This is such a hot topic at the moment! It can get confusing because it involves so many technologies and spans so many vertical sectors. As a telemetry professional, I understand this most simply as taking the signals from sensors and then transmitting them, by various means, to somewhere else, where they can be useful. The signals could be fluid levels in a tank or reservoir, flow readings from a river or industrial process or alarms when something has stopped working, or a threshold has been passed.
My experience began with radio telemetry in the water industry over 20 years ago. Since then technology has evolved at an increasing pace and become more affordable. Remote monitoring of sensors now offers a strong business case in an increasing number of industries, reducing the need for people to physically monitor processes, giving early warning of potential equipment failure and providing real-time data to help with planning, prevention and prediction. Even at the turn of the millennium, I couldn’t have imagined the deployment of over 22,000 telemetry devices into pub cellars to measure the amount of beer being dispensed, or that I would be helping to prevent rail accidents by measuring the temperature of tracks which can buckle at high temperatures.
The terminology has changed – telemetry has become a subset of M2M (Machine2Machine, or Machine2Man, or Man2Machine, depending on what you are doing). The traditional ways of collecting/ displaying data via SCADA systems is no longer the norm in many sectors and we are seeing ‘cloud’ based systems being the hub of systems like ThingWorx, binding data and creating useable reports. Telemetry traditionally sits between the worlds of instrumentation, IT and telecommunications. Its progress has perhaps been hindered by the need to get representatives of all those fields involved in order to progress a project, but increasingly it is seen as an independent discipline drawing expertise from all those mentioned above.
Some people think of ‘The Internet of Things’ as a new term for M2M. I don’t agree and I am going to illustrate why with an example involving rainfall, which, coming from Manchester, has impacted heavily on my life, frequently preventing play in cricket and more recently offering an excuse not to go cycling….
I’ve had a bit of a brainstorm regarding the various parties who could benefit from knowing that it’s raining in Manchester:-
- The Environment Agency & local communities want to know so they can take early action in the event of flooding. It may be that insurers would too.
- The local water authority on both the clean and the dirty water side.
- On the clean water side it’s an early indicator on the future reservoir level and if it’s heavy rain then in certain areas this could mean more suspended solids in the water increasing the cost to treat the water. It could be beneficial to be treat water from a different region and pump it.
- On the dirty water side it provides the sewage works with information on the upcoming demand. The sewer network and CSO’s could be used as a holding area allowing the large through put from another region to be attended to first and prevent CSO discharges. This could mean smaller storm tanks are needed at the sewage treatment works, or at least less need to increase the size of storage capacity as populations increase.
- Farmers can be helped with their irrigation control. If it’s raining to the west and the wind is blowing the weather from there to the farm then don’t switch on the sprinklers just yet, wait and see if the rain comes.
- The Met office can use the data to compare forecast to actual which in turn will help them become better at forecasting.
- Building control systems where ventilation is used for temperature control – if the rain is coming then close the windows before it arrives.
- The traffic network. Heavy rain leads to more accidents so chaos on the roads can be prevented by forewarning drivers about the upcoming conditions and temporary speed limits can be introduced
- Vehicle forecourts at logistic depots and other places where there are lots of vehicles have interceptor tanks that filter out the oil and brake dust from the water before allowing the water to go to drain or stream. Heavy rainfall can be problematic and leads to forecourts getting flooded or the interceptor being unable to cope, meaning oil can go to drain or stream.
- Umbrella salespeople know to get out and sell some brollies.
- Car owners can send a message to their vehicle to tell it to close the sun roof.
- We can pop out and bring in the washing before the rain comes.
When I consider all the parties who can benefit from information about rain in Manchester, it becomes clear that The Internet Of Things is not merely another term for M2M. Its not just about acquiring data, but about using it effectively. It’s about connecting interested parties, sharing data or selling it.
This could present interesting commercial opportunities and relationships: Who would instigate and take ownership of the solution? Who would maintain it? Who would be responsible for ensuring the continuity and accuracy of data? What are the security implications and how will business and consumers react to this more open data environment?
At present, the telecommunications providers are very active and have the resource to speculate and invest in the infrastructure. There are great possibilities as these technologies become more widely recognised and their potential is recognised within a broader range of industries. The Internet of Things will continue to be a fascinating area as the world becomes ever more ‘connected’ and information, as always, is power.
The twentieth century was one of change. Change on a scale that man had never been before. The motor car changed the way people and goods were moved, the telephone changed the way we communicate, automation changed the way that goods were manufactured, the radio and television changed the way we are entertained and computers changed the way we worked.
At the start of the twenty first century we have seen computers and smart phones change the way we interact socially and are entertained. What we are seeing now is the development of Machine2Machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT), delivering data and improving efficiency.
