Advantech paves the digitalization road

May 10, 2021

“People talk about connecting many devices, machine-to-machine, but the real value of IoT applications is the data they generate to deliver commercial benefits and competitive advantage."

Big personal and technical changes are no picnic, but they're easier to overcome with friends, colleagues and expert partners. Digital transformation is just such an epic challenge, which is why Advantech presented useful strategies and solutions at its recent Advantech Connect Online Partner Conference.

The Industrial IoT (IIoT) Solutions program of the three-month, online event kicked off on April 14 with a "Transformative Industrial IoT Track" that was highlighted by Advantech leaders and subject matter experts in the space. The lead-off session, "How transformative technologies digitalize industrial IoT," was delivered by co-presenters Linda Tsai, president the Industrial-IoT Group at Advantech, and Jash Bansidhar, managing director of Advantech Europe and associate vice president of the company’s Industrial-IoT Group.

"Digital transformation worldwide has gathered speed as companies seek to harness the power of data and optimize their operations," said Bansidhar. "The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the drive to digitalization as users seek ways to operate remotely or reduce close proximities. In short, business models for many companies have changed significantly and often irreversibly."

Because the only certainty is that change will accelerate as the transition to Industry 4.0 continues, Bansidhar reported one source of strength is the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT). "AI is going to turbocharge IIoT on two levels," he explained. "First, it will impact data by augmenting sensors with intelligence. Second, AI will analyze inbound data in real-time or batch mode as it plugs into the start and the end of the IoT spectrum. The future of industrial automation lies at the convergence of AI and IoT."

To highlight its hardware and software history and overarching technical competence, Tsai reported that Advantech specializes in IIoT sensing modules, communications gateways, computers and PC-based automation controllers.

"We focus on what we're best at, and harness the expertise of our Co-Creation partners to deliver comprehensive, durable and future-proof AIoT solutions, including data collect, data connect, data compute and control," said Tsai. "At the data collect layer, Advantech offers data acquisition (DAQ) gateways that support many types of sensors. For data connect, we provide advanced technology with proven, industrial-grade quality. Advantech's connectivity gateway is the foundation for establishing a reliable IoT network. For data compute and control, we not only provide a full range of computers, from DIN-rail automation controllers to scalable-performance IPCs, but also provide I/O modules. People talk about connecting many devices, machine-to-machine, but the real value of IoT applications is the data they generate to deliver commercial benefits and competitive advantage."

Infrastructure to transform

Tsai added that digitally transformative technologies are at the heart of Advantech's efforts at each layer of the IIoT value chain. This means leveraging 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), time-sensitive networking (TSN), smart sensors and low-power, wide-area networking (LPWAN).

"Our 5G routers and IIoT devices are for industrial applications," said Tsai. "By collaborating with partners, we can streamline the deployment and maturation of IIoT and communication services that enable the future of smart manufacturing. For example, Advantech already has IIoT communication gateways that are 5G ready. With regards to AI, we know the power of deep learning and its potential opportunities. Advantech also has innovation solutions in this area, especially in smart city applications. We've developed IIoT applications powered by Nvidia. This partnership is taking huge steps toward reality in AIoT applications."

Tsai reported the question that Advantech is asked most often is: how do you manage IIoT devices at large scale and across different platforms? "It's a good question and our DeviceOn/BI is the answer. This open-cloud IIoT platform provides device management for Advantech's sensing modules and IoT gateways. It's also tunable for real-time monitoring and optimized, smart asset management that helps companies make successful digital transformations."  

Joining the ecosystem team

To solve complex computing and communications challenges for its users, Advantech relies on experts, partners, system integrators and consultants. Bansidhar added these services are important because Advantech is the world's largest supplier of embedded, industrial PCs with a 34% market share, as well as comprehensive solutions in communications, sensing and cloud computing.

"We currently have 43 product divisions and more than 10,000 industrial-grade computing, communication and sensor interface platforms, as well as management and application software to build IoT solutions in different protocols," said Bansidhar. "Our network of global services centers have a presence in 27 countries, and we're still growing, as well as adding global support at local design centers nearby our customers."

Tsai concluded that Advantech's ecosystem of more than 170 Co-Creation partners use the WISE-Marketplace platform and software app they created to access its online marketplace.

DAQ turbocharged by the cloud

The second session in the Transformational IIoT track, "Cloud-enabled data collection and sensing intelligence," was presented by Chingpo Lin, associate vice president of the Avantech Industrial IoT-Group, and Mike Berryman, director of the Industrial-IoT Group for Advantech North America.

"For IoT applications, the first thing is data from sensors, I/O and so on. This is important because by 2025, there will be 100 billion IoT devices, 27 billion IoT connections, and the total smart edge market size will reach $65 billion," said Lin. "These will include technologies like LoRa, NB-IoT and 5G wireless, EtherCAT and USB 3.0, and protocols like OPC-UA for connecting devices directly to the cloud. Each will also need security when connecting sensors with intelligent devices, when using high-speed I/O to begin data analysis, and when performing device, data and operations management in the cloud."

