As simple as many modern smart devices are to operate, these are still emerging technologies and questions persist. We chatted with Bill Rogos, Parsec CTO, to learn more about the varied applications of smart devices, their impact on business strategy, and how Parsec’s unique software-provider-to-device-maker evolution influences their approach.
Smart Industry: Provide big-picture perspective on the state of smart devices.
Bill: There are many infrastructure-related challenges with effective data collection, specifically related to more complex requirements such as managing manufacturing operations. Applying our philosophy of “making it as simple as possible,” we’ve designed our smart devices to enable a wide range of data-management capabilities with seamless interface with our MES solution platform, TrakSYS. Now, users can address topics such as task management, condition-based monitoring, workflow and data logging with no network or automation infrastructure in place. Our smart devices provide functionality for on-premises and cloud scenarios.
Smart Industry: Let’s back up a bit. How do you define a smart device”?
Bill: The TrakSYS Smart Devices are IIoT hardware that enable users to perform advanced and reliable real-time data acquisition as simply as possible. Nearly any type of physical sensor (such as photo-eyes, temperature, pressure, vibration, encoder, etc.) can be connected to Smart Data Collectors, which relay data to a Smart Coordinator (edge device) where they are then pushed into the TrakSYS software (on-premises or in the cloud) for analysis, visualization, notification, collaboration and decision support.
Smart Industry: Describe some of the varied applications of smart devices that you’ve worked with.
Bill: Smart devices can be used in any situation where real-time values must be gathered from the manufacturing processes. Common uses include condition-based monitoring, time-series data logging, preventive and predictive maintenance, notification and escalation management, KPI tracking, at-line and in-process quality checks, and much more.
Smart Industry:What are we talking about here? What tools fall under the category of a smart device?
Bill: There are two physical components to the TrakSYS Smart Data Collection System: the Smart Data Collector and the Smart Coordinator (the edge device). The Data Collector is a universal data-capture device capable of receiving digital, analog and serial data inputs for standard, off-the-shelf sensors or hardware with serial interface. These devices communicate with each other via an RF wireless mesh network, which eliminates the need for conventional LAN. The Smart Coordinator receives the data packets from the Data Collectors, sorts them and delivers them directly to the TrakSYS software, on-premises or in the cloud. This data is directly stored in the TrakSYS “Smart Data” tables for further manipulation, analysis and consumption.
Smart Industry: How does this technology influence larger business strategy?
Bill: In today’s digitally focused business, data plays a critical role in making informed decisions. Quite often, lack of infrastructure and automation will constrain the ability to collect and leverage the data that is necessary to effectively managing the broader supply chain. Smart devices (in most cases) remove hurdles associated with connectivity and data visibility. These devices may be deployed not only in factories but also up- and downstream with the supply chain partners’ operations, which creates an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration, efficiency and fact-based decision making.
Smart Industry: How does Parsec’s background in software influence its approach as a device-maker?
Bill: As a software company, our focus is the transformation of data to make it as simple as possible to run the business more effectively, in real-time. Looking at the challenge of connectivity and data visibility, we recognized a gap in what was available to simply, non-disruptively, and economically access the myriad data sources to feed the execution engine that would process the raw data. We made the decision to make our smart devices facilitate the “feeding” of TrakSYS. The devices were a means to a broader goal. Using our expertise in software, we have simplified and optimized the setup and configuration of these devices, especially when compared to the common challenges experienced with deploying other IIoT devices.
Smart Industry: Is this normal among device-makers?
Bill: This is not normal. Most IIoT device-makers are hardware focused. Drivers and setup/configuration UX is not their forte. And, as mentioned before, most device-makers must support a large variety of unknown software platforms, causing the UX to have many different connectivity settings and options, which leads to a more complex setup process.
Smart Industry: Is the relationship between software and hardware changing?
Bill: There are many significant advantages to having a hardware device built specifically for the software platform: performance, ease of setup/maintenance, features on either side that work together. We have already seen examples of concepts in the software driving new features in the hardware and vice-versa. For instance, instead of having different types of smart devices (as we began with), we now have one universal smart device that is software-configurable to accommodate different types of sensors and data sources. This makes life a lot easier for those who install, configure and maintain the systems.
Smart Industry: Describe your mesh network? How does this approach optimize the process?
Bill: In many cases, the challenge with data accessibility is not limited to a lack of automation. It has to do with the lack of networking mechanisms to move data from the sources to where it will be consumed. RF mesh network is a wireless way of creating a communications network made up of radio nodes organized in a mesh topology. In the case of TrakSYS Smart Data Collection System, individual data collectors form the interconnections and relaying of the data—via a Smart Coordinator—to TrakSYS. This happens automatically with no setup or configuration. The mesh network increases the effective range and reliability of the smart device network. By utilizing a self-healing mesh, dead zones, interference, and latency are greatly reduced. This also allows easy addition and removal of devices without reconfiguring or rebinding, which boosts uptime.
Smart Industry: Are costs related to smart devices dropping? What does that mean for end users?
Bill: These devices are a fraction of the cost of traditional automation systems. The fact that, in many cases, there is no need for deployment of costly automation and networking infrastructure is already a significant economic driver. So, the cost and barrier to entry is very low to begin with. However, as with any new technology introduced, costs could drop with further innovations and iterations of the technology.
Smart Industry: Where are Parsec smart devices most commonly used?
Bill: The devices may be used in a variety of applications. Most often, they’re deployed within manufacturing operations to gather data from sensors, systems, and equipment that don’t have a standard way to communicate data. Our smart devices represent a cost-effective may to create a powerful data-acquisition strategy.
Smart Industry: What is the most unusual application/location of a Parsec solution?
Bill: These devices are meant to go beyond the factory. They can be used anywhere data acquisition is needed. More and more, we find these devices outside the factory within the supply chain. For example, customers are using these devices for data collection when goods leave the suppliers’ warehouses, monitoring conditions during transit, keeping an eye on the environmental variables in storage, and even within retail centers.
Smart Industry: What most excites you about the near future of the use of smart devices?
Bill: The potential applications for these devices are limitless. Where customers had resigned themselves to not being able to take advantage of digitalization across their assets and properties, we’re now regularly finding ways to deploy smart devices to enable intelligent data acquisition with an eye going beyond monitoring. We’re able to close the loop on actionable information—in real-time—to more effectively manage digital supply chain operations.
Smart Industry: Is the manufacturing world fully aware of the capabilities to optimize processes using smart devices?
Bill: Smart devices are relatively new. There are many uses for them that have to be explored and explained. We’re getting the word out. However, the most effective way of explaining the benefits is by demonstrating through actual use cases. There are a number of early adopters that will pave the way for broader adoption of these devices. We expect major impact within manufacturing operations and for the supply chain activities that require more reliable and timely data visibility.