IoT Brings Intelligence to Edge for Ships, Oil and Gas, Utilities

By Claire Swedberg

Dell Technologies is selling a bundled solution, using its Edge Gateway and Arundo Analytics' Edge Agent software, to manage sensor data in some of the most difficult environments, and to identify potential problems and act on that data locally, even without Internet connectivity.

Dell Technologies customers are deploying a new Internet of Things (IoT) bundle for maritime and oil and gas industries. The system includes Dell's Edge Gateway 5100, which captures data from a user's own sensors, as well as Arundo Analytics' Edge Agent software, which enables users to manage and share detailed sensor information from some of the harshest and most remote industrial locations.

The solution is designed for use on ships, at oil and gas facilities, and at wind farm operations that feature rugged environments and sometimes little immediate access to their own servers. With the new technology, companies can automatically monitor conditions, act on them locally and share the collected data with their management offices.

Dell's Edge Gateway 5100

Typically, industrial companies employ a variety of sensors to track the condition and use of specific equipment. How they collect that data varies, but companies often send personnel to periodically check sensor readings, and to then initiate any necessary follow-up actions. Manual sensor data collection has always posed a challenge for some of the most rugged operations. For one thing, it can be risky for a company's employees to physically go to a sensor to check measurements, and periodic capture of sensor data does not provide the granularity that most companies require. With IoT solutions, however, the collection of and acting on that data can be automated.

For several years, Dell and Arundo have been working together to provide companies with sensor data and connectivity regarding the health of components within a ship's engine room or equipment used by utility companies. "Dell Edge Gateway 5100 devices are hardened and maritime class-certified," says Chris Wolff, Dell's head of global OEM, "especially designed for advanced computing in remote or rugged environments."

This year, Wolff says, Dell has created a bundle out of the solutions already installed. "We are working with customers in all kinds of industries with harsh environments," she states, both indoors and outdoors. With this solution, sensor data is received by the Edge Gateway, either via a cabled connection, a Zigbee mesh-network connection (using a USB dongle) or a Wi-Fi connection. The gateway comes with Arundo's Edge Agent software, which performs its own computing and then forwards that data once there is access to transmitting networks, such as cellular, Wi-Fi or satellite connections.

By managing data at the edge, Wolff says, companies can ensure that wherever that data is being collected, knowledge is being put to work by those who need to respond to any problems without delays. Sensor devices are, by nature, chatty. But sending a large amount of chatter into the cloud, to be computed there, isn't realistic or desirable. "Most of the time, sensors are letting you know everything is OK," she points out. When that status changes, if the sensor detects an issue, those onsite need to be able to act. That means computing needs to be carried out on site, and a system could even intelligently kick off a set of actions. "Computing on the edge saves time and money," she says.

Dell's gateways are also designed to enable and benefit from machine learning performed at the edge, so that they can further automate appropriate responses to changes in sensor measurements. The firm introduced its Edge Gateways three years ago to automate the collection of sensor data, and interest has been growing since then. "If something happens on an oil and gas rig," she states, "you want that data immediately." To further enable the management and sharing of information, Wolff notes, some larger companies are beginning to install micro-data centers.

Gateways are still a big trend, Wolff says, but there's a need for even greater intelligence and computing power close to the source. "We're answering that trend with hyper-converged micro-datacenters" at some sites, she states. "We want to provide almost fluid liquid computing, so the customer doesn't need to worry about that."

Arundo Analytics is a three-year-old global solutions firm focused on data science for industrial companies, according to Marty Cochrane, Arundo's director of solutions architecture. Many of its customers in the oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, mining and maritime industries are all trying to manage data wirelessly. "We have a range of products available that we sell to customers to help solve the problems of data science and machine learning," Cochrane explains.

Dell's Chris Wolff

Arundo's customers include Swiss inks and magnets company SICPA, as well as Ineos, while ABB Group is a partner. Thread manufacturer Coats has also used Arundo's edge-based software to optimize its operations.

Arundo's Marty Cochrane

With Arundo's partnership with Dell, some of the early adopters are in the maritime industry, tracking the condition of engines and other equipment on vessels around the world. Arundo's Edge Agent software allows vessel systems to stream to the cloud, enabling automated browsing for tags and integration with a vessel's control systems. By sending data to a cloud-based server, Cochrane says, management can also view and analyze conditions such as fuel use and equipment maintenance. "The key is having access to all the data," he states.

Many vessels lack an Internet connection, though some have 4G cellular connections as they enter a port, or if they remain close to shore. Some have satellite access as well, but streaming raw sensor data to the cloud takes a lot of bandwidth that would be too costly. The alternative, Cochrane explains, has thus been to "stream data to the edge, and then only send limited data. This is a very complex thing to do, and our effort has been making it as simple as possible."

The Edge Agent software also employs advanced analytics to help optimize equipment maintenance. "The whole idea is to detect a potential failure before it happens," Cochrane notes. Beyond the maritime industry, that could mean predicting conveyor belt failures in a mine, for instance, or ice build-up on wind turbine blades. "This technology is all about helping human beings do a better job," Wolff says. "We believe this technology will make their lives better."

Dell is now working with its channel partners to sell the bundled solution to its own customers.