Advancing Industrial Automation Security with OPC UA

It’s been 16 years since the first version of OPC UA, also known as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture, was released. Since then, there have been numerous iterations to make OPC UA stronger and more secure than ever.

With the increased attacks on SCADA devices, as reported by the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency or CISA, there’s never been a more important time to protect your SCADA systems and automation devices.

What is OPC UA?

According to the OPC Foundation, OPC UA is:

The data exchange standard for secure, reliable, manufacturer and platform-independent industrial communications. It enables data exchange between products from different manufacturers and across operating systems.

OPC UA is used across a wide variety of industries, including industrial automation, oil & gas, and energy metering. In addition to supporting an array of systems, platforms, and functions, OPC UA’s built-in security features offer effective countermeasures against today’s most pressing security threats. Threats include scanning, compromising, and controlling automation devices, leading to disruption of critical services and functions.

For OEMs, incorporating OPC UA into your products not only helps position you as a leader in Industry 4.0, it also enables you to offer customers a plug-and-play-style of secure communications and data exchange among your devices and machines to their systems and the Cloud.

For Systems Integrators, OPC UA can help you simplify connectivity among devices, systems, and applications to achieve a higher level of secure, reliable interoperability.

The Popular Protocol

With three security levels (user, application, and transport), OPC UA has risen in popularity among those within the industrial automation space.

That’s because those who leverage the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Cloud connectivity need a modern, highly secure protocol that can support protected enterprise-wide network visibility and control.

It’s also why we, at MSA, added the OPC UA driver to our most advanced IIoT gateway solutions way back in 2020. It’s also why we’re continuing to enhance and evolve our BACnet, BMS, IIoT Cloud gateway, and Cloud computing solutions.

Like anyone using a SCADA or other industrial control system, we want to keep pace with digitization innovations while staying ahead of data security and cyber threats such as, malware, viruses, and denial of service (DoS).

OPC UA: The Smart, Secure Data Connector

As an interoperability standard for industrial automation devices, OPC UA can be used with embedded devices, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), sensors, Cloud applications, and more.

And because information security and data integrity are of paramount importance, OPC UA is specifically designed to be a firewall-friendly protocol that addresses such critical security concerns as:

  • Platform independence for integration with a variety of operating systems, servers, and sensors
  • Standard transports and encodings for seamless connectivity
  • Secure encryption at varying levels
  • Authentication of users, clients, and servers
  • Sequencing to reduce exposure to cyberattacks
  • Message signing for verification of origin and integrity
  • Activities logs and audit trail

Even better, according to the OPC Foundation, OPC UA offers users a “future proof framework,” by incorporating advanced security measures for transports, encoding, and algorithms, while also maintaining backwards compatibility with current devices.1

Clearly, as a globally recognized open standard, OPC UA offer many benefits as a secure, reliable protocol to enable intelligent machine-to-machine and Cloud-based communication.

Connecting Disparate Devices to OPC UA

But OPC UA alone may not be enough. If you’re looking for interoperability but have devices that are not Cloud-enabled, then you need something else (preferably not new devices). What you need is an IIoT gateway with the OPC UA driver, like MSA FieldServer™.

As one of the most advanced gateways available, FieldServer can help organizations like yours achieve next-generation interoperability with OPC UA. It’s one of the reasons we designed our Dual Ethernet QuickServer Gateway and FieldServer ProtoNode Gateway to meet the requirements of the OPC UA driver as set by the OPC Foundation.

The OPC UA Driver for the FieldServer can give your engineers a powerful protocol option for both Cloud and SCADA applications.

Here’s how it works:

Simplify Your Journey to Cloud-Based Automation

  • Where are you on your connected journey?
  • Are you in need of secure, platform-independent, Cloud-based connectivity?
  • Are you “Team OPC UA” or are you not sure if OPC UA is the protocol for you?

Contact us to learn more about how the FieldServer with the OPC UA driver can put you on the path to powerful, open system automation.


