The biggest challenge when making factories and industrial businesses ‘smart’ is often the size of these digitisation projects. Today, most industrial machines are equipped with hundreds of meters and counters that need to be read manually and ad hoc, and connecting these meters to the Internet of Things to automate reading is an expensive process. But this changes today, thanks to Hopper.
There are countless machines that generate data, but unfortunately, these data can only be read on the devices themselves. Why would a perfectly functioning paper cutting machine, for example, need to be connected anyway? On top of this, you’d first need to connect a PLC (a programmable controller, an industrial machine’s ‘computer’) to add digital intelligence – and connectivity is only the second step. As a result, it’s not surprising that 60% of all industrial devices aren’t connected.
Predictive maintenance is a popular use case
This is a missed opportunity, because it means you can’t get any intelligence out of these devices. Wouldn’t it be useful if you automatically received a maintenance system message or a push notification on your smartphone whenever a machine part malfunctions or needs to be replaced, or when the machine needs to be maintenanced?
Predictive maintenance is one of the most talked-about advantages of Industry 4.0 and of connecting a factory to to the ‘industrial internet’. Still, according to a PwC report, it’s not yet applicable for two-thirds of all industrial assets. Industrial companies often abandon the idea because implementing it would be too expensive.
Too expensive or not suited to the industry
‘Ruggedized’ network devices for the Internet of Things aren’t cheap. There are much cheaper Raspberry Pi-like connectors on the market, but these aren’t sufficiently robust or certified for industrial environments, and they’re usually not compatible with industrial protocols such as Modbus, 4-20mA or HART.
To solve this problem, we’ve developed Hopper. Hopper is a small, affordable and durable module that reads all legacy counters in a machine. It understands various industrial protocols, such as Modbus, which is the language most PLCs use to communicate.
The gathered data are then wirelessly sent to an IoT cloud via low-power communication networks, such as LTE-M and NB-IoT. . Shortly put, Hopper is a cost-effective solution to connect and automate industrial businesses.
Two test scenarios
We’re currently following up on two test scenarios, one of which is running in the energy sector. Energy flows within production plants are tracked in detail, but the flows between the plant and the end user generally aren’t. For example, the electricity cabinets in the streets aren’t connected to the Internet of Things. If they were connected, energy managers would be able to take action when ground faults or other problems occur. It boosts your company’s image if your service desk can tell customers that the electricity problem they’ve noticed in their street is already being taken care of. Connectivity makes your organisation proactive.
Efficient energy management offers new insights
This morning, we presented a demo of this scenario at our breakfast session at Watt Factory in Ghent. We simulated ground fault detections and automatically sent out push messages about them to a dummy user. This scenario doesn’t just help energy management and production companies; in an environment that consumes lots of energy, such as industrial businesses, it’s always interesting to map out specific losses. Ground faults can indicate defects or areas that need to be optimised, and in order to optimise the network proactively and efficiently, you need a clear overview of your losses – hence Industry 4.0.
Energy companies can easily have tens of thousands of street nodes. Connecting them with classic connectors wouldn’t add any significant value. Until today. Hopper offers a great opportunity to stay ahead. Maybe it’s time to consider an Industry 4.0 proof of concept?
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