We are seeing the worlds population increasing and fossil fuel resources diminishing, meaning the cost of travel & transportation will increase further. The cost of people will increase as the West expects the East to comply with their health & safety standards, and the East expect Western living standards. The environment will continue to be major concern.
The digital age is changing the way humans interact and think and our ability to plan ahead is no longer needed as everything is now available at the swipe of a touch screen. This behavior change is crossing into industry and customers are demanding improve levels of service and are expecting suppliers to do their thinking and planning for them.
In industry the supply chain is evolving with more co-operation between suppliers and customers.
Contracts are not just based on price. Suppliers will be expected to innovate in order to become more efficient. The data M2M and the IoT provide enable this innovation.
Let's take remote tank level monitoring as an example, where level readings are transmitted from customers tanks to somewhere else such as a server. The supplier knows tank level so the customer no longer needs to check and re-order - or forget to check, forget to reorder and run out! This means the supplier can replenish efficiently, visiting each tank fewer times but delivering the same volume of product. Fewer miles leads to lower costs and less CO2.
The customer can see centrally the delivery has taken place and reconcile the invoice and at the end of each month can see their stock levels and understand their balance sheet. Thefts and leaks can be detected, as can illegal fills (when a competitor makes a delivery into your contracted customer).
For suppliers of bulk liquid products this technology enables a new approach to sales. It's not just about the price but the service as well. It allows the customers behaviour to fall in line with the digital age where everything is always available and we don't need to plan ahead. M2M facilitates cooperation between the customer and the supplier. It's the suppliers toolkit to create a strong, lasting relationship.
M2M is reality. Companies such as Powelectrics provide affordable, reliable technology for a range of applications such as tank level monitoring. This technology is helping their customers lower their operational costs whilst building stronger relationships with their own customers.
The business winners over the coming years will be those that embrace M2M technology.
I’ve been to a few M2M events recently including http://www.smi-online.co.uk/energy/uk/conference/M2M-for-the-Oil-and-Gas-Industry and if there was one word that was used more than others then it was co-operation. The various pieces of the M2M jigsaw such as the hardware providers, the telco’s and the software developers all need each other and there’s a line of thought that says those that co-operate best will win.
I come from the world of sensing and telemetry, so taking readings from wherever and then transmitting them to where they can be best used. When we look at all the things that can be measured and the many suppliers then it becomes clear that not one sensor technology suits all. Let’s just look at level sensing – in 2011 worldwide sales of level sensors exceeded $2.5bn and that’s just a small part of the world of instrumentation which is reportedly worth $94bn (http://www.intechnoconsulting.com/pdfs/E%20PA2010%20Presse.pdf).
Just different sensors suit different applications, then so do different RTU’s and different software platforms and I have been lucky enough to be involved recently in a great example of this. The client was a large parcel delivery organisation and the aim of the project was to understand where the fuel went. The obvious answer is into lorries, vans, cars and to heat various properties and yes, most of it went where it was meant to go. But when you buy £100 million of fuel a year understanding where most of it goes isn’t enough, you want to know where all of it goes. This meant getting data from various places, understanding it, reporting and acting. Different tank level telemetry devices were used, data was reported back from flow meters on board the delivery trucks, interfaces into accounting software as well as routing and scheduling services were developed and there was even a feed into the central security function. The result is that orders are placed and deliveries scheduled automatically, which are in turn verified and invoices automatically processed. Thieves have been caught, mistakes have been rectified and the efficiencies improvements are enormous. This has only been possible thanks to co-operation -> the various hardware suppliers; the software developers; the client and the suppliers.
Not only do we need to co-operate but we also need to respect each other. I hear far too often the phrase “it’s only a box” but it’s a box that’s vital to the success of the project. M2M isn’t like the mobile phone world where you can have the user switch it on and off again, or when a call fails half way through the user can simply re-dial. M2M needs high level of reliability as a major cost is site attendance. Having built up reliability data over the years we are now able to offer a complete “service wrap” to clients – we know what our costs are going to be so can offer this complete on site service and give the customer piece of mind.
One of the earliest adopters of M2M was the water industry and it was with great interest that I listened to Oliver Grievson last week at the European Wastewater Management Conference. In the water industry the term ‘telemetry’ tends to get used, being derived from Greek roots as tele = remote, as in telecope, and Metron = measure. This is where we have come up with the name of our M2M devices, or as we call them ‘Metrons.’ Oliver works for Anglian Water who already have data collected from 500,000 telemetry points every 15 minutes. That’s a lot of data and also a lot of lessons to be learnt as the sensors and machines being monitored are very different and they use different means of communication.
