Data derived from sensors can no longer be limited to the plant floor. Powerful forces are moving to integrate it with other related enterprise systems, pulling sensor data all the way to the boardroom. The key technology making this practical is the conduit that now links the physical world of sensors with that of enterprise systems: middleware.
The key quality parameters of your industrial production process may be product width, thickness, furnace pressure, or SO3 content. The variables don't matter; the trends and tolerances do. Whatever the key process parameters are, if managers can access them through their enterprise network, they can quickly determine when processes are moving out of tolerance and take corrective action. Similarly, if the maintenance staff is able to monitor key sensors, they can respond to trends before system failures occur.
These capabilities are available now, and they are becoming more pervasive in the process industries. The key component to this advance is sensor translation by middleware or sensor information gateways. Sensor gateways come in the form of separate software packages, middleware, as well as hardware-software products that contain built-in middleware to enable sensor data to be directly accessed by enterprise software systems.
Crossbow Technology's products offer this functionality. The company's MoteWorks XServe is but one example of a gateway between the sensor network and IP-based applications, effectively bridging these different worlds. Although designed to handle wireless sensor networks, it will accommodate almost any kind of sensor and provide reliable translation of sensor network data into XML messages for rapid integration into enterprise applications. The XML interface is integrated with MoteWorks' gateway server, providing a standard Web service interface.
XServe also includes local database capabilities for logging and analysis of messages received from the network. Through standard SQL database interfaces, applications can analyze the sensor network, either locally or remotely, turning raw sensor data into valuable knowledge about the environment and the network. XServe can be deployed running on dedicated hardware, such as a network appliance, or on standard enterprise server hardware.
Sensicast's SensiNet Services Gateway provides data access and external communications for SensiNet. A self-contained network management and access appliance, Sensicast's Services Gateway lets you securely access and analyze data collected by smart sensors using a convenient browser interface. For larger installations with legacy monitoring and control software, the Services Gateway communicates sensor data directly to dozens of industrial automation software applications, including Wonderware, LabView, RS View, OSI PI, ICONICS, Citect, Other ModBus, ODBC, and OPC-compatible software such as Intellution and Microsoft Excel. The Services Gateway easily connects to custom software, legacy applications, and Web-based applications through a robust set of Web-standard interfaces, such as OPC Data Access (DA and AE), ModBus/TCP Input and Output Connection, SOAP Interface, and Secure M2M.
The Bigger Picture
There are many other examples of the larger companies getting their middleware in line, such as SAP's NetWeaver, IBM's WebSphere, and Rockwell's FactoryTalk, a WebSphere application. For more information on these and similar products and technologies, see Tom Kevan's Extreme Data column on Sensors Web site.
Sensors middleware and more comprehensive integration of data sources and systems are now a fact of life. We are over the threshold. Welcome to the new world of networked sensors information.