LPWAN as the new sensor communications infrastructure for IIOT

  LPWAN as new sensor communications infrastructure for IIOT

By Albert Behr, CEO and Founder, Behr Technologies

The introduction of communications technologies in manufacturing has evolved over decades with protocols such as Ethernet / IP and EtherCAT, and Profinet continues to serve as Backbone for time-critical automation and control applications. However, the proliferation of sensors connected via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to provide information for data-driven applications such as predictive maintenance is driving today the need for a complementary communication infrastructure.

What is needed is wireless instrumentation that can be retrofitted without disrupting work processes while meeting demanding industrial requirements. With their unique range, performance, and cost advantages, LPWANs will soon become the standard IIoT communication infrastructure for the entire industrial plant, supporting a wide range of applications, from simple on-site condition monitoring to energy monitoring, and energy monitoring occupational safety.

IIoT sensor networks in the factory

The manufacturing sector is constantly looking for innovative approaches to increase productivity and reduce costs. The installation of numerous sensors in production halls provides meaningful information about the status of critical equipment and machinery as well as the production environment to improve plant operation control. For example, air pressure sensors help to monitor and maintain optimum pressure levels to prevent dust infiltration in the manufacturing facility, thereby ensuring product quality in the pharmaceutical and microelectronics industries. Vibration sensors that record excessive movement of motors and pumps may indicate possible assembly errors, shaft misalignments, and bearing wear that require proactive responses. Ultimately, the potential for IIoT in manufacturing facilities is limitless.

Combined with a powerful analytics platform, sensor networks provide inputs that enable condition monitoring and analysis of past equipment failures to identify causes and predict failure probabilities. This enables the planning of predictive maintenance and timely replenishment of replacement parts based on plant condition to minimize costly downtime and production downtime. Unnecessary manual inspections of various machine components can also be eliminated, thereby saving labor costs.

While industrial Ethernet and classic fieldbus technologies are best suited for real-time automation and process control, they can be very expensive to connect and too cumbersome to connect to the cloud. With ease of installation and expansion, wireless solutions have increasingly been implemented in production environments to provide an additional layer for efficient sensor communication. Industry-leading ruggedness, the ability to integrate massive endpoints throughout the factory, network longevity, low power consumption and cost efficiency are the key requirements for wireless networking.

Low Power Wide Area Networks

Figure 1: LPWAN Delivers Massive Sensor Data to the Cloud for Analysis and Informed Decision Making (Graphics Courtesy of Behr Technologies Inc.)

Mit For a family of technologies that use sub-GHz bands (eg, 868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in North America) to transmit low-throughput messages, LPWAN can support the communication of large battery-powered sensor arrays over long distances. Most traditional LPWA networks operate in the unlicensed ISM bands (industry, science and medicine) with the exception of some cellular LPWA technologies such as Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT).

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LPWAN addresses major short-circuiting shortcomings of reach radio technologies (eg, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) and cellular connectivity in large IIoT deployments. With a range of a few to more than 10 km and a deep indoor penetration, LPWAN enables effective sensor communication in remote and underground industrial complexes, filling other gaps in mobile coverage. For example, sensors can be installed in previously unattainable and demanding locations or even in hazardous areas. Battery life of more than 10 years greatly simplifies battery replacement and recharging.

Less complex waveforms of LPWAN technologies reduce the complexity of the transmit-receive design and allow comparatively low device costs. Wide area coverage in combination with a one-hop star topology reduces the need for expensive infrastructure (i.e., gateway) and power consumption of endpoints as opposed to a mesh topology in short-range networks with their forwarding functionality. With low equipment and infrastructure costs and low subscription fees, LPWAN can be used at a fraction of the capital and operating costs of wireless alternatives.

Critical Examination of Existing LPWAN: Quality-of-Service and Standardization

Existing LPWA networks also have their downsides. Quality of service issues and the lack of standardization of most unlicensed solutions are threatening their industrial application where carrier-level reliability is a prerequisite.

In the increasingly congested ISM bands unlicensed LPWA networks unleash interference vulnerabilities and coexisting vulnerabilities. Technologies using an ultrasound banding technique like Sigfox use a very long transfer time of about 6 seconds. The probability of another system sending telegrams at the same time is relatively high, thus increasing the probability of collisions and data loss. Given the high level of electromagnetic interference in the factory settings, this can severely affect network performance. Long airtime also has a significant impact on power consumption and requires higher battery requirements. In addition, the number of transmissions is limited by duty cycle controls that define the relationship between airtime and idle time.

