Industrial Cellular Data Communications Challenges

Cellular Data Communication has revolutionized industrial data connectivity. Costs have been going down, speeds going up, and connectivity has become increasingly easier.
Nevertheless there has been ongoing challenges in cellular data communications including:

  • Network Obsolescence
  • System Complexity
  • Network Security

Network Obsolescence

Cellular Data Network have evolved from 1G, 2G, 3G, to 4G cellular technologies;  CDPD, GSM, 1XRTT, EVDO, HSPA, LTE….. As new technologies are developed; older network technologies are obsoleted.  Terminal equipment operating on obsoleted network technology has to be replaced.

The need for this constant cellular technology replacement or update may affect organizations and companies in different ways.  Sometimes company’s are unaware of the need to update and do not plans for this work until they have an outage.

Alternatively, in large scale system replacements, the replacement costs are daunting  due to field service costs. There may be limited or no budget for the upgrade. This can be the case when the original equipment was previously purchased on a capital budget. The operating company may have  acquired the obsoleted systems as part of a asset purchase or merger.  Frequently there may be no simple and inexpensive cellular technology upgrade path as the cellular hardware is  OEM and embedded in the equipment.

System Complexity

Cellular data network operation rely on third party operated networks.  Thus the actual data path is obscure.  The RF data path is unclear.

Cellular providers will change network topology and tower configuration without notifying subscribers. This can affect coverage and connectivity.  Troubleshooting can be difficult when the end user of the cellular network does not have direct technical support contact with network operator.

Modem Diversity

There are many manufacturers and models of  cellular modems; packaged and OEM (embedded).  There is no standard for RF and data connectors; packaging and for configuration software interfaces.  Even within the same manufacturer’s models there can differences in connectors; or subtle or extreme differences in the configuration software

These differences in modem operation can be a challenge in upgrade stage. Upgrade may be difficult especially if personnel is not properly equipped or trained. What would be simple modem upgrade at a remote site can be time consuming. The labor and mobilization costs can outweigh cost of the device. The RF, data, or power connectors can be different. A swap-out change can be time consuming where cables are must remade or modified; or users come return another day with proper equipment.  Slight modem configuration changes can cause system operational problems.

Network Security

As with IP based network; Cellular Data Security is always a concern. This is especially the case in use of Public IP Data Networks which is open to attack the potentially from anybody on the internet.  Network Security issues could be caused by  improperly configured of firewalls or Firmware bugs from the manufacturer.

Network security attacks can affect device operation, cause system outages and incur higher data traffic at best;  at worse  cyber-attacks on the equipment or infrastructure can damage, production losses, environmental damage, or injury or  loss of life.

Ben Yee, P.Eng 

Related Links

Bentek Systems has been involved in many aspects of SCADA Communications Products and Services since 1990.   Our work has included product and systems design; system integration;  onsite installations and troubleshooting. This blog reflects some of our experience in the industrial cellular data communications space.  Refer to following  for further information.

SCADALink RIO900 Provides Most Flexible, Rugged, and Reliable Wireless I/O Telemetry

Incorporating 20 years of product experience and customer feedback in the design and development of the SCADALink RIO900 Platform has resulted in the RIO900 becoming the most rugged, reliable, flexible, and  easy to use product in the market. 

Kudos to the SCADALink  Development and Support team members. Thank you to our customers for their invaluable feedback.

The Modular RIO900 Platform is single product that is used on I/O Telemetry and SCADA Applications formerly served by the SCADALink SR900, IO900, and SMX900,900MB Products. The RIO900 Platform for proven to be flexibility for Uni-directional, Bi-Directional I/O Telemetry; as well as for SCADA Communications Applications.

 

Features of the RIO900 Platform

  • Secure Plug and Play
  • Easy to Use
  • Simple On-Board Diagnostics
  • Modular and Expandable
  • Flexible
  • Compatible

Secure Plug and Play – RIO900 comes pre-configured with unique and secure RF parameters to operate securely without interference. For I/O Telemetry Operation, RIO900 Systems are pre-configured and tested.

Easy to Use – Isolated Analog and digital I/O ensures that integrating in control systems with existing PLC, RTU without ground loops and ground conflicts.  The RIO I/O is clearly labeled with wiring diagrams printed on the product labeling.

On-Board Diagnostics – The RIO900 Status LED  including RF Signal Strength and I/O status help enable field service and maintenance without the use of laptop and meters.

Modular – RIO900 Systems are modular can be expanded easily. Modularity allows for the ability to spare with minimum sparing qty in larger systems. Specialized modules allow more fit for purpose operation. As an example, for ESD systems, ESD Modules provide simplified wiring for ESD system deployment; and fail safe operation.

Compatibility – the RIO900 uses the same reliable MCX RF connectors used in the SR900, IO900, and SMX900, and 900 MB.  SCADALink IO Modules for IO900 and SMX900 are supported by the RIO900. Existing systems using IO900 and SMX900 can the upgraded to RIO900 without change or IO rewiring.

Flexible – The RIO900 designed with simple operation in mind; comng pre-configured for default I/O Telemetry;  it has flexibility to be integrated in SCADA applications using intuitive GUI configuration software.

 

West Texas Road Trip

I first saw this sign over 20 years ago on a road trip through Andrews, West Texas.  After seeing it again on a recent trip, I thought this message would resonate with many people.

1 Andrews Texas 

 

2  East on Texas 176 NW of Andrews

 

Acumatica Cloud ERP Streamlines Operations

Acumatica Cloud ERP

Bentek Systems implementation of Acumatica Cloud ERP in 2014 allowed streamlining of its operations. Prior its implementation of Acumatica; Quotations, Purchasing, Shipping, Invoicing, and Accounting were all processed in multiple independent computer applications. The multiple legacy independent applications including Excel, MYOB, and QuoteWerks were used, creating time wasting data re-entry, inconsistencies and redundancy. Many of these applications were not multi-user capable creating further bottlenecks.

Accumatica, a single integrated ERP system enabled labor and time savings; and better operational management.

Orders can now be taken, shipped and electronically invoiced by one person. Invoices are now completed  even before the courier has picked up the items.

The cloud based system provided increased uptime and data security. There is less concern for data loss. A integrated ERP system enables improved operational and financial management.

The Acumatica ERP implementation was performed by Aqurus Solutions Inc a Calgary based Acumatica VAR and Bentek Systems team members.

I want to like to thank Murray Quibell of Aqurus and the Bentek Systems team for their effort in implementation of Acumatica Cloud ERP. I highly recommend Acumatica ERP to industry colleagues that are looking at implementation of  an ERP system.

Ben Yee, P.Eng. President