References:

OPC Foundation. Unified Architecture, opcfoundation.org. Accessed 23 June 2022, https://opcfoundation.org/about/opc-technologies/opc-ua/.

Data and Edge Computing: Could You Be Missing Out?

When it comes to smart factory automation, getting relevant data is one thing. Getting it into the right hands quickly and easily is another.

That’s where a Cloud strategy that lets you capitalize on edge computing can help.

Edge Computing: Defined

What is edge computing?

Gartner defines edge computing as solutions that facilitate data processing at or near the source of data generation.

Frankly, edge computing isn’t entirely new. After all, data-driven technologies like programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have been around a long time. But today’s edge computing is closing the gap in how far data has to go to get where it needs to be.

And that’s why edge computing is a fast-growing phenomenon.

In fact, Gartner has predicted that enterprise-generated data (data that’s created and processed outside of a traditional centralized data center or Cloud) will grow to 75% by 2025.1

So, what does this mean for smart factories and industrial automation? It means that even though data streams are bigger and more robust than ever before, the data itself can be wrangled better, synthesized faster, and disseminated quicker.

Benefits of Edge Computing

Edge computing is the answer to having too much data moving too fast. It’s what can help industrial automation specialists like you ensure that the data stream is clear, relevant, efficient, and secure.

Bottom line? Edge computing has the power to improve operations, reduce downtime, and speed time to market.

  • It is the conduit that transforms data from information to insight.
  • It ensures that data is processed swiftly.
  • It cleanses the data pool so that only the most relevant data is transmitted.
  • It enables the best presentation of data to the right people at the right time.
  • It delivers data that is more meaningful, relevant, and contextual.

Operational Impacts of Edge Computing

Edge computing can deliver more of what industrial automation facilities and operators need:

  • Clean data
  • Flexibility
  • Scalability
  • Secure remote access
  • Cost savings
  • No-hassle configuration capabilities

Edge Computing Strategy: 4 Tips for Getting Started

  1. Embrace—not replace—the technology. Data centers and Cloud computing are here to stay. Adding edge computing to the mix, however, can empower you to become more productive, resilient, and autonomous.
  2. Decide on your objectives. Like many things, edge computing isn’t one-size-fits-all. Consider what operational challenges you’re facing and what technical issues you need to solve. Because your environment, requirements, and processes are unique, your edge computing strategy should be, too.
  3. Identify your opportunity areas. Where can edge computing help your operations the most? Adopting edge computing solutions shouldn’t create more problems; it should solve them. Your workflows should align across the data lifecycle, from data center to the edge to the Cloud
  4. Consider security. By its very nature, edge computing is decentralized. For that reason, you’ll need to stay informed and aware. Security breaches through automation systems can be costly in more ways than one, so make sure you stay hypervigilant about keeping up with the latest cybersecurity standards with respect to your edge computing solutions.

Enabling Edge Computing With Gateways

Open up your edge computing capabilities with FieldServer’s suite of gateway products, including state-of-the-art protocols like Modbus, EtherNet/IP, and GE-EDG.

FieldServer lets you keep your old legacy equipment while fully enabling your new edge computing solution. Learn how to capitalize on Edge Computing by watching our on-demand webinar.

Contact us to learn more.


References:

Gartner.com. “What Edge Computing Means for Infrastructure and Operations Leaders.” Accessed 14 July 2022, https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/what-edge-computing-means-for-infrastructure-and-operations-leaders.

Two Steps to Help Data Centers Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

In this high-tech world, data centers are essential. Which may explain why researchers are predicting that the U.S. data center industry will grow to nearly $289 billion by 2027.1

Because data centers rely on sophisticated cooling systems that require a lot of power, this expected growth also means even more energy consumption—and that could have a profound impact on the environment.

From Energy Hogs to Environmental Champions

Like it or not, data centers are among the biggest of the so-called “energy hogs.” That’s because they consume 3% of the world’s electric supply and are responsible for nearly 2% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—a number that’s expected to increase to as much as 7%.2

Moreover, data centers consume 10 to 50 times more energy per floor space than a standard commercial office building.3

So, the onus is on data center owners and managers to do all they can to maintain efficient and effective operations while also reducing their carbon footprint.

