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How To Connect Legacy factory Equipment With Modern Day IoT World

By now, we already know the IoT is the most efficient and reliable way to monitor and analyze machine health. Using the IoT, it’s possible to track faults weeks in advance, monitor machines from miles away, generate work orders, and shut down machines before catastrophic damage occurs. All these functions are now within reach of of all industrial facilities, regardless of size or budget.  Legacy factory equipment has been largely left out of the IoT revolution, but has continued to be a serious concern for our clients.  Some legacy factory machines simply cannot be replaced cost effectively, and must be modernized for the IoT.

A general factory floor is full of machines which are controlled by PLC, SCADA, VFD or a local control system. There is not an easy way to extract data from these machines and take it to the cloud. Now it’s possible to bring these legacy machines into the IoT world without altering or modifying the existing installation.

Most legacy machines fall into one of two categories.  Primitive and Intelligent.  Primitive machines have no provisions for modernization, no integrated sensors, no integrated communications protocols, and no controls systems.  Intelligent machines frequently have a integrated control system, such as a custom PLC, or other control computer to help the machine execute a specific task.  

Choosing a IoT Upgrade Strategy

Most legacy machines fall into one of two categories.  Primitive and Intelligent.  Primitive machines have no provisions for modernization, no integrated sensors, no integrated communications protocols, and no controls systems.  These machines are frequently upgraded using external sensors to help create a picture of machine operation.

Intelligent machines frequently have a integrated control system, such as a custom PLC, or other control computer to help the machine execute specific task.  Many of these machines provide access to RS-485 or RS-232 Ports, or may have 4-20mA outputs or inputs to help monitor and control machine operation.  These types of machines may be upgraded with specialized hardware for converting older data types into modern IoT data types.  

Below, we will explore both types of upgrade strategies in much greater detail.  

How the IoT Can Assist Primitive Machines on the Factory Floor

The IoT can help with production time, reliability as well lower maintenance cost.  Use advanced machine learning and analytics tools, its possible to identify a potential problem in advance. This can eliminate down time and excessive repair costs. 

In most factories, there are equipment which are 10 years+ old that need to be monitored closely in order to avoid any possible catastrophic failure which can shut down the entire production unit. 

For example, a cooling pump responsible for keeping machines at a specific operating temperature should be monitored using IoT solutions.  In the event of a catastrophic failure, an entire manufacturing line could be shut down, causing serious financial loses for the manufacturer. 

Using the appropriate sensing solution, its possible to monitor pump vibration, temperature, and power consumption.  Monitoring changes in vibration, temperature, and power consumption have been critical indicators for early failure detection of most machines.

Using machine learning, a normalized profile of machine behavior may be constructed.  Monitoring for changes in normal behavior, alerts may be generated to help spot potential failures.

How to Upgrade Factory Machines for IoT Connectivity

There are many challenges in bringing legacy equipment into the IoT world. One common challenge is converting existing machine data outputs into a modern interface for cloud connectivity.  Older industrial machines are often controlled by PLC, SCADA, or VFD control systems.  In some cases, these control systems are extremely powerful, but not advance enough to talk to modern cloud services. 

Most industrial equipment have a control system near the machine, so it may not be possible to access all machines from one central location. These machines may include all the basic machine health info like hours of operation, machine RPM, machine temperature, and machine error logs. This info a very important in order to diagnose machine health. 

There are a few ways to modernize these legacy controllers.

A. Install a Gateway with each machine (Extremely expensive Approach) 

B. Install a Few Central Gateways and dedicated hardware one all machines (Not so expansive but extremely labor intensive)

C. Install a RS-485 Wireless Modem onto each machine and send machine data to a centralized gateway (Low cost) 

Wireless technology is getting more and more robust, reliable, and long range.  With new mesh capabilities, its as reliable as a wired solution, even in an electrically noisy factory floor. In many places, its not possible to install wired devices due to labor and parts cost. Wireless technology makes installation flexible as well as fast, bringing machines online at a pace that fits your time frame and budget. 

In some cases there are machines or motors with inbuilt drivers. This driver can be controlled through RS485.  Using RS485 multi drop or MODBUS its possible to access multiple devices using a single RS485 receiver that will further reduce the cost and possible wireless signal congestion.

Why Choose RS485-Wireless Trans receiver

RS485 is one of the oldest yet most used and robust industrial protocols.  Almost all industrial machines support this protocol, so modernizing machines built around this standard makes a lot of financial sense.

Why Wireless RS-485

  1. Reliable RS485 to Wireless Technology
  2. Supports Wireless Mesh Protocol
  3. Secure 128-bit AES encrypted Wireless Communication
  4. Wide Input Voltage Range
  5. Smallest Wireless to RS-485 Converter Available
  6. Long Range Wireless Communication
  7. 1200-1500 Feet Indoor and 2 mile Outdoor Range
  8. Increase the range up to 28 Miles Line of Sight Using High Gain Antennas

Replace RS485-Modbus Wires with a Wireless Link Wireless Can also be used to replace existing wires and cables.  Wireless works best when a machine and a modem can see each other, but going through walls is also a possibility in some circumstances.

Two Wiress RS-485 modules can be used to replace a wired RS485 link.

RTU RS485  and Modbus is widely used in the HVAC field. This module can be used to connect several HVAC units to local base station as well a cloud infrastructure. 

Existing solution provides no infrastructure for cloud connectivity as well as roust local control. 

Wireless Module can be used to talk to all the HVAC units as well as to push data to cloud as well to local PC

Note : In order to push data to cloud, a gateway will be needed. 


How To Convert Wired RS485 Sensors in Wireless Sensors

In a factory, there could be thousands existing sensors and these sensors may be connected to a cloud. These sensors are already in place and monitoring machines. Using RS485 Wireless transceivers, its possible to convert these sensors into wireless sensors in no time.  Using the Wireless Trans receiver, it’s possible to send data to multiple destinations. Data may be pushed to existing control systems as well as to a cloud for further analysis.

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