Most of today's devices, equipment, and systems come with “intelligent” or “smart” capability built in, along with wired or wireless network connectivity. This is great for new work but many end users have decades worth of legacy systems in place and would like to obtain information from these functional areas without extensive retrofitting.

End users now can add Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities to any existing control systems or field devices by using portals designed for connection to these components and to the cloud. These portals gather data from existing systems and devices and wirelessly transmit it to and from a cloud-based software platform. This lets users easily overlay IoT functionality onto existing control systems and field devices.

Some users are already familiar with adding a hobby-type controller like a Raspberry Pi, a full-fledged PC, or an industrialized programmable logic controller (PLC) to existing components for Industrial IoT (IIoT) projects. These solutions are technically possible but can be difficult to install in the field, require custom programming, or simply cost too much and take too much time.

When an application only requires monitoring a few discrete input points, and perhaps remotely commanding one or two discrete output points, a class of Internet-connected dedicated wireless portals can be deployed quickly and economically.

Portals should incorporate several physical features such as form factors suitable for commercial and industrial environments, powered by commonly available 24 VDC, so they can be mounted near or on the target components. To minimize installation costs, Wi-Fi connectivity is a must. Analog and discrete I/O points and support for the popular Modbus RTU serial protocol ensure the portal can connect to almost any type of component.

Beyond overcoming installation challenges, the key to portal effectiveness is a complete cloud-based software solution already in place so users can instantly take advantage of IoT connectivity without any required programming.

Portals offer this functionality by connecting to the cloud, which hosts a low-cost subscription service. The service provides built-in capabilities for users to quickly configure supervisory real-time dashboards for viewing the stored data on any Web-enabled device such as a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Data can also be logged in cloud storage and users can download the information as a CSV file. Finally, users can configure data points to generate push and email notifications, useful for alarming, and even set up scheduled email reports.

Many end users realize the benefits of applying IoT concepts but know it would be too hard to completely retrofit an existing system. Cloud-based software combined with portals addresses the challenge by enabling users to easily and economically add IoT capabilities to existing systems with minimal installation effort and no custom programming.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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