Figure 2: Long-term ("on air") time makes data highly prone to interference

Lora, another well-known LPWA network, uses a spread spectrum modulation scheme to obtain the Increase data rate and shorten the transmission time. During a transmission, the system alters the frequency, resulting in a frequency ramp that occupies a much wider bandwidth compared to a narrowband approach. In real installations, LoRa networks are very sensitive to disturbances caused by their own system. Increased data traffic within a LoRa network results in an overlapping of different telegrams, so that the receiver can not separate them, which leads to data losses. As a result, overall system capacity is limited and system scalability is limited. The use of different spreading factors leading to different frequency ramps aims to achieve higher network capacity but introduces other negative effects such as different range and data rate for different spreading factors. This Requires More Effort for Network Management

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The existence of many proprietary protocols in a fragmented, unlicensed LPWAN landscape adds further concern to businesses. Proprietary technology such as LoRa involves the problem of loosening providers, which limits the ability of customers to innovate and the flexible response to future technological changes. In general, the lack of standardization represents a significant barrier to global IIoT scalability due to reliability and interoperability.

Using licensed spectrum, cellular LPWANs, like NB-IoTs, outperform and offer higher coexistence and standardization issues for unlicensed counterparts Service quality. It is noteworthy, however, that NB-IoT involves comparatively higher equipment costs, lower power efficiency and white spots, which is typical of all cellular and operator-based networks. The additional requirement of SIM cards with data volume limitations makes these systems more complex and expensive to deploy. In contrast to common perception, cellular technologies do not provide a worldwide solution for IIoT or M2M communication. As North America focuses on the introduction of LTE-M networks, Europe seems to focus more on introducing NB-IoT systems.

A Global Standard for LPWAN in Industrial Applications

In response to the call for industrial, world-wide interoperable LPWAN, a new approach called Telegram Splitting – Ultra Narrow Band (TS-UNB) has been developed and recently recognized as a global ETSI Standard for low-throughput networks (TS 103 357). With a unique communication method that divides the transmission of a telegram (data packet) into short bursts of radio (subpackets), the new LPWAN standard fulfills other critical network functions in IIoT deployments:

  • Robustness and Quality of Service: Due The very short "on-air" time of subpackages significantly reduces interference and collision probabilities, which guarantees high network robustness even in the overloaded unlicensed spectrum. The signal strength due to physical interference such as concrete walls, steel and reinforcement barriers typical of complex industrial environments is also maximized. Low bandwidth and short channel occupancy make the system extremely "friendly" to other coexisting radio networks. Forward error correction also allows successful data retrieval, even if up to 50 percent of the subpackets are lost during transmission.
  • High Scalability: LPWA networks using TS-UNB can scale up to 1.5 million of daily messages from thousands of sensors in a single network without compromising range and connection quality.
  • Worldwide compatibility and vendor-independent protocol: As an open standard accepted worldwide, the protocol can be supported worldwide and implemented on any standard hardware. The standardized protocol provides end users with better investment security and hassle-free enterprise deployment in their worldwide facilities.
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Figure 3: TS-UNB reduces clutter collision probability and maximizes spectral efficiency

TS-UNB technical specifications were formally published by ETSI and can be found at: https: //www.etsi.org/deliver / etsi_ts / 103300_103399 / 103357 / 01.01.01_60 / ts_103357v010101p.pdf.

Outlook – A New Spectrum of IIoT Use Cases

Add carrier-grade robustness, scalability, and compatibility with established long-range, low-power, and low-cost attributes of LPWAN, the new networking standard, BTI's MIOTY ™ technology enables multiple IIoT applications in manufacturing environments beyond industrial automation:

  • Factory-wide environmental sensors such as air pressure, temperature and humidity can be used to monitor and control optimal environmental conditions for various processes such as painting and gluing, drying, etc
  • Health parameters and operating environments of countless remote facilities (such as motors, valves, pumps, tanks, etc.) can be effectively tracked to reduce manual tasks and enable predictive maintenance using analytical models.
  • Wearables communicating the health and activity status of workers in conjunction with environmental sensors (eg gas, heat, air quality, etc.) can be seen "out of tolerance" i measures to improve occupational safety.
  • Energy consumption in different parts of the production complex can be monitored with wireless smart meters to detect power sources and improve energy efficiency.
  • Digitized management of critical building equipment (eg elevators, smoke detectors, intrusion detectors, etc.) increases security.

Figure 4: Example of Safe Workforce Commitment Through Robust LPWAN Combined with Powerful Cloud Analysis (Graphics Courtesy of Behr Technologies Inc.)

Looking to the Future, Robust LPWAN technologies that meet new requirements ETSI TS-UNB Standard is ready to add a new IIoT infrastructure for cost-effective, reliable sensor communication in factory settings.

About the Author

Albert Behr is Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Behr Technologies Inc., which is responsible for the strategic commercialization of BTI MIOTY technology for IIoT communication the development of new products, applications and global partnerships. During his 30-year career in the technology industry, Albert led the commercialization, financing and operational implementation of industry-leading companies in global markets.

 LPWAN as the new sensor communications infrastructure for IIOT

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