How to make sense of big data: RTUs, the IIoT and process control


By Jean Burton, Technical Sales Support Manager, Ovarro
Tuesday, 27 April, 2021

How to make sense of big data: RTUs, the IIoT and process control

Deploying RTUs on industrial assets is an important element of capturing, interpreting and using big data from an industrial process.

The principle benefit of being able to remotely monitor an asset using an RTU is that it allows operators to regularly verify from a laptop or smart device that it is operating within agreed parameters. RTUs capture big data so that operators can monitor all critical applications in a process, ranging from hours of run time through to faults and load levels. They also monitor the external environment; for example, local temperature. This can be particularly useful in harsh environments as it allows engineers to take pre-emptive actions to prevent overheating or freezing.

The alternative is to send an engineer for routine inspection, which in a remote location or expansive industrial site can be hazardous and time-consuming. In some cases, it will require a second visit because they will only be able to identify faults when onsite and then must source a replacement part back at base. Knowing this information beforehand can save valuable time by carrying out maintenance in a single visit.

RTUs act as both the site controller and the site communications gateway. They collect data directly or provide a secure VPN to PLCs used to monitor the asset. The collected data is then made available to the operators, who can issue commands back to the RTU to control the asset. In parallel, the RTU relays key information to the asset owner or maintenance partner. With its ability to report alarms and historical data via email, SMS and FTP, it means nominated personnel are always being updated on its status.

RTUs on the journey to the IIoT

Operating an aged or geographically remote asset can make it a challenge to access the IIoT. The physical constraint of not being on the ‘net’ is the first hurdle, while the age of some assets means that operators believe they must undertake considerable investment to replace old assets with new, ‘smart’ versions.

The best way of thinking about RTUs is that they are ‘mini computers in the field’, so adding one to an older asset can turn it into a ‘smart’ asset. In terms of benefits, RTUs help optimise industrial assets in both near and remote applications by providing greater monitoring and control. As such, they are a powerful, cost-effective method of getting on the IIoT journey.

Once fitted, an RTU allows organisations to monitor and control processes wherever they are in the world. RTUs facilitate communication to local sensors or to an interface at a central monitoring location. At the same time, they provide remote access to control and monitor through standard HTML pages.

Benefits of RTUs

Where the maintenance of assets is factored out, knowing the status of the device before the end customer ensures better outcomes for all project partners. Where the asset could potentially develop a fault that prevents it from operating, the RTU allows maintenance teams to take preventative action.

Another useful feature is being able to control the asset from a smart device to ensure that it is fully functional. Again, without an RTU, it would require a visit to the site by an engineer. It is already possible to fit GPS modules to the RTU to provide a positioning of the system, which can be useful in terms of movement of smaller assets.

RTUs can also help companies meet their environmental commitments. With a growing focus on sustainability, ‘big data’ captured using RTUs allow accurate monitoring of emissions. For example, the centralised data could be accessed by the wider community through an air quality index app on smart devices as a means of keeping energy providers in check.

We can see that deploying RTUs on industrial assets is an important element of capturing, interpreting and using big data from an industrial process. They give full control of the asset wherever it is located geographically, including remote, harsh environments. Once in place, the RTU gathers operational data and transmits it to a dashboard on a smart device or stores it in the cloud for trending and future analysis.

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