It can be overwhelming to put a strategy in place to reduce such a large carbon footprint. So, if you’re a data center owner or manager looking to reduce the overwhelm—and your carbon footprint—here are two practical steps you can take to maximize energy savings and lessen your data center’s environmental impact.

Measure All Energy Consumption

In the retail industry, there’s an adage that says you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know about it. The same or similar can be said of data centers: You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Or as renowned management consultant and author Peter Drucker put it: What gets measured gets managed.

That’s why measuring all your energy consumption is the first step toward managing it.

As a data center owner or manager, you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to become carbon neutral and achieve a desired target of net-zero emissions.4 As such, insight into energy consumption is your secret weapon for developing sustainability strategies that will actually reduce your carbon footprint.

Fortunately, the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is one of the most powerful resources you have in benchmarking data center performance and tracking energy usage over time.

In fact, smart energy metering devices that are connected to a secure Building Management System (BMS) enable data center managers like you to extract, collect, and synthesize critical device data from the energy metering system.

But IIoT devices alone aren’t enough. Something else is needed: an IIoT gateway like MSA FieldServer™ to facilitate device-to-device communication within a closed network.

As one of the most advanced gateways available, FieldServer enables data centers to securely and seamlessly:

  • Track and monitor consumption and overall efficiency
  • Capture key data points, such as temperature, humidity, and air flow
  • Identify usage trends, including inconsistencies and surges
  • Detect, prevent, and troubleshoot issues like overheating to ensure uninterrupted power supply (UPS)

Did You Know?: IIoT technologies can help data centers monitor usage, prevent downtime, and support environmentally friendly operations.
Evaluate, Refine, and Measure Again

Monitoring the power usage, energy spikes, and cooling costs of multiple servers is no small feat. Nor is knowing when to turn a motor off or on, or change a setting to 10%, 20%, or even 100% power.

That’s why Step 2 in reducing a data center’s carbon footprint is to assess, make changes, and re-measure.

This “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of continuous improvement not only gives you better insight into your daily and hourly (and even minute-by-minute) energy consumption, it also can help you assess your GHG-reduction efforts, so you know exactly what’s working and what’s not.

For example, one of our clients used our FieldServer gateway to facilitate communication between their BMS and cooling control devices. By retrieving server inlet temperatures from the server network and linking that information locally to the BMS, this data center was able to precisely control their cooling systems and dramatically reduce energy consumption.

See for Yourself

If measuring and tracking the energy consumption of your data center is important to you, contact us for a free FieldServer demo and see for yourself how connecting energy metering equipment to your closed network can make all the difference in helping reduce your data center’s carbon footprint.


References:

Globe Newswire. The Global Data Center Market Size to Reach $288.30 Billion by 2027 – Arizton, 23 February 2022, https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/02/23/2390642/0/en/The-Global-Data-Center-Market-Size-to-Reach-288-30-Billion-by-2027-Arizton.html.

Climate Neutral Group®. Carbon emissions of data usage increase, but what is yours? Accessed 10 June 2022, https://www.climateneutralgroup.com/en/news/carbon-emissions-of-data-centers/.

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Data Centers and Servers, Energy.gov. Accessed 16 June 2022, https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/data-centers-and-servers.

S&P Global Market Intelligence. Sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ goal for the data center industry, 8 June 2022, https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/research/sustainability-is-no-longer-a-nice-to-have-goal-for-the-data-center-industry.

How FieldServer Gateway Technology Can Help Improve Hazard Detection and Worker Safety

When it comes to unmanned remote locations, some scenarios can make it hard to keep them in check and well supported. If combustible gas escapes or vapor hazards are present, there are no workers to endanger; however, facilities, equipment, and surrounding areas are still at risk.

Without someone on site to monitor the situation, who’s to know when something is amiss? Being in the dark like this can lead to a cascading effect, ranging from small, undetected leaks to catastrophic disaster.

