MechChem Africa

MechChem Africa talks to Stefan Swanepoel of enterprise, physical asset management and monitoring specialist, Pragma, about how the Iindustrial Internet of Tthings (IIoT) is blurring the lines between asset management, condition-based maintenance and operational performance.

The Pragma R&D group looks after R&D and product development and in that group, Swanepoel is responsible for R&D projects – and the IIoT is playing an increasingly big role in all Pragma’s development work.

“We realised some while back that the IIoT is coming and we needed to prepare for it. We were highlighting the trend and advising clients to get up to speed. What we are now seeing, though, is that the push is coming from clients, for very sophisticated solutions,” he says.

Pragma IIoT Proactive maintenance

For asset management purposes, solutions that can import data from sensors and systems that have already been installed are needed, which can be combined with new sensors for accurate predictive maintenance management on a single platform.

Pragma has long been involved with predictive maintenance, remaining life assessments, monitoring plant equipment that is already enabled for sending data electronically. “But we have now specifically identified some projects around the IIoT, to choose partners we can align with and the skills we need to develop to get the best out of this fast emerging technology,” Swanepoel informs MechChem, Africa.

“There are a gazillion different IIoT devices, platforms and providers these days and it is quite important for us to choose the ones that meet the different needs that we are likely to encounter. And these needs are very diverse, as well. We have field service clients with distributed assets, where low volumes of data needs to be collected from assets onsite and, on the other extreme, we have clients who expect us to monitor plant wide systems on a real-time, per millisecond basis. So a one-size- fits-all solution is not possible,” he suggests.

Most importantly, he says that Pragma needs a platform that can bring in data from different sensor technologies – be it low volume or high volume data, coming in bursts or in continuous streams. “Eventually, all the data must come into one place where we can apply analytics and business intelligence (BI) solutions so as to establish work flows, trigger actions and such like,” he notes.

Sigfox and LoRaWAN

Two IoT network technologies of interest to Pragma right now are the Sigfox- and LoRa-type network connectivity service providers for the IIoT. “LoRa, for example, enables the use of a public network to connect low power wide-area network devices to the Internet. Via a Cloud-based IoT account, LoRa-enabled sensors and monitoring devices are registered on the company’s LoRa platform, in the same way as a phone would be registered on a cellular network. This immediately allows data to start flowing for storage on a secure Cloud-based site.

“What is attractive about LoRa is that a private company-owned base station can be set up, in a remote area, for example. Wireless- enabled sensors can connect equipment to the company’s private LoRa network, independently of any direct Internet connection. This enables areas not covered by network services to also participate in the IIoT.

“Sigfox is similar and has already established wide coverage in South Africa for acquiring data from IIoT devices, but does not allow a company to set up a private base station, so users remain dependent on Sigfox as a 3rd party provider. Each sensor has a unique ID and the moment it is registered and the back end is connected to a company’s own systems, then data analytics capabilities become available.

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