Sunday 4 September 2016

ArcoFlex Releases IoT Prototyping Unit

In a world first, Arcoflex Automation Solutions releases the only true end-to-end solution for piloting and prototyping IoT remote monitoring and control solutions. Sign up and receive data in minutes. There are so many moving parts to an IoT remote monitoring solution that it can be quite bewildering just to get started. What Arcoflex has done is give you a fully functioning, universal monitoring solution in a box. One that will work straight away.
Be fully operational and monitoring data in just 10 minutes!

This is a truly unique offering, born of the frustrations of not having coding examples and the relevant infrastructure experience. We wanted to give companies a way to start playing with remote monitoring NOW and not after months of frustration and fruitless experimentation. Based on Microsoft’s Azure application environment, the expansive IoT Suite, everything is put together for you to use right away
Q. How easy is it to use?
Very easy. Here is all that you need to get started:
· Some sensors (or use the samples provided)
· A local area network connection or a 3G/4G dongle
· A web browser to review your results
· 240V and patience

We provide detailed instructions for what is going on behind the scenes and how to connect sensors. Failing that we have a 24/7 help desk ready to get you on your feet. The developer kit is provided in a portable carry case but the breadboard can be taken out and used directly if required. 
Q. Why Does It Work, why is it so easy?

Good question! It works because we’ve written all the code for everything. EVERYTHING. From the I/O integration on the PI, through the web jobs connecting IoT hubs and event hubs, all the way to data storage and visualisations. You just need to configure your prototype and you’re running. In fact, we’ve even pre-loaded a sample so that you can see it operational the moment you turn it on.
Q.         How do I Prototype with it?
This is the easy bit. We provide you with two modes of operation:
Mode 1 – Hardware Prototyping
There are three coded I/O boards in the standard configuration but we can customise a box for other implementations if required. Just ask. You will be given wiring instructions for digital, analogue and one-wire sensors. Please consult the product specification details but you can connect up to 100 devices. All standard industry devices are supported. You can plug and play in just minutes and configure your data collection faster than the coffee pot will boil. We have provided some common sensors to get you started.  Our staff can help with finding the addresses of one-wire devices or the input range of analogue devices. The digital I/O card provides a power supply for switches or CT sensors. Output (for control purposes) IO cards can be supplied on request.
Mode 2 – Software Prototyping

We have provided sensor templates for around 30 common sensors but you can create more for yourself. When placed in demo mode, a configured sensor will send pattern data, whether or not a physical sensor is attached. The purpose of this is to allow the UI and BI or analytics teams to evolve their software whilst waiting for the hardware guys to get their act into gear. So the displays, alerts and dashboards can be prototyped independently of the hardware. This is a unique capability not available anywhere else. Build your end user applications in parallel with the hardware. In fact, your configuration parameters will help the hardware teams refine their sensors.

