Edge Computing Brings Data Processing Closer to the Source for Faster Reporting

Nov. 6, 2020

To maximize efficiency and adhere to ever-increasing regulations, water and wastewater utilities need access to real-time data from all of their sites – even those located in remote areas. However, polling under legacy protocols may only receive data every 15 minutes, with data collected and relayed to a central server far away, increasing latency. 

“Sometimes, data that’s even a few minutes old is too old to be useful,” says Crayton White, automation integrator at Contact Automation, Inc.

Critical data at remote sites is also vulnerable to being lost to communication issues. 

“A lot of customers are dealing with issues like bad weather where they have to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to lose data’ and just have to deal with it and lose visibility,” says Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering for Inductive Automation. “With more compliance requirements, they can’t lose information.”

Edge computing addresses these issues, Cox says, by allowing utilities to reduce data latency issues by installing servers or other computing devices onto or next to plant-floor devices, allowing client data to be processed as close to the source as possible. Data can be pushed, resulting in lower bandwidth and therefore lower costs. With localized polling and the ability to locally store and forward data, operators can get access to more data and are able to pull it faster, Cox says.  

“We can get access to more data, and we can pull it faster because it’s right next to it instead of going over a satellite network,” Cox says. 

Critically, data integrity is also protected. 

“You know that the data is good because of the ability to buffer data at the edge if there are any outages of communication at the facility,” says Trent Boudreaux, director of technical services at The Integration Group of Americas Inc. (TIGA). “One-second data is stored for over a week, so if there is no connection and the connection comes back online, the system can backfill and operate with that data.”

Though interest in edge computing is on the rise, capturing, processing and visualizing critical data at the remote edge of the network can be difficult and expensive. To address this challenge, Ignition Edge offers five options (Panel, Compute, Sync Services, EAM and IIoT) for limited and low-cost Ignition software solutions to allow for data collection, visualization and system management at the edge of the network. Ignition Edge allows users to migrate legacy infrastructure to the MQTT protocol to implement Industrial IoT architecture and enables utilities to have an end-to-end solution for IIoT. The software can be embedded onto legacy hardware, and allows for local visibility through local HMIs. 

White began working in 2018 on a full SCADA upgrade for Sylvan Lake in Alberta, transitioning the utility from a traditional SCADA to Ignition utilizing MPPT technology. This included transitioning 21 water and wastewater sites into one SCADA system. White installed Ignition Edge on FreeWave ZumLink radios. “It really cut down on hardware requirements at each site,” White says. “It simplified how to make the edge smart by just replacing the radio hardware. I did not have to replace the control systems or anything.”

By leveraging Ignition Edge, White says the functionality for the client was “night and day in comparison.” 

“They had complete and reliable control with real-time, live data and better diagnostics on communications stats,” White says. “Just to have that at their fingertips was really helpful, especially when diagnosing an old system when having communication issues.”

Using Ignition Edge, he says, laid the groundwork for future expansion. 

“Once I was done configuring one station, most of the backbone was completed with the edge so I was able to mimic that into each site,” White says. “It really made everything flow very simply, and it was simple to do.” 

Ignition Edge also makes managing many devices easier since it does not require users to go to each device one-to-one. “That’s not feasible as you expand to hundreds of devices,” Boudreaux says. “With Ignition Edge and EAM, we can manage those in batches. We can manage EAM tasks to update the configuration for all edge devices periodically and schedule it if we want.” 

“You can bring data buffering into the cloud, adding tags in, just as easy as a full-blown system,” says McKenzie Santin, associate director of energy at NLS Engineering. “You can use it as a data collection node that brings it back to the centralized system, historized and stored long-term.” 

For one project, Boudreaux and his team retrofitted the existing hardware at more than 65 saltwater disposal facilities using Ignition Edge with Allen Bradley, Modbus and MQTT Transmission modules for data collection along with local HMI visualizations. The system collects more than 2,000 tags at one-second intervals per facility.  

Utilizing both Ignition Edge and Ignition Perspective has streamlined data in the mobile HMI, Boudreaux says. Operators can pull up individual sites in high resolution on their phones or tablets, which has improved operations and access to data and reduced the travel time of traveling out to those sites.

“By going with Ignition and going with architecture from the edge all the way through the enterprise and with the use of mobile, we were able to take the client from a very dated system to a state-of-the-art, completely digitally transformed SCADA and mobile user interface,” says John Miller, president of TIGA. “Digital transformation, and you hear about it all the time, is the capability to deploy our team in the field to put hands on these custom industrial PLC’s, to really transform them into edge devices with Ignition Edge that seamlessly communicate to the entire architecture.”