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System monitors plant remotely via `the cloud`

21 October, 2011

The Swedish communications specialist HMS Industrial Networks has launched a system for managing assets – from single PLCs or inverters, to a complete plant – remotely via the Internet. The system, called Netbiter Argos 3, can be used to monitor both fixed and mobile assets continuously in real-time, and to track them using GPS.

“In the event of a problem, you can instantly receive alarm emails or text messages, wherever you are or wherever the asset is,” explains HMS’ UK business development manager, Stuart Hannah. “If the equipment starts to function out of parameters, you can be notified and react before failure occurs by going into the system from anywhere on the Internet.”

HMS acquired the technology when it bought its Swedish developer, Intellicom Innovation, earlier this year. Netbiter is already being used in applications including industrial machinery, building automation and remote pumping stations.

The system (shown above) comprises three main elements: gateway communication devices, which gather the data; secure online storage in “the cloud”; and online monitoring tools. The information can be viewed on any device running a Web browser, such as PC or smartphone.

The gateways (above) connect to equipment using serial communications or Modbus RTU protocols. At intervals from real-time to 300 seconds, they send data to a server either by Ethernet TCP/IP connected to a WAN/LAN, or by GSM/GRPS transmissions – or a combination of both. The gateways have two digital inputs, two analogue inputs, one relay output and an analogue output (0–10V).

The system also includes communication gateways with integrated Web servers for applications needing monitoring and control without storing data on a central server.

The data is monitored via customisable graphical displays/dashboards (above). There are libraries of ready-made Web page dashboards for applications such as HVAC and water management.

Although not designed as a Scada package, users can configure the system act as one. They can log historical data, produce graphical trends or diagnostics, manage alarms, and backup or restore remote configurations. The data can also be accessed by the user’s own ERP system for further analysis.

According to Hannah, data security is a priority. “We use an online datacentre called Netbiter Argos,” he explains, “which is always backed up at two or more separate locations, so it’s always available.”

Users pay a monthly subscription for the service, which can come from their operating rather than capital budgets. Dave Folley, HMS UK’s sales and business development manager, says that this approach also avoids depreciation and upgrading costs. He expects remote monitoring to represent about a third of HMS’ business within a few years.

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