By Hennie Colyn, Direct Sales Executive Process Automation at Schneider Electric

In business, one of the most prevalent influences of the 4IR is the move from copper to cloud, a term that represents the evolutionary change that comes with this next era in our industrial revolution.

Copper could be a contactor, light switch, or sensor in the field which is then connected to a PLC and software layer that transfers the data to cloud, hence the term, copper to cloud. Moving data from these stationary devices to the cloud provides immense value as companies now gain real-time insight into their equipment.

Copper meet cloud

As a real-life example, managers can use a mobile phone to keep tabs on a plant’s operations. This is particularly beneficial when plant equipment fails, as managers and operators will have immediate insight into which section is down and can take the next, mitigating steps.

Furthermore, data generated by the copper devices (connected to the cloud) can be analysed in real-time to examine current operations, identify errors or areas of improvement, and make the necessary changes on a virtual level.

Twins

Which brings us to the next advantage of copper to cloud, utilising virtual environments and more specifically digital twin technology, to optimise operations. Digital twin technology is part and parcel of the 4IR and is delivering tremendous value in multiple industries.

As mentioned, moving data from copper to cloud delivers valuable insight into how equipment is performing. In turn, digital twin technology can use this data to simulate virtual scenarios, facilitating integration by bringing together the benefits of:

  • Sensors and the widespread connectivity of equipment and assets.
  • Copious amounts of data, both structured and unstructured.
  • The cloud’s lower cost, cybersecure capabilities for secure data storage and computing.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for data-driven insights and business intelligence.
  • Human-machine interface (HMI) innovation with 3D visualization, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR).
  • Edge architecture to generate intelligence close to the source of data.

Security remains key

When embarking on the copper to cloud journey, organisations must also prioritise cybersecurity. As mentioned, digital twin technology is a good way to simulate various scenarios that can pinpoint vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, organisations should employ a multi-layered, integrated approach that looks at internal and external threats. Looking at sensors, often cybersecurity efforts are focused on critical SCADA systems, PLCs, and other cloud linked devices.

Sensors provide the data from which many control-based decisions are made and should also form part of organisations’ cybersecurity considerations. Here are two steps that can be taken:

  • Install redundant sensors – by having two different sensors monitoring the same parameter, an operator can look for differences between the two. If the readings of the two sensors exceed the normal pre-set range of difference, then an alarm is generated.
  • Modify the existing SCADA system to include sensor monitoring – an existing SCADA system can be configured to monitor sensors on a regular basis. By checking the configuration parameters on each of the connected temperature or pressure sensors, for example, the system can quickly analyse each device, determine the current configuration parameters, and send out alarms when existing thresholds are breached or when changes are detected.

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