So what lessons can we learn? My first job was back in the early 1990’s and involved radio telemetry. Then major users were the water companies and I would design, supply, install, commission and support these radio telemetry networks in some pretty remote locations. It was great as the water companies needed me – the kit was complicated and quirky and my experiences on top of cold, windy hills getting rain in my laptop, but I soon learnt that to be adopted on a wider scale solutions needed to be simpler, easy to install, more reliable and overall much more affordable. I have seen so many devices developed in Ivory towers by engineers with no practical experience that don’t accommodate the needs of the installer nor consider the total lifetime operating costs.
It is the lessons learnt 20 years ago in these inhospitable places that have formed the basis of the Metron development. In order for the Internet of Things (M2M) to develop in the way we expect it to the devices and solutions need to consider the users. Do we understand who those users are going to be and the language they talk?
We hear about the Internet of Things involving lots and lots of sensors. Who is it that understands the application of these sensors, making sure the right technology is applied in a way that the readings are of value, so that the unit can be calibrated if necessary, that it’s robust enough to survive the conditions and easily maintained (or sometime maintenance free). In order to apply sensors correctly we need instrumentation engineers and we need to talk their language.
Oliver Grievson spoke about the water industry having a lack of trust in instrumentation and therefore telemetry, but also said they can suffer from over design. To me it seems likely that incorrectly applying technology or not maintaining it are the principal causes. We must learn from this.
Today I’m exhibiting at the ‘Oil & Renewable Energy Show’ and there are few companies, who like us, supply tank level telemetry. They have integrated small ultrasonic sensors into their devices and their units look great. Unfortunately their reputations have been tarnished by poor reliability and this doesn’t do me any favours – it’s all bad PR for the world of M2M. Ultrasonic sensors can be power hungry, condensation can form on the sensor face leading to false reading and temperature can affect the speed of sound. Don’t get me wrong, ultrasonic level sensors have their place, but they don’t suit every application. No technology does and that is why the Metron2 can work with allsorts of sensors, not just level sensors, using industry standard interfaces and terminology that instrumentation engineers understand.
I like to think that we at Powelectrics have a good understanding of how instrumentation engineers operate and the language they talk – using terms like zero, span, hysteresis etc.. We include features that make the time on site short and sweet – no more rain in laptops and no more customers reliant on specialist skills to get systems up and running.
Wisdom comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from information. Information comes from data and if this data is coming from sensors we need to get it right.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s noticing a wide range of software based solutions coming available for M2M / IoT that vary from fairly rigid and application focussed service based platforms right through to software development kits. Then there are platforms that manage sim cards and I’m sure there are those that claim to do everything you could ever think of. My understanding is that different users will have different skills and different needs. The reports needed for tracking vehicles is completely different to the data interface needed by a vending company wanting to refine their logistic processes. Do you need, or does your solution provide, reports specific to the sector that you work in?
Bruce Kasonoff’s article provokes some thought. Is M2M machine2machine or machine2man? Sometimes it’s machine2machine, sometimes it’s machine2man, and sometimes it’s of course both. And then we can also consider man2machine. If it is machine2machine that how is the data going to be interfaced? I suspect that again depends on the requirement and I would have thought that many requirements, at least initially, will want the data integrated into their existing infrastructure. I’d love to know what you think, need and provide.
I have questioned before whether hosted platforms are for everyone? Will some clients want to have control of their data, especially if the solution becomes critical to business, or of they have security concerns?
My feeling is that the winners as the IoT / M2M sector grows will be those that are able to take a flexible approach, but understand the vertical market and therefore how the data can be used to benefit and how to apply the hardware and other technology that will win.
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As many M2M and ‘the internet of things’ applications result in less need for travel and therefore pollution, should there not be some tax incentives to help 'the internet of things' along…?
In the UK there’s a way for companies to get tax breaks for investment in various green activities. The ECA scheme includes ‘automatic monitoring and targeting systems’ which are products that are specifically designed to measure energy consumption, record and distribute metered energy data, and analyse and report on energy consumption. This is great though I’d like to see this taken further as a lot of M2M applications benefit the environment more and would therefore be even worthier of some tax incentives.
I have considerable experience in remote tank level monitoring which typically saves 30% of deliveries by optimising when the deliveries are made. Fewer miles by the road tankers means less Carbon dioxide being emitted. A quick internet search tells me that heavy trucks typically emit 10,000 Kgs of Carbon dioxide per 10,000 km. If we assume 100,000 km per year then the use of telemetry creates the opportunity to save 30,000 Kgs of Carbon dioxide. Surely tank level monitoring is worthy of the tax break..?
In the UK there’s a smart metering initiative and research indicates that businesses will cut their electricity consumption by between 5 and 15% as a result of using a smart meter. So tank level monitoring offers up to 6 times the benefit of smart metering. It’s not just the environment that benefits from tank level telemetry but fewer vehicles means less congestion, fewer accidents and less wear & tear on the roads.
Nearly every aspect of M2M and the internet of things result in less need to travel. Do you think our governments should be providing some incentives..