Lin reported that Advantech has solved many of these challenges with its remote and wireless I/O for remote monitoring, control I/O solutions for control, and data acquisition I/O for test and measurement. He added that new communications are being driven by the need to turn control data into useful information, miniaturization of edge computers that are transforming data collection, and the need for data security.

"There are many wireless technologies available, so Advantech provides modularized designs and our WISE components to give users the capabilities they need," explained Lin. "For data collection on the edge, our AMAX-5000 EtherCAT slice I/O and controller achieves 1 nanosecond resolution with EtherCAT distributed clocks and enabled real-time control."

Down to devices, up to the cloud

To successfully deploy numerous IIoT devices, Berryman added that two of the biggest challenges are the need for standardized communications and the security needed to bring OT and IT together. "One leading technology addressing these challenges is OPC-UA because it provides a robust communications framework for applications to bridge the IT and OT layers. One example of a platform-independent use case of OPC-UA is ADAM-6300 Series remote I/O from Advantech, which allows the expansion IoT network management on its gateway architecture based on higher-powered CPUs like the cyber-secure Trust M chip to go directly down to the sensor-interface modules."

Because the next task is providing secure connections to the cloud, Berryman added that Advantech is also working with Microsoft's Azure Sphere IoT security solution, which includes well-integrated and secure hardware, OS and cloud components. "In collaboration with our partner Microsoft, we developed the WISE-4250 interface, RF and Wi-Fi module that has an Azure Sphere microprocessor, as well as modular sensors and I/O for individual user applications. This is a perfect example of an Azure-ready IoT device that doesn't need a gateway, in which Microsoft handles the cloud-to-edge security, while Advantech handles the I/O and sensor interfaces."

To handle the huge data volumes that IIoT devices generate, Berryman stated that intelligent "Edge AI" data processing and prioritization is needed at the edge, just as AIoT is required in the cloud. Lin reported that Advantech is in the process of releasing its WISE-750 predictive maintenance, machine learning (ML) gateway with vibration and other sensors, DAQ hardware for acquiring signals, and AI training utility for building models without specialized expertise or costly customization. Berryman added that WISE-2410 LoRaWAN smart, three-axis vibration sensor is a cost-effective, battery-powered, round-the-clock replacement for manual vibration inspection, which typically sends data wirelessly via WISE-EdgeLink 6610 LoRaWAN gateway to a server running predictive maintenance software.

Lin added that cloud computing can add value to these sensors and other devices, but IoT device and data management platforms (DMP) are needed to make it possible. Advantech's solutions include DeviceOn/DMP that let users manage devices from anywhere, and DeviceOn/BI data management platform and vertical business integration (BI) service.

Links bring OT and IT together

The third session in the Transformational IIoT track, "Intelligent connectivity accelerates IT and OT convergence," was delivered by Jason Chiou, senior director of the Device and Connectivity division in the Advantech Industrial-IoT Group, and Mike Fahrion, CTO of the Industrial-IoT Group at Advantech North America.

"The key factor and foundation for entering Industry 4.0 and achieving IIoT success and digital transformation is reliable data and having a network for distributing it," said Chiou. "Advantech starts with industrial equipment, but Industry 4.0 represents a new stage in the industrial value chain."

Chiou reported that Advantech helps various industries overcome these challenges with its Intelligent Connectivity Solutions architecture, which includes cyber-secure solutions for public and edge networks, network infrastructures including wireless, industrial connectivity and gateways, industrial I/O and sensing, and supporting software. For instance, Fahrion added that Advantech helps users determine their varied distance, bandwidth and power consumption requirements, so they can select the most appropriate wireless strategy and solutions. "We have a proprietary LPWAN product line for the most cost-sensitive applications," said Fahrion. "However, because no single wireless technology can meet all requirements, Advantech supports a range of technologies that can cover a broad range of applications."

Fahrion added that time-sensitive networking (TSN), single-pair Ethernet (SPE), 5G and integration with longtime fieldbuses are improving links and communications between IT and OT, but Chiou stressed that cybersecurity must underpin all these efforts for them to succeed. "Cyber-attacks can some from any corner in today's environment where everything is connected. This is why we need stable, high-security networks, and why Advantech has corresponding solutions," said Chiou. "For example, our Zone Defense Strategy. In Zone 1 at the edge, Advantech security gateways with firewalls perform deep-packet inspections to prevent attacks. In Zone 2 infrastructures, Advantech security gateways use an intrusion protection system to protect end devices, prevent potential infections, and isolate end devices. Digital transformation and the convergence of IT and OT are enabled by TSN, 5G, SPE and other intelligent connections, and they're allowing revolutionary improvements. However, they all have to consider cybersecurity as part of digital transformation."

View the entirety of the Transformative Industrial IoT Track on demand. 
Access the entire agenda of the 2021 Advantech Connect conference.
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.