Yet it’s the safety professional’s job to know what’s happening, where it’s happening, who’s in charge, and what should be done to intervene. It boils down to this: The right information delivered to the right people at the right time is critical to taking the right action.


The right information delivered to the right people at the right time is critical to taking the right action.

The new HazardWatch FX-12 Fire and Gas Detection System, when installed with a FieldServer ProtoAir gateway and connected to the MSA Grid cloud platform, empowers safety personnel to make better, faster decisions – well before a minor situation becomes a major incident.

Why FieldServer and the Grid?

While being in the field has its advantages, such as being able to monitor situations more closely, it also has its disadvantages. Not only does it take personnel away from other facilities or jobsites where they may be needed, it can be both costly and time consuming to dispatch them.

With FieldServer and the Grid in your toolbox, there’s little left to chance. Instead of wondering what’s happening in a specific location or dispatching workers to the site, FieldServer and the Grid let you proactively monitor a situation from wherever you are. Even better, real-time remote notifications alert you to potential hazards so you can act swiftly and decisively.


FieldServer and the Grid let you proactively monitor a situation from wherever you are. Real-time remote notifications alert you to potential hazards so you can act swiftly and decisively.

Even better, FieldServer and the Grid offer secure remote connectivity, as well as support all your connected IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices without the need to be in the field.

You Can Provide Safety Support Anytime, Anywhere

It’s humanly impossible to be everywhere all the time. Technology, on the other hand, can be anywhere you need it to be. Which means that your support people, no matter where they’re located, can perform a lot of the support tasks they need to without delay and without the need to travel to the jobsite.

Take, for example, the HazardWatch® FX-12 System, MSA’s FM-approved fire and gas detection system. This intelligent system is designed with Rockwell Automation’s industry-proven Allen-Bradley ControlLogix™ programmable logic controller (PLC) technology and MSA’s advanced gas and flame detection devices. This stand-alone fire and gas alarm panel features a touchscreen operator interface. By integrating it with the FieldServer gateway and the Grid’s cloud capabilities, remote monitoring is now possible for personnel who may not be at the jobsite.

Together, this smart, state-of-the-art fire and gas solution can provide complete visibility and more, including:

  • Connecting to systems for commissioning
  • Enabling remote troubleshooting
  • Viewing of the touchscreen

Add in the FieldVEU dashboard, and you can have remote visualization of the FX-12 system, too. The FieldVEU app integrates seamlessly with the Grid’s cloud platform, enabling instant access to essential data, plus on-the-go notifications from Cloud-registered FieldServer gateways.

See for Yourself

If you’re in the oil & gas, fire and safety, or life safety systems business, this is a powerful safety solution that you must see first-hand.

We’re introducing the HazardWatch FX-12 Fire and Gas System at the 2022 NFPA Conference & Expo in Boston, June 6-8, 2022, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Visit us at Booth #458 for demos and discussions about:

  • Fire & Gas System Solutions
  • Flame & Gas Detection Devices
  • Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions
  • Remote Monitoring Equipment

At MSA, our business is safety. We offer a wide variety of gas and flame detection solutions to meet your flame, oxygen, combustible, and toxic gas detection needs. Our system experts design, test, and manufacture NFPA 72-compliant fire and gas systems. Our FieldServer IIoT gateways are ideal for enabling 24/7 cloud-based monitoring and troubleshooting. Contact us to learn more.

NFPA 2022: The Future of Fire & Life Safety

A lot has changed in the 25 years since FieldServer connected its first Fire Alarm Panels (FACPs) to third-party systems, and we’re still leading the way with our Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions.

So, if you’re looking for responsive, reliable notification of system events to improve fire and life safety, we have good news!

We’re headed to Boston June 6, 7, and 8 for NFPA 2022—and we’re inviting you to Booth #458 to see for yourself just how smart and seamless interoperability can be with FieldServer Life & Safety Solutions.

Easy to use and simple to deploy, we’ll be sharing several of our Fixed Gas and Flame Detection (FGFD) products, including MSA’s new HazardWatch FX-12 Fire and Gas Detection System with the FieldServer.

