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Greater Expectations for Remote I/Os

Jul 14, 2020
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You cannot draw actionable insights for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications without data. Remote I/O devices that are used to send and receive input and output signals to and from your sensors, controllers, and other equipment in the field may not resemble the “smart” automated robots immediately associated with the IIoT, but without these humble I/O workhorses, you wouldn’t have any of the remote I/O data you need.

Remote I/O devices are usually deployed at field sites to enable data access and environmental monitoring from a distant control center. I/O data acquisition not only ensures smooth daily operation for your field application, but also provides potential insights that can be used to optimize productivity.

However, the rising complexity of IIoT systems and applications is pushing traditional data acquisition to its limits. Modular remote I/O devices offer clear advantages by allowing you to customize the I/O modules on the remote I/O device itself. In other words, you are free to pick and choose the specific types of I/O modules you want to use, when to use the modules that give you flexible expansion, and how to use the modules based on your choice of communication means. Although modular I/O devices may not be the newest solution on the market today, the flexibility they enable continues to raise our expectations for how to acquire remote data from every node.

Key Criteria for Choosing a Modular Remote I/O

It’s crucial to choose a modular remote I/O solution that helps you make the best use of your collected data from installation to operation and maintenance. At the same time, you also need to ensure that both your OT and IT systems can use the data you acquire. Last but not least, your remote I/O solution should include or support cybersecurity features to protect the data you painstakingly collected. In this section, we share these key considerations in detail.

Don’t Sacrifice Usability

The flexibility afforded by modular remote I/O devices may come with hidden costs and additional effort if you don’t pay attention to how the device will be implemented and actually used in your field application. You definitely don’t want to sacrifice any usability for the sake of greater flexibility, or you’ll end up spending additional effort that cancels out the benefits of modularity in the first place. There are essentially two stages in which usability pitfalls may arise.

Initial Installation

Modular I/O solutions are ideal for IIoT applications that have a high volume of different data acquisition needs. So if your application calls for modular I/O devices, then you probably need a large number of I/O modules too. With so many moving parts to keep track of, you don’t want to waste time on getting things up and running. User-friendly installation features to look for include convenient and standardized mounting options, as well as an optimized wiring design.

Operation and Maintenance

Modular I/O devices are also used to adjust and expand the scale of data acquisition applications. A larger system, however, also requires more time to configure all the additional I/O modules. If a single module is changed within the system, the unchanged module also needs to be reconfigured because of the sequence change. Besides the modules, you also need to ensure that the innumerable SCADA system settings are all up-to-date and comply with every module change. Indeed, a user-friendly modular I/O solution can reduce unnecessary effort and should not be overlooked.

See the “I/O” in the “I-Io-T”

As mentioned earlier, the convergence of IT and OT systems in today’s IIoT applications has prompted the development of new and enhanced edge devices, including modular I/O solutions. Nonetheless, OT and IT systems still rely on inherently different communication protocols. We don’t need a one-size-fits-all remote I/O solution for both IT and OT, but ensuring all parts of your IIoT application fit and work together is critical. For instance, emerging IT protocols, such as MQTT, SNMPv3, and RESTful APIs can enable OT applications to leverage traditionally IT-based analysis tools or services. Choosing a modular remote I/O that is futureproof with IT/OT readiness is essential in the age of IIoT.

Don’t Forget About Security

Cybersecurity concerns are inevitable whenever devices are connected over a network as in the case of any IIoT application. Remote I/O devices are no different. You’ll need to carefully manage the accessibility and data confidentiality of the devices on your network. Making sure the security policies enforced within your organization is as important as making sure your devices are equipped with necessary security features. Ensure devices have the ability to block unauthorized access and control the traffic that is allowed. In addition, enabling secure data transmission for communicating sensitive data on the network protects your valuable information. When selecting modular I/O solutions, cybersecurity is definitely a consideration you want to take into account.

Applying the above considerations when choosing your remote I/O solutions can ultimately make data collection easier and ensure your daily operations stay smooth and secure. In anticipation of new demands on I/O connectivity, Moxa has developed a futureproof modular remote I/O device that delivers more value with less effort for IIoT data acquisition. If you are interested in learning more about industrial connectivity, download our E-book.


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