Elly Yates-Roberts |
Skye Controls & Design in Spencerport, New York, is using Skkynet software to implement secure, real-time, bidirectional industrial internet of things (IIoT) systems for many industrial and commercial applications in companies across north-eastern US.
Universities, manufacturing plants, supermarkets and even a zoo that require remote monitoring and supervisory control of mission-critical systems in real time, have replaced poorly functioning virtual private network (VPN) based systems with Skkynet software running on embedded devices, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and the Microsoft Azure cloud.
It all started when Rick Lisowski, president of Skye Controls, was contacted by a zoo in a nearby city. Management needed to monitor and control the water systems in a newly opened amphibian and reptile centre.
“They had a VPN-based internet of things (IoT) system in place,” said Lisowski. “But there were three problems: it wasn’t secure, the data flow was one-way, and it didn’t work. They were using a Modbus converter connected to a VPN router that was supposed to send data to their own cloud service, where they hoped to access the data. But neither of the components worked properly and married together, they were worse. The zoo management staff never actually got any data.”
After considering a costly and unsuitable IoT platform, Lisowski found out about DataHub technology on a web search. After some tests, Lisowski decided that a Skkynet solution would be the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective approach. He first replaced the zoo’s PLC with his DataHub-equipped PLC. He then made an outbound connection from the PLC DataHub instance to a second DataHub instance running on Microsoft Azure. By making an outbound DataHub tunnelling connection, he was able to keep all firewall ports closed on the zoo’s PLC and router. On Azure, he connected the DataHub instance to the Skye Controls Cloud IoT Service, a Windows-based IoT service used by the zoo.
The result is a real-time, end-to-end, bidirectional data path from the water filtration systems to the zoo management offices. “The staff and management are really pleased,” said Lisowski. “Now they can monitor each specialised environment from anywhere that has internet access. They can make changes to temperature and humidity settings in the real-time graphical display right from their desktop. And a huge plus is that the DataHub software is secure by design, running behind closed firewalls yet it still lets you read and write data in both directions.”
Soon other organisations started asking for remote access to their data. Some had the same VPN-based system that the zoo had been using. The facilities manager at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), responsible for water filtration, had been tinkering with such a system for months and had not managed to get any data flow at all. They had a high-tech process that needed precise, robust, real-time control, and they were willing to try a new approach.
“I came into the RIT lab with my hardware, connected it, and had a system up and running in 40 minutes,” Lisowski said. “Now the manager logs in, sees his data, and he’s happy.”
Skye Controls has since leveraged this approach on projects for a large supermarket chain and a major pharmaceutical company that needed to scale up production to meet demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Each connected location requires a secure, reliable way to monitor and control its water usage and purification systems. Although the choice of hardware can vary, the principle is the same for all of them. Lisowski uses Skkynet technology in the facility to make a secure, outbound connection to a DataHub instance running on Azure, establishing secure, real-time, bidirectional communication.
“These customers all had the same problem,” said Lisowski. “Someone else came in, thought they knew what they were doing, but didn't have a clue. They couldn’t provide the security or a steady data stream, or two-way access to the data. I needed real-time, and I needed security. I knew my hardware options. When I found out about DataHub software and how it runs on Azure, it was just a matter of putting it all together. Now my motto is: I can get any data from anywhere you have it and push it to anywhere you need it.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.