MSA offers a wide variety of gas and flame detection solutions to meet your flame, oxygen, combustible, and toxic gas detection needs. Not only do our system experts design and manufacture NFPA 72 compliant fire and gas systems, our FieldServer IIoT gateways are ideal for enabling 24/7 Cloud-based monitoring solutions.


FieldServer outperformed all other solutions to integrate the various Modbus, LonWorks, and Simplex devices with the campus SCADA, increasing visibility and responsiveness. - University of Arizona, Tucson

You won’t want to miss our connectivity and notification demonstrations featuring FieldServer. We’ll show you how FieldServer IIoT gateways solve a variety of fire and life safety challenges while helping you meet and maintain compliance with regulatory codes and industry standards.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll see and learn from MSA at #NFPA2022:

  • Seamless Connectivity: FieldServer has over 25 drivers to enable easy, reliable linking to most major Fire Alarm Panels (FACPs).
  • Critical Data: FieldServer increases fire and life safety visibility by giving you faster, more relevant data so you can minimize risk and reduce loss due to insufficient insight and false alarms.
  • Remote Monitoring: With FieldServer, you can troubleshoot FACPs and devices from anywhere, at any time, in any location.
  • Remote Notification: FieldServer relays vital information automatically and in real-time to support speedy response.

FieldServer made it possible for us to interface hundreds of fire alarm panels, including EST3, EST QuickStart, and SimplexGrinnell via BACnet/IP across our 3,200-acre campus. - KAUST, Saudi Arabia

#NFPA2022: Come See Us @ Booth #458

Interested in a closer look at remote connectivity and notifications? Visit MSA at the NFPA® Conference & Expo in Boston, June 6-8, 2022 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Be sure to add us to your schedule today.

What’s New with The Grid – FieldVEU App

When FieldVEU is connected to The Grid Cloud platform, you can securely and remotely monitor device data using customizable dashboards that let you display up to 15 points of data per device.

Not only does FieldVEU gives you a quick, concise look at device function and status, it also sends instant notifications from Cloud-registered MSA Safety gateways.

This helps you ensure that all your assets at every location are performing exactly as they should.

As part of our commitment to improve safety responsiveness, we’re always innovating and pushing toward new and better technologies. Let’s explore some of the recent updates we’ve made to The Grid – FieldVEU App subscription service, which is designed to help you keep workers and worksites safer.

New Functionality: Data Overlay

For OEMs or for anyone in charge of IIoT solutions and systems integration, having visibility means everything. That’s why we incorporated a new “Add widget” function.

Available today, “Add widget” lets you create dual line graphs, which is essentially an overlay of two intersecting data points.

Dual data examples include:

  • Voltage + Current
  • Pressure + Temperature
  • Temperature + Humidity

Within FieldVEU, line charts represent data over time so you can get a view of measurement trends or variables within a specified timeframe for up to 30 days of data per device. This layered view helps give context to the metrics that matter most to you. For more information, see Start-up Guide – FieldVEU.

New Feature: Notifications Filtering

You asked for more control, and we’re giving it to you—effective immediately. This much-anticipated feature can be found under FieldVEU’s “Notification Settings.”

You and other notification subscribers can now select which notifications to receive. So, rather than receiving every notification for every MSA Cloud-connected device within the organization, subscribers can simply select only the notifications they want to receive. Don’t want a notification? No problem. Just leave the event unchecked.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

Let’s say a subscriber is not the mechanic responsible for monitoring the online/offline status of a device. Well, then there’s no need for that person to receive the notification. As such, they can uncheck that notification within the FieldVEU mobile app on their phone.

However, if that same subscriber does want to see something like a device temperature, all they need to do is check that particular event in FieldVEU’s settings and they will automatically receive the notification in real time.

This new feature enables targeted notifications, which help support a more efficient response and a more effective workflow. Plus, it makes receiving notifications hassle-free by preventing an unnecessary flood of irrelevant-to-them information in a subscriber’s email inbox or SMS app.

