyzes production data in real-time. Kennametal was able to understand which operators out-perform the production plan and guide less-experienced operators toward improvement. As an example: in one machining operation it was determined that taking a fast, shallow cut reduced cycle time by 16% over the slower, deeper cut the production plan called for. Best practices of this sort have been shown to reduce Kennametal’s cycle time by 20-40%.

The examples provided by Honda, ABB, and Kennametal are just a few of the hundreds of different IIoT success stories that can be found on the internet. Companies like GE, Ford, Intel, and dozens more are pouring literally billions of dollars into IIoT technologies this year alone. This is not an investment in possibility and hope. The IIoT is very real and it is happening right now. Of course, as with anything new there will be plenty of hurdles and blind alleyways, but many of the initial obstacles have been discovered and overcome. The foundation is in place and the arrow is pointing up. Companies are no longer asking: Should we? They are asking: How can we and how quickly?
**B-Scada has provided best-of-breed data visualization solutions since 2003, providing industrial and commercial customers the tools they need to transform their processes and empower their personnel to maximize efficiency, productivity, and safety. Learn more at http://scada.com.

The Many Faces of Data Visualization

Data Visualization

Data Visualization has become one of the common “buzz” phrases swirling around the internet these days. With all of the promises of Big Data and the IoT (Internet of Things), more organizations are making an effort to get more value from the voluminous data they generate. This frequently involves complex analysis – both real time and historical – combined with automation.

A key factor in translating this data into actionable information, and thusly into informed action, is the means by which this data is visualized. Will it be seen in real time? And by whom? Will it be displayed in colorful bubble charts and trend graphs? Or will it be embedded in high-detail 3D graphics? What is the goal of the visualization? Is it to share information? Enable collaboration? Empower decision-making? Data visualization might be a popular concept, but we don’t all have the same idea about what it means.

For many organizations, effective data visualization is an important part of doing business. It can even be a matter of life and death (think healthcare and military applications). Data visualization (or information visualization) is an integral part of some scientific research. From particle physics to sociology, creating concise but powerful visualizations of research data can help researchers quickly identify patterns or anomalies, and can maybe sometimes inspire that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we feel like we’ve finally wrapped our head around something.

Today’s Visual Culture

We live in a world today that seems to be generating new information at a pace that can be overwhelming. With television, the Web, roadside billboards, and more all vying for our increasingly-fragmented attention, the media and corporate America are forced to find new ways of getting their messages through the noise and into our perception. More often than not – when possible – the medium chosen to share the message is visual. Whether it’s through an image, a video, a fancy infographic or a simple icon, we have all become very adept at processing information visually.

It’s a busy world with many things about which we feel a need to be informed. While we all receive information in numerous ways throughout the course of any given day, only certain portions of that information will have any real effect on the way we think and act as we go about our normal lives. The power of effective data visualization is that it can distill those actionable details from large sets of data simply by putting it in the proper context.

Well-planned data visualization executed in a visually-appealing way can lead to faster, more confident decisions. It can shed light on past failures and reveal new opportunities. It can provide a tool for collaboration, planning, and training. It is becoming a necessity for many organizations who hope to compete in the marketplace, and those who do it well will distinguish themselves.

**B-Scada has provided best-of-breed data visualization solutions since 2003, providing industrial and commercial customers the tools they need to transform their processes and empower their personnel to maximize efficiency, productivity, and safety. Learn more at http://scada.com.

From BIM to Facility Management

BIM (Building Information Modeling) has become an essential tool in building architecture and construction. Creating a logical, structured model of all information related to a building project can help the project move seamlessly from one phase to the next.

BIM helps keep building projects on schedule and on budget. It helps ensure regulatory compliance. It helps facilitate the necessary collaboration that must occur between a project’s planning and eventual construction. A quality BIM also helps keep stakeholders involved in the process, adding a kind of transparency that inspires trust and confidence.

For most people, the notion of a Building Information Model implies a detailed 3-dimensional rendering of a building. With the 3D imaging and design software technology available today, it is true that designers and architects are enjoying powerful new tools to do their jobs, and these 3D models are in fact a big part of BIM. They are not, however, what BIM is all about.

A typical BIM will include not only detailed renderings of the planned building, but also specific information related to the engineering, construction, and operation of the building. This information can include designs, architectural specifications, site information, material sheets, budgets, schedules, personnel and more. BIM is not only useful in the design and construction of a building, but can also be very helpful in the management of the building once construction is complete.

COBie

In 2007, a pilot standard was developed by Bill East of the United States Army Corps of Engineers for the delivery of building information that is essential to the operations, maintenance, and asset management of a building once construction is complete. COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) was accepted by the National Institute of Building Sciences in December 2011 as part of its National Building Information Model (NBIMS-US) standard.

COBie is used to capture and record essential project data at the point of origin, including: product data sheets, spare parts lists, warranties, and preventive maintenance schedules. COBie’s popularity is increasing, and in September 2014 it was included in a code of practice issued as a British standard (BS 1192-4:2014 “Collaborative production of information Part 4: Fulfilling employer’s information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice”). This standard will require contractors involved in the construction of government buildings to comply with COBie when delivering facility information to the building owner after construction is completed.

While this expectation in Britain is controversial, and it has been characterized as “unrealistic”, it is becoming increasingly clear that the information involved in Building Information Models can, should, and will be used to aid in the maintenance and management of the building after its construction. This is where BIM becomes facility management, and this is where some enterprising software developers are creating a new market for themselves.

Some developers of BIM software have expanded their product portfolios by including Facility Management products that transfer the information from BIMs into a useful format for operating and maintaining the constructed building. This seems to be a natural extension of BIM, and these companies will benefit greatly by placing themselves ahead of their competition in what is nearly certain to become a large and lucrative market.


What does this have to do with SCADA?

In the space between BIM and Facility Management, there is often a need for greater automation. The exchange of building information today frequently requires a tremendous amount of labor – an amount of labor described in man-years.

Often, facility managers are provided several large boxes of paper documents, from which they must manually retrieve asset information and maintenance schedules to be entered into Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS). This process usually involves pallets of boxes full of paper of operations and maintenance manuals and drawings. Imagine the time required to create, review and transcribe hundreds of pages of documents, validate the transcriptions, and manually enter data, assuming a system like a CMMS is even used.

Even if a CMMS is used, maintenance technicians often still need to search for information in these paper boxes to complete many of their jobs. As time passes, documents can be moved or lost, increasing the cost of maintenance activities and potentially increasing downtime in mission-critical facilities. A study in 2011 suggested that 8% of annual maintenance budgets could be eliminated if open-standard electronic information were made available to technicians before starting complex work orders.

This is where some BIM software developers are finding a new market by providing the tools to painlessly transfer BIM information into a facility management system. This is also where there are still many who would benefit from an open software platform that allows users to consolidate and organize disparate information, making it available for real-time visualization on any device.

An open platform like B-Scada’s Status Enterprise can provide this type of value to a number of different stakeholders:

  • BIM software developers who would like a customized, branded software solution for facility management they can use to extend their own products or to add as another product in their portfolios.
  • Facility owners who have received a BIM related to their newly-built facilities and are looking for a way to remotely monitor and manage their new assets.
  • Facility managers charged with operating and maintaining multiple facilities, and who would benefit greatly from a remote monitoring solution that allows them to automate processes and monitor real-time activity from anywhere at any time on any device with a web browser.

To learn more about how Status Enterprise can help you reach your facility management goals, visit www.scada.com.