Organizations continue to enhance their digital transformation strategies as they see measurable benefits and improvements in operations. Many industries that have traditionally used either manual methods or a disparate technologies for data collection, will soon have access to next generation, cloud-based monitoring and control of their networks. In these networks, robust wireless communication technologies bring intelligence to remote assets, enabling command, control and visibility from computers or mobile devices, and accessibility from anywhere. These future-proof wireless telemetry systems leverage automation and programmability to monitor data globally and execute and process logic locally. As organizations eye the future of operations with these types of capabilities there are big opportunities for software developers in the Industrial IoT (IIoT) space.
Developers in Demand
With programmability introduced to the industrial IoT network, the possibilities for developers are endless. Novice developers could even leverage open-source technologies like Python and Node-RED to enable new applications for monitoring and control that can transform business operations. We’re already seeing automation prototypes for tank level monitoring of remote and isolated oil/gas assets, and this is only one example of the type of application that would prove highly beneficial for organizations with geographically dispersed assets in the field. These programmable solutions are also extremely flexible, as a company can choose to develop the app themselves or integrate third-party applications.
There is at least one pilot program currently in progress designed to support and enable developers who want to create applications for expansive IIoT networks. IIoT app development can serve a number of industries. The ability to add programmability to these solutions further supports companies as they digitize operations.
Next Generation Automation for Oil and Gas
Small-to-medium-sized oil and gas companies in particular can benefit from automation technologies that combine wireless telemetry with programmability, especially in terms of ROI. By automating manual processes, they cut down on operating costs by a large marker. Well pad automation technology builds analytics and intelligence into the wellhead environment. This is a big step beyond traditional communications because it enables the intelligent applications and programmability to establish an advanced operating environment. With a modern communication network in place, the organization becomes more agile and productive because it can leverage predictive analytics, remote command and control, new protocol translations, and modern cloud-based services – all at the well pad!
Since data needs to be processed both via the cloud and at the edge, this presents an interesting opportunity for software developers in the IIoT space. Clearly, being able to operate industrially hardened smart devices remotely – and in many cases automatically – from the cloud presents many benefits. But the challenge lies in potential connectivity issues when developing applications. Developers must think along a dual track, which means that they must think about how an app developed for the cloud can be mirrored to run on the edge device itself.
Several factors converge here to create a unique atmosphere for developers: connectivity, security, and today, the programmability of edge devices. Traditionally, the devices themselves simply acted as conduits for data collection and transport, but today, hardware manufacturers are creating devices that can host third-party applications. A point worth noting is the advent of Node-RED, which can streamline some of the programmability challenges.
For example, in the case of oil fields, when the edge app sees an oil pump showing a temperature reading above a predetermined safety level, the applications on the device can decide to shut the pump down, or the cloud application can send a command to do so. In cases where there are emergencies, different sites might have a different set of actions that need to be initiated. In fact, most sites have thermal sensors on the oil pads. If the oil pads exceed a certain threshold, then these cloud programs know there is an explosion and a fire happening onsite. To prevent a chain reaction, the cloud will send a command to shut down all the pumps and all the valves in that area so they don’t create a chain reaction and keep spreading.
Extending the oil site example, if there is an intentional attack on the site, the first thing you do is disconnect the communication lines back to the cloud to protect the network. In that scenario, having the same application running on the cloud and the edge devices still allows the same decision to be made in the local network by the device itself. If the device cannot ‘see’ the cloud, it can still respond and execute tasks. If the cloud program is not responding, and the device notices the pad temperature goes beyond the threshold, it can initiate a local shutdown protocol. Once the network is back online, the device can send this information back to the cloud which can, in turn, be given to site operators remotely.
Because of these necessary duplications, programming for these settings can be difficult. For example, in Oracle applications, in SCADA networks, all of the applications run on Java. Oracle pages run on Java. Therefore, most programmable industrial devices must demonstrate that they can run the same Java application locally. Many IIoT platform providers have now expanded the scope of the programming. They’ve built devices that can actually drag and drop the same Java code from the cloud into individual edge units, to run that device. Of course, it has to be developed for a device and for the cloud, so it requires some extra attention, mainly because on the device, the decision-making is slightly different. It does not execute the application unless it cannot speak to the cloud. When it cannot speak to the cloud, then it executes the command just the way the cloud would.
When the oil and gas company has the power to make informed decisions that drive higher production outputs, they are able to visualize and measure the benefits. It’s an exciting time in the IIoT space as we watch digital transformations change the way companies operate. With more processes automated and programmability being incorporated throughout the entire network, even at the most remote edge, we’re seeing significant opportunities for developers to help point these industrial organizations at the future.