Q.         What does it cost?
The developer kit costs a mere $950 plus shipping and handling. It comes with a one-month trial subscription for proof of concept purposes. Thereafter there is a monthly cost of $30 per device for an unlimited number of sensors. We offer 3, 6 and 12 month subscriptions, paid in advance. The prototyping edition has a limit of 20,000 messages (up to 100 bytes) per day but we can provide higher throughput for a small additional fee. Subscriptions can be suspended and restarted without penalty.
Q. How does it work?
What we have done is written the code required to handle every aspect of the solution. Everything is completely data driven and totally dynamic. Once you have evolved your own prototypes you will be able to replace our components or perhaps engage us to provide them. We will probably be able to do this at a vastly lower cost than you attempting to build the expertise internally. The following diagram outlines the architecture involved.
The application environment is divided into six zones:
Zone 1 – Raspberry PI3B with Windows 10 IoT Core
We have written a Dot Net app for the PI which is integrated with our supplied I/O cards. This is greatest
point of complexity for prototyping: managing the connectivity of device with the operating system then working out a collection and transmission protocol that works. We have done that for you and the flexibility we’ve created is extensive. Basically any sensor can be connected to our cards and all that is needed is some configuration metrics: signal range, physical address and other necessary parameters. All this is detailed very simply in the accompanying instructions.
Zone 2 – Data Converter
We use Microsoft Azure IoT Hub to collect incoming data streams. Because our Raspberry PI code uses a proprietary data compression protocol, the data converter web job converts our protocol back to JSON and inserts it into an Event Hub.  This element is required but from here, any other Event Hub consumer can access this data: Hadoop, Stream Analytics, BI and so on.
Zone 3 – Db Sync
The data Sync job reads the Event Hub and writes to two SQL Azure Databases.  The first is effectively the current value for all sensors and devices, with the second being a history table.  This is done for visualisation performance.  The history table is used for data trending and other analytics purposes and will contain millions of rows.
Zone 4 – Alert Manager
Set up in its own web job, the alert manager inspects all data in terms of configured alert settings.  SMS, email and simple logging options are available.  There are rules for re-alerting so that you don’t end up spamming yourself.
Zone 5 – Data Gateway
The data gateway is simply a web service designed to read data from the Azure SQL DB. It was made a web service so that is can be scaled automatically but also so that web apps as well as desktop apps had equal access to content. Think of this layer as a wrapper to the Azure DB.
Zone 6 – Configuration Application and Dashboard
We provide two applications to support this environment. The first and most important is the configurator. This application, a remote desktop services app, configures all the sensors on the device, their limits, alerts and trending details. You can configure your entire pilot environment with the configurator, whether or not you have real sensors in place yet. The second application is a dashboard and trending app so that you can visual the data being collected. Even though this is developer solution, all data is being held until the user decides to remove it.
Q. What might the Bandwidth Charges Be?
If you decide to use 3G/4G as a connectivity medium, then you need to understand bandwidth costs. Our transmission protocols are unique and innovative but it is still easy to blow the budget if you are not careful. You could easily just go out and purchase a pay-as-you-go account and start the same day but be careful to restrict data transmission parameters with the configurator. If you are careful, this could cost you less than $15/month but please speak to us if you have higher bandwidth needs. We can provide shared SIM card plans probably a lot cheaper than you can yourself.
Q. How do I integrate Control requirements?
This is a customisation add-on because we really need to know what you want to do. Control can be digital (on or off) or a variable value (like for a thermostat). It isn’t a big cost – in fact it is small – but the variability of what is possible requires us to discuss this with you first.
Q. How do I get started?
Jump on to the Arcoflex website and order a kit. Delivery is approximately 5 days from payment unless customisations are required. Replacement parts, additional sensors and other accessories are available on the website.

Friday 2 September 2016

ArcoFlex Sensei is Different from the Rest

Remote monitoring solutions are beginning to make their presence felt. They can be really sophisticated and really expensive or they can be ArcoFlex solutions. To be fair, if you need to monitor and control complex industrial PLC based solutions, then full two-way VPN tunnels and specialised management solutions are probably necessary. But if your requirement is device and sensor monitoring, the remote and automated collection of data and some direct feedback control, then a sophisticated and expensive solution is not necessary.
ArcoFlex Sensei brings to you an affordable end point solution or prototyping unit that will get you right into the IoT remote monitoring and control space from Day One. Here’s how Sensei is different from the rest:
1.     High Performance.   On chip processing to reduce server side workload for superior performance and data efficiency. By moving process logic down to the chip we have ensured better scalability at the trending and data management sides.
2.     Offline Data Collection.   Sensei has 16GB on-board RAM to store up to 28 days of data in the case of lost communications or hardware failure. Hence there is no loss of trend data.  Sensei has an auto burst mode to recover this data once communications have been restored.
3.     Virtual Sensors.   Sensei introduces the concept of virtual sensors which can aggregate other sensors (real and virtual) to produce combined logical or value outcomes.  Examples include: air locks (two door switches), pressure differentials (two pressure sensors), converting pump actuations to delivered volume and many more. The key is to put the conversion processing effort down on Sensei so that trending and visualisation retain universality and high efficiency.
4.     Application to I/O Coupling.   Our Sensei application code is intimately coupled to the I/O cards in such a way that simple electrical connections can be made for sensors and digital inputs.  This perfectly matched coupling is what makes Sensei’s superior to work with because we have taken out the complexity of the endless sensor types and how they might be configured electrically. Our I/O cards and configuration portal can be used immediately with almost any digital, analogue or 1-Wire device. RS-232 is available on request. All documentation is provided.
5.     Configuration Ready.   Sensei comes with a fully visual configuration environment set up your sensors in just minutes. Test, play and control and see your results in seconds.
6.     Output and Control.   Sensei is probably the only IOT remote monitoring solution to also offer practical feedback control.  You can have two types:  Digital – for relay switching or Analogue -  for rheostats or thermostats.  This feedback can be configured on-chip for instant events but it is also configurable so that it becomes reactive, setting up values based on pre-set conditions.
7.     Visualisation Ready.   Default Trending and visualisation options are provided right out of the box.  Your Sensei device can be collecting data within seconds of connection. All that is required is a small amount of configuration to set value limits for display.
8.     Prototyping.   Sensei has a completely automated trial and prototyping mode which allows you to define and configure sensors without them being physically attached.  This allows you to build UI’s, data aggregation services, dash boards and BI tools in parallel with your hardware development.  It also saves substantial costs by being able to replicate real life scenarios.
9.     Alerting.   Alerts and logging are all managed with device side logic, making them genuinely capable of real time responsiveness. Our email latency is approximately 10 seconds on top of the default one second sensor latency. SMS latency is approximately 2 seconds.
10.  Real Time Data flow.   Sub-second response times are routine for most of our installations. Enjoy the only IOT remote monitors and control solution to provide this. To be fair, this can come at a bandwidth cost but if genuine real time notifications are critical to your application, Sensei can provide this. Contact us to discuss the implications.
11.  GSM Enabled.   All Sensei devices are equipped with a GSM chip which reports its location back to the configuration portal and dashboard. This means we can map your devices to the screen and help identify sites for maintenance attention or alarms. “Hothouse 2” can be a mystery at 2.00am when the alarm goes off but when you can see and walk to the correct building with your tablet in your hand, life is a lot easier. Feed mills use this feature to set route planning for silo refilling.
12.  Competitively Priced.   Sensei has an average base product price around the $1500 mark and then sensors to suit the implementation and needs of the customer. Usually a few hundred dollars or less, this is a very attractive price. There are installation costs to consider, as there are with any monitoring solution and a monthly charge of around $30 per Sensei unit. There are no other Telco or third party charges. Just one bill for everything.
Choose ArcoFlex Sensei for your next remote monitoring requirement.