Take Control of Device Data

Meeting your safety needs with the help of technology is something we’ll continue to do and keep you abreast of. In the meantime, we trust that the additional functionality and new feature of this latest iteration of the FieldVEU app enables you to better monitor equipment connected to the Cloud through The Grid’s secure portal. If you’re not already using The Grid – FieldVEU app and want to get started, learn more here or contact an MSA Sales Rep for a demonstration.

The FieldVEU app is available by subscription only with no annual data charges for OEM equipment connected to the FieldServer Grid Cloud platform.

Which FieldServer Gateway Product Is Right for You?

When it comes to automation and smart operations, there’s always a need to know more — faster. Because this need for more responsive, agile, data-driven decision making will continue to grow, so, too, will the use of smart, connected devices.

These devices are underutilized, however, without the help of a multi-protocol Internet of Things (IoT) gateway.

What is a gateway?

At its core, a gateway is a bridge that enables secure, encrypted connection between disparate devices, applications, and platforms. It solves the problem of getting disparate devices and components to “talk” with each other, with a network, and with the Cloud.

Simple enough, right?

Wrong—unless you have the right gateway. Whether you’re a systems integrator in need of simple-to-configurate connectivity, a systems engineer looking to protect your organization’s data integrity, or a building manager wanting to automate a facility, here’s your guide to finding the right gateway for your needs.

Guide to FieldServer Gateway Products

BACnet Router

What is it?

Our FieldServer BACnet Router is a cost-effective, versatile interoperability solution that enables a physical connection between BACnet MS/TP and BACnet/IP networks, via an easy-to-configure web interface.

Features

  • Dual RS-485 ports
  • Allows for connection of up to 64 devices to a network
  • Wi-Fi option for BACnet/IP connection
  • Includes a built-in BACnet Explorer
  • Supports BBMD

Benefits

  • Set-and-forget configuration
  • Easy-to-use configurations options
  • Reduced troubleshooting
  • Faster response time

Best For

The FieldServer BACnet Router is an excellent gateway choice for organizations with a BACnet/IP infrastructure. It’s great for building automation, industrial automation, energy management, and remote monitoring. It’s also ideal for organizations that can’t replace legacy Ethernet devices and for anyone needing an affordable alternative for connecting BACnet MS/TP trunks.

BACnet IoT Gateway

What is it?

The FieldServer BACnet IoT Gateway is an industry leading BACnet Explorer with Cloud connectivity. It includes an intuitive graphical interface that provides anywhere, anytime visibility with the MSA Grid and third-party Clouds via MQTT.

Features

  • Deploys in hours at any point in the network
  • Enables Cloud connectivity for new and legacy BACnet devices
  • Discovers BACnet MS/TP and BACnet/IP devices
  • Provides secure Wi-Fi, cellular, or wired connectivity

Benefits

  • Makes it easy to discover, Cloud-connect, and manage any BACnet device
  • Provides immediate remote monitoring, viewing, and troubleshooting
  • Enables secure data transfer and comprehensive data logging
  • Generates Cloud-based notifications and alarms so users stay informed as events occur

Best For

This is the best plug-and-play choice for organizations looking for a fast, easy way to Cloud-enable BACnet products in the field. This gateway is ideal for extracting operational intelligence from a building or network, too. Plus, it can push up to 1,000 BACnet objects to the Grid.

*Note: IIoT is the acronym for Industrial Internet of Things. IIoT gateways serve the same purpose as IoT gateways, only within an industrial setting. For simplification, we’ve chosen to use IoT throughout this article.

ProtoNode

What is it?

The FieldServer ProtoNode is a low-cost, high-performance gateway option for OEMs in need of a secure interface with their Building Management Systems (BMS). The ProtoNode gateway provides immediate IoT remote monitoring capabilities for all devices in the field.

