The selection of an appropriate IoT gateway can be a confusing and daunting task for factory owners and manufacturers. The correct gateway will enable manufacturers to leverage the potential of IoT and other Industry 4.0 applications in their processes.
Consequently, this article reviews ten key steps involved in selecting the right gateway for your industrial needs.
10 key considerations for choosing an Industrial IoT gateway
What is the objective of the gateway?
The first phase of IoT gateway implementation involves evaluating the main objective and functionality required from the gateway. This should be the main guide for the selection process.
Let’s consider two examples that illustrate this concept.
A factory owner may want to schedule preventative maintenance on machines on the factory floor in order to prevent the breakdown of machinery and costly repairs. To achieve this goal, sensors that measure general performance would have to be installed on the machines. The gateway selected in this case would have to be able to collect this data securely and have built-in alerts that inform the factory owner if a certain machine is overheating or about to go offline.
The gateway would then transfer the performance data to the analytical processing unit in the cloud. The analytical processing unit would evaluate the trends in performance over time of all the machines and be able to see which machines are experiencing performance issues. Consequently, the factory owner could schedule preventative maintenance on the machines experiencing performance issues when needed.
In another scenario, a farmer may want to improve his crop yield and automate irrigation on his farm. In this case, the farmer would have to install multiple sensors on his farm that measure environmental factors such as soil moisture, light, temperature and humidity. The gateway model selected would have to be able to collect data from the sensors, filter the data and send only the needed data to the irrigation system for automation. Additionally, the gateway would have to transfer all the data to the analytical processing unit in the cloud. The analytical processing unit would then evaluate trends and the farmer could see which factors are affecting his crop yield and determine the necessary remedial action.
It is clear from the above examples that the ideal gateway will differ based on the ultimate objective and functionality needed.
How much data does the gateway need to collect from the sensors?
Some situations may involve the deployment of hundreds of sensors, whereas in other situations there may be over ten thousand sensors at one location, and each sensor is taking a series of thirty readings per second. Analyzing the data volumes required is the next important step in the gateway selection process.
Additionally, based on the data volume requirements, the manufacturer has the option of installing more than one gateway, so this is another key factor that needs to be taken into account.
Does the data being collected from the sensors need to be filtered?
Data from sensors can be collected and then sent directly to the analytical processing unit in the cloud. However, in many IoT projects not all the data from the sensors is needed or the gateway may have to perform some pre-processing operations on the data obtained from the sensors before it is sent to the analytical processing unit.
Therefore, a manufacturer may have to purchase a gateway that can filter the data from the sensors extensively and perform more than one pre-processing operation on the data.
Gateways capable of performing these advanced pre-processing and filtering operations are called edge-analytics-enabled gateways.
Where will the gateway be installed?
A gateway may need to be installed in an HVAC unit or at high altitudes and, as a result, the gateway would need to be robust and able to operate in extreme conditions.
Some gateway models are designed to operate in harsh conditions of temperature ranges of -30° C to 70° C, altitude ranges of 15 m to 5000 m, and allow for high shock and vibration situations. The factory owner needs to ensure that they select a gateway that is suitable for the operating environment.
Which connectivity options, protocols and interfaces are provided by the gateway?
Many IoT platforms utilize close-range connectivity options such as Bluetooth and Ethernet, with Wi-Fi and Wireless LAN for longer range connectivity needs. Increasingly, manufacturers and factory owners are choosing to monitor operations in their factories or plants remotely, using their smartphones. There are IoT gateway models which do accommodate wider-range connectivity options such as GSM/GPRS-based and LTE-M.
Not all IoT gateways are created equal in this respect and generally, the less expensive the gateway, the fewer connectivity options are provided, which is an important factor to consider.
Standard protocols such as TCP/IP and HTTP should be supported by the gateway, as well as protocols such as Modbus, MQTT and OPC UA. Furthermore, multiple serial interfaces, LAN interfaces and USB ports should be features of a gateway that is utilized in an industrial context.
How much data can the gateway store?
Industrial gateways deployed in factories, usually collect multiple sensor readings every second. However, situations such as network failures may arise and as a result the gateway will need to store this data while the network issues are being remedied.
Most gateway models currently available on the market have storage capabilities, but a gateway installed in the typical industrial setting needs to be able to store a significant amount of data and for longer periods of time. It is advisable therefore to invest in a gateway that allows for expansion of storage and additional micro-SD slots so that the gateway can store at least 20 GB of data.
Does the gateway have built-in security features and options?
Securing gateways is critical for the security needs of the entire IoT platform. While most modern gateways have built-in security options, it is still worthwhile to check which encryption standards the gateway is using, whether the gateway provides authentication processes as well as whether the gateway can detect tampering.
Is the gateway certified?
The gateway model should be FCC/CE/IC certified, in accordance with the standard compliance required for electronic products. There are additional certifications such as Mobile PTCRB/GCF and safety certifications, which are worthwhile to note.
Do any existing devices, machinery and legacy equipment need to be integrated into the IoT platform?
Many factories and manufacturers often use legacy equipment and machinery with long life spans. It is often not economically viable or possible to upgrade these devices in order to connect to the cloud directly. In these cases, the gateway chosen should have support for the existing devices and be able to connect to the legacy equipment in order to ensure that all the data from the factory is integrated.
Does the factory owner or manufacturer require any additional customization options?
The manufacturer may need additional customization options such as energy-saving options and LTE support. Consequently, it is important to note any additional customizations and configurations and search for a model that can accommodate these customizations.
An IoT gateway has a major impact on the successful deployment of an IoT solution. A significant percentage of IoT projects face implementation and scalability issues due to the incorrect choice of gateway.
Therefore, it is advisable for manufacturers and factory owners to carefully evaluate the selection criteria that will help them choose the right gateway, capable of processing, handling and streaming their industrial data in real-time in order to assist with making critical decisions.