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Why should you consider putting field instrumentation data in the cloud?

8 August 2018

Today we’re exploring an important question for the process industry: why should you consider putting field instrumentation data in the cloud?

With all this talk about digitalization and Industry 4.0, we often get questions like, “Why should I put field instrumentation data in the cloud?”, “What’s the benefit?” or “How is it done?” It makes sense to ask these questions so you can understand how digitalization can benefit your plant operations and maintenance in any current or future upgrade projects.

What instrumentation data should I put in the cloud?

While digitalization has a ton of benefits, which we’ll get to in a bit, you don’t want to capture data for the sake of capturing data. There needs to be a tangible benefit or payback.

Now Industry 4.0, in all its simplicity, is all about capturing data and being able to analyze that data to get meaningful insight into your process, plant or operation. As instruments controlling a process are usually already connected to an automated control system, additional data points in the realm of Industry 4.0 are typically non-critical. They are used for monitoring only, so making large investments in creating a separate infrastructure may not be worthwhile. Field instruments are the very eyes and ears of the process; however, having more data points provides access to additional process insights. So, the old mantra that “you can’t manage what you don’t know (or don’t measure)” certainly still applies.

The best approach to ensuring optimal access to existing or new field device data is to employ digital communication protocols such as Hart, Profibus or Profinet. These communication protocols allow the highest amount of data to be transferred at the fastest possible rate. The single variable 4-20 mA signal will not fly in the age of Industry 4.0. So, if you’re approaching an instrumentation upgrade, make sure to take this into consideration.

How can you making use of new technologies?

Digitalization is all about capturing and analyzing data in ways that were previously very difficult or expensive. Think about remotely located tank farms or vessels with corrosion inhibitors located at most well drilling sites, for instance. There are several challenges related to capturing data such as lack of power sources, cell phone coverage and large distances between measurement points.

Ways to get around that could be to employ remote data collection and transmission hubs that connect to your field instruments via various means of communication such as wireless Hart, 3G and 4G cellular service, radio transmission or industrial grade Wi-Fi, just to name a few. The hub stores the data and transmits it securely to the cloud.

What are the benefits of the cloud?

Putting field instrumentation data into the cloud using an open and secure platform, such as MindSphere, provides you with several benefits:

  • Global access to process data to authorized users
  • Ability to contextualize field instrumentation data by comparing it to other relevant data via dashboards
  • Direct or third-party development of applications that run on cloud operating systems, providing analytics accessible via a distributed control system, Process Logic Controller or smart devices

There are several benefits of putting field instrumentation data in the cloud using existing devices or adding additional devices for more measurement points.

Have you explored putting your data in the cloud? What benefits (or issues) have you experienced?