SEATTLE – Improving industrial efficiency is one application for the Internet of Things (IoT) where a solid business case exists, and many companies are maneuvering to address this industrial IoT (IIoT) market. But while most companies are trying to formulate end-to-end solutions for new installations, M2M (machine to machine) communications company B&B Electronics is taking a different approach. It targets bringing legacy industrial devices into the IIoT, focusing on the endpoint connection while working with multiple partners to provide the other services needed.
The company is responding to market shifts, Mike Fahrion, B&B's director of product management, told EE Times. "Historically we have been in the M2M connectivity space," says Fahrion, "and we started to see a profound change in how people view connectivity in industry. M2M typically formed silos, with only one or two layers up and down the communications stack. Now, companies are looking more and more into building smart, collaborative systems."
But the components of an industrial IoT are much more complex than those of M2M, Fahrion noted, making implementation difficult. "It's not a technology barrier," he said. "It's due to a fragmentation of standards and approaches." He added that there also was a fundamental problem: the need to connect legacy devices.
To address these problems, the company last year introduced its Wzzard Bluetooth intelligent edge nodes and Spectre LTE router to connect standard industrial sensors into a wireless mesh network with upstream cellular connectivity. The edge nodes use MQTT publish/subscribe protocols and can be configured to report only data of significance, such as out-of-bounds conditions. They can also associate sensor data with other information, such as geolocation and device name, for analytics applications. The router serves as an intelligent gateway device that handles local device configuration and management and is able to publish data selectively to the cloud. Collectively, they form the IoT Edge Processing Architecture.
But this product introduction was only a beginning for B&B. According to Fahrion, the company understood that a full IIoT system needed many more elements, including cloud support, user apps, analytics, and the like. "End users want solutions," he said, "and we're only a component of a solution. To build solutions, we need partners."
To embrace its role as a hardware component provider in a larger IIoT ecosystem, B&B has now changed its name to B&B SmartWorx and announced the formation of its Connected Intelligence Global Partner Ecosystem. The partner ecosystem aims to provide industrial users with all the components of a full IIoT system as well as the integration and customization needed for specific installations, all based on the Wzzard platform.
"Going it alone is risky in the industrial world," says Fahrion. "There are too many pieces, too much complexity." For this reason, he said, B&B SmartWorx uses only existing industry-standard protocols such as MQTT and JSON. "We want our designs to be easy to integrate by folks with vertical expertise and closer to the end customers. So we pre-certify our hardware platforms with partner platforms."
The company's initial partnership portfolio includes distributors, VARs, systems integrators, and cellular carriers as well as system component suppliers like platform providers SeeControl and Sensor Synergy.
— Rich Quinnell, Editor, Industrial Control DesignLine, EE Times