Features

  • 2 Ethernet ports allow data to move seamlessly across disparate subnets
  • Dedicated port for Cloud connectivity enhances LAN security from the LAN/Cloud
  • Supports up to 10,000 device points
  • On-board diagnostics streamline troubleshooting

Benefits

  • Connects multiple serial and Ethernet devices to field protocol networks
  • Allows for easy interfacing of both new and legacy devices
  • Decreases the time it takes to implement an IoT Cloud strategy
  • Enables remote monitoring, control, and notifications

Best For

This is the gateway Original Equipment Manufacturers can rely on for secure and seamless Cloud-enablement of devices and device connection to their BMS networks. It’s also ideal for those looking for all-around functionality, including configuration, monitoring, logging, security, diagnostics, and updates.

FieldVEU

What is it?

FieldVEU is a first-of-its-kind mobile app designed to provide anytime visibility into the information OEMs and system integrators need most. FieldVEU interfaces with the connected devices via the Grid FieldServer Manager, providing instant insight into connected devices.

Features

  • Displays up to 15 data points per device
  • Gives users a choice of pre-set or customizable dashboard views
  • Stores device data in the Cloud for easy retrieval
  • Scalable to mobile phones and tablets

Benefits

  • Provides instant access to data and notifications from Cloud-registered devices
  • Puts device function and status at a user’s fingertips
  • Reduces field truck expenses
  • Sends real-time notifications by email or SMS text message

Best For

The FieldVEU mobile app is for system integrators and OEMS that need instant and remote access to their connected devices. This powerful yet simple-to-use app turns a smartphone or desktop into an all-in-one automation monitoring, analytics, diagnostics, and data repository tool.

Still need help deciding which gateway is right for you? Contact us to get your questions answered or to schedule a demo.

Visit our website to learn more.

Champaign-Urbana MTD’s Zero Emission Fleet Technology Relies on MSA Connected Devices for Safety Notifications

Most of the world has entered the race to drastically cut carbon emissions. The when and how of making it happen varies by organization, of course, but most experts agree that clean, renewable energy sources will be key to creating a carbon negative world.

Which is why in 2018, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) became the nation’s first transit agency to commercially order 60-foot articulated hydrogen fuel cell buses. Soon after, MTD began a much-needed update to their infrastructure and technology to accommodate the new fleet, followed by the construction of the hydrogen production plant and new solar array.

Creating sustainable transportation like this is no small feat. Which is why, along with its many benefits comes a host of challenges, including safety-related concerns.

Here’s how we helped this future-forward mass transit organization ensure the safety of their employees and high-value assets within an environment that’s now home to an on-site hydrogen production station.

Challenge: Gas Detection Notifications

“Our zero-emission fleet technology is an advancement in climate resiliency,” says Kirk Kirkland, Facilities Director for MTD, “It literally has put us on the cutting-edge of public transportation powered by clean fuel. To get to this point, however, we had four projects going on all at the same time. In addition to building the buses and bringing them on-site, we had a temporary fueling station, construction of a hydrogen station, and a 2-megawatt solar array field of nearly 5,500 panels in the works. Throughout construction and even now, we needed a reliable system that not only could detect hydrogen, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide gases, but also immediately notify us if there was a leak or issue.”

First order of business? Install a fixed gas detection system; namely, the SMC Sentry IT from MSA, designed specifically for facilities facing the risk of combustible or toxic gases. Because the system was going to be installed in a bus garage away from the very personnel charged with monitoring the system, MTD also needed a solution that could deliver real-time notifications and alarms.

“Frankly, we were worried about notifications,” says Kirkland. “The bus garage is not the best place to see or hear alarms. A hydrogen system with built-in alarms, horns, and lights that’s like a fire alarm is good, but for nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, we needed something more than just a light on a panel. We were looking for a solution that would allow us to monitor and communicate with the system from another part of the building where most of our offices and personnel are located.”