Real Time Data with Arcoflex Sensei and Microsoft Azure

ArcoFlex Sensei – Real Time Data with Azure IoT
Remote monitoring seems to have two completely diametric applications: offline and therefor latent storage of data and real time data. Latent data is fine. Collect, store and forget. No big deal: easy to obtain and cheap to collect. So let’s forget about this because everyone can do it. But what about real time. How ‘real time’ can we get, what does it cost and is it genuinely possible. Fortunately, Microsoft’s Azure IoT suite can provide exactly that.

Collecting data from remote sensors poses two problems: how fast can it traverse the various components of the cloud and what will it cost? Let us review the performance issue first and then analyse its impact on cost. If it is too expensive, we may not be able to accept the performance we desire. In order to get data from a device to a visualisation, these are the elements it must traverse:
·         Code at the sensor’s manager (Raspberry PI in our case)
·         IoT Hub where completely scalable input is available
·         Event hub where normalised JSON data needs to be available
·         SQL Azure DB where trend data is being persisted
·         Visualisation applications as a user end point
Arcoflex has established that traversing this entire gamut of processes and storage mechanisms can be as short as 600ms. This means that from the moment a sensor has recorded a value or assessed an alert condition, the resulting data is creating an SMS or email or updating a visualisation within one second. So we are able to boast sub-second responsiveness and can therefor claim real time data responses. This is a big call but it is quite easy to prove and demonstrate. Our Arcoflex Sensei Protyper can do this out of the box.
Is this important? Yes, it is. Bio-security breach conditions are one example where it is required under law to prove that two doors are not open at the same time. You cannot do this if your data recording solution cannot resolve to less than a second. But there are other examples: motor burnout prevention, temperature control, fluid mixing processes, alarms… the list is actually quite endless.
The big question is of course: how? The answer comes in two parts: an innovative time and value compression algorithm from ArcoFlex and Microsoft’s Azure platform. The two components combine to yield an utterly cost effective solution to provide real time data from your remote monitoring solution. The first part is ArcoFlex’s TVDC compression algorithm. What it does is to only send data that changes, set to configurable precision and frequency metrics. Because the 3G/4G solution environment sits directly on top of the sensors, this is what controls telecommunications provider costs. Keeping this low is important to the overall cost implementation.

The difficulty with customised transmission protocols however is one of incompatibility. No-one else can read it. So what ArcoFlex does is read the compressed data into Microsoft IoT Hub, a mechanism that has enormous capacity and almost infinite scalability. But it has a cost and needs to be managed so our compressed data packet management protocol ensures that IoT Hub expenses are minimised, as well as carrier costs for the 3G/4G connection. The targeted aim is less than $10/site per month for effectively unlimited amounts of trend data.
The problem though is that nothing else will read the compressed data so the next step is to expand the data set into full JSON, something almost everyone can consume. By contrast to IoT Hub, Microsoft’s Event Hub is very cheap. So we take all the IoT Hub traffic, expand it into JSON and throw it at Event Hub. Now the data is in a format that can be consumed by regular BI and Stream Analytic tools or dumped into a SQL Azure table. Suddenly everyone has access, including our own visualisation tools.

We have net latency down to sub second and this is impressive. Bandwidth costs are contained without compromising overall system performance. If your IoT monitoring solution is not yielding genuine real time responsiveness, then it isn’t using Arcoflex Sensei.

Geoff Schaller