Smart Applications of Smart Devices

As simple as many modern smart devices are to operate, these are still emerging technologies, and questions persist. We chatted with Bill Rokos, 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.

Q: Provide a big-picture perspective on the state of smart devices.

A: 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 a 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.

Q: How do you define a “smart device”?

A: The TrakSYS Smart Devices are IIoT hardware that enable users to perform advanced and reliable realtime 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.

Q: Describe some applications.

A: 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.

Q: What tools fall under the category of a smart device?

A: 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 a 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.

Q: How does this technology influence a larger business strategy?

A: In today’s digitally-focused business, data plays a critical role in making informed decisions. 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.

Q: How does Parsec’s background in software influence its approach as a device-maker?

A: 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 realtime. 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.

Q: Is the relationship between software and hardware changing?

A: 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.

Q: Describe your mesh network.

A: 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.

Q: Are costs dropping?

A: These devices are a fraction of the cost of traditional automation systems. 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. However, as with any new technology introduced, costs could drop with further innovations and iterations of the technology.

Q: What excites you about the near future of smart devices?

A: 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 realtime—to more effectively manage digital supply chain operations.

Originally Published on Smart Industry