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Automation Distributors Signal Growing Interest in IIoT Gateways

Hilscher North America Distribution Network Manager Victor Wolowec believes that Hilscher’s early commitment to IIoT applications has given the company a substantial advantage in next-generation automation markets.  “I am seeing massive interest in developing IIoT-enabled strategies and products,” he says. “How to get that data reliably and securely up through the automation hierarchy to where it can be used most effectively is a growing priority. I believe that our products, especially our Edge Gateways, are going to play a leading role”.

Wolowec is enthusiastic about his role as Distribution Manager for Hilscher North America. Hislcher’s netIOT strategy for IIoT is pretty extensive, covering chips to software services, he says, “but it’s the Edge Gateway products that are exciting me as they are the bridge between the field and the cloud and they are an ideal product for distributors.”

“IIoT is one of those quantum leap moments and the foresight of our R&D guys mean we have some advanced technologies available in advance of our competitors.  Check out our netIOT.com pages to find out more.   One is our netX 90 chip which is a single-point System-on-Chip solution for embedded communications, applications, device connectivity and security. It’s got no true competitors as yet but there’s no doubt in my mind that it will create a huge market for the netIOT Edge Gateway product family.”

Has IIoT made a difference to the traditional way of marketing to a distributor network?   “Well, it demanded we learn new things … but that’s nothing new,” says Wolowec. “In my career I’ve seen two major changes in automation – first digitization, with fieldbus, and then the jump to Real-Time Industrial Ethernets.  Each required a significant educational phase. IIoT is not that much different in the sense that we need to act first as ambassadors and then as mentors and hand-holders in a marketplace that is still full of uncertainty.”

Wolowec sees distributors as a valuable route into the market and aims to support them as much as possible, particularly with customer events. He does the same with trade associations such as PI, ODVA and OPC Foundation.   “For us it means we get to meet pre-qualified customers,” he explains. “And there are additional benefits. People often say that they didn’t know we do this or that, so there’s usually great networking synergy too.”  It also ensures close contact with key decision makers: “A great advantage for Hilscher is that we are agnostic to the communications involved.  We don’t have to take sides since we can support almost any protocol the customer wants to use.”

Wolowec is optimistic about the next marketing phase.   “What’s so exciting is that I can see the beginnings of market uptake occurring, particularly among integrators. Integrators are realizing the benefits in terms of predictive maintenance, asset management and the like. We know from past experience that once they become familiar with new technologies, progress becomes exponential.”  

Familiarity with technologies like OPC UA is also seen as a big advantage.   Says Wolowec: “When we explain how our Edge Gateways can work in parallel with control systems, without impinging on any existing processes, and data can be extracted invisibly into the analysis hierarchy in different ways, then they start to see the possibilities. In fact, we have many ‘seed’ applications being developed now and I believe these will turn into real solutions in the near future.”

The possibility of processing data in the Edge also appeals to integrators, he thinks, as local processing at the network edge, instead of sending data to the cloud and back, can reduce workloads and speed response times.

But he’s sanguine about one factor--how to judge the value (i.e. the cost-effectiveness) of IIoT. He knows this is still a difficult topic, especially with few standards to help build systems.  However, Hilscher is helping in that area too, he points out. “We’re founding members of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance, which is creating common software approaches in conjunction with device vendors and larger organizations such as SAP.” This is establishing new ways of working that hopefully will help users gain experience. “I still don’t think anyone properly understands where the value really lies, not even the large automation vendors, so joint efforts such as OI4 will provide much needed guidance.  To some extent what we’re all doing is building empty ships and then adding the trimmings as we sail towards the cloud-based the horizon.”

Wolowec believes everyone is aiming at the right targets. Hilscher, he reiterates, has some of the most advanced products available, and as collective experience grows the adoption will escalate. “Our netX 90 network controller chip is allowing device vendors to develop many new forms of data gathering – for example there’s no reason why multiple parameters can’t be collected from field devices for example, vibration, cycle counts and other parameters.” These may have no direct relevance to control but they add to the value vision and improve the potential benefits of IIoT, especially when semantics are added to raw data.

“Overall, we see our Edge Gateways as a crucial component of next-generation management systems. At the moment IIoT is a new concept to many engineers but frankly, they’re catching on fast and I see interest increasing dramatically in 2020.”