We needed something more than just a light on a panel. We were looking for a solution that would allow us to remotely monitor and communicate with the system. - Kirk Kirkland, Facilities Director, MTD

But that wasn’t MTD’s only concern. The organization also needed the solution to be compliant with local fire department regulations. That’s because, even though MTD operates on a 24/7 schedule most of the year, during the summer, there’s a gap between midnight and 5 a.m. when nobody is on shift to monitor the system. MTD’s initial idea was to set things up so that a notification from their monitoring system would go to the local fire department. That methodology, however, does not align with local regulations and was, therefore, prohibited.

Solution: Integrated, Real-Time Monitoring and Alarming

What MTD needed was an independent life safety and building automation solution that could provide remote monitoring, control, and alarming.

But because MTD was the first transit agency in the country to adopt a hydrogen fleet fueled entirely from their own 100% renewable source, there was a steep learning curve for just about everything – including safety.

What MTD needed was a safety expert. Enter MSA Safety.

Upon seeing MSA’s presentation, MTD knew they had to choose the SMC Sentry fixed gas detection system, which features advanced sensing algorithms, protocols, web technologies, and cloud connectivity. They also chose to pair the system with the FieldServer ProtoNode.

This enabled them to connect the Sentry IT system to the FieldServer Manager, which sends real-time text and email notifications to appropriate personnel, alerting them to the potential presence of hazardous or combustible gasses.

After a series of unfortunate and unavoidable obstacles at MTD (including a global pandemic, personnel changes, relocation of the system through construction of the production plant, and inaccurate sensor and zone mapping), MTD successfully configured the system. Now they are actively monitoring what they want the way they want – that means detecting carbon monoxide at levels lower than required by OSHA, as well as customizing the hydrogen detection at levels below 25% of LEL if needed.

“Obviously, we’re most concerned with hydrogen,” explains Kirkland. “In fact, some of our team members only want to see hydrogen alarms. This system is great because it lets them choose the parameters they want. But we also have to monitor nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. We haven’t had any nitrogen dioxide alarms. As for carbon monoxide, we’ve assigned two utility workers to answer and reset those alarms. Most of the time when carbon monoxide alarms go off, by the time we walk to the panel, it’s already cleared. We’re confident, though, that we’ll have the notifications we need should there be a higher concentration of any gas or should any of the gasses be present for longer periods of time.”

Result: Hydrogen Production Station Safety

The addition of the FieldServer ProtoNode to the Sentry IT gas detection system gives MTD a high-performing, low-cost IIoT gateway that enables both SMS text and email notification for trouble or alarm conditions.

MTD has completed initial configuration and is continuing to fine tune its operation. In fact, the organization plans to configure the system so that they also can send notifications to personnel on the second floor of a building where training offices and vehicle radio personnel are located.

“Things are working very well,” says Kirkland. “We’ve set up the types of events we want to monitor and we’ve configured the high-low settings we want for hydrogen. We’re still tweaking some things like graphics, but we’re absolutely confident that it will do everything we want and need it to do to keep our first-of-its-kind zero emission fleet technology and our staff safe.”

Talk with an MSA Sales rep today.

Top 10 Questions Answered: How to Create a Cloud Strategy for Industrial Automation

Asking the right questions is a key component of good decision making. It gives you the opportunity to learn details, exchange ideas, and challenge conventional thinking. Most importantly, it leads to better conclusions.

In fact, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, only 15 to 25% of adult professionals polled said they regularly asked questions. This is compared to almost 80% of children who – as most of us know – ask a ton of questions.

The reasons for this are many and varied, however, the article inferred that a big reason was the workplace decision making has made a dramatic shift from “get it done as soon as you can” to “get it done yesterday.”

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

But not taking the time to ask the right questions just so you can “get it done” can be costly in terms of both time and money. Perhaps 16th century philosophy Francis Bacon best summed up the power of asking questions when he said: “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

Which is why we wanted to do a virtual Q&A on a topic we get asked about all the time: Cloud-based Industrial Internet of Things (IIot) solutions.

Answers to Questions about Cloud-Based IIoT Solutions

If you’re on the connectivity journey or looking to leverage the Cloud for your automation systems, keep reading to get answers to some essential questions.

Q: Everyone’s talking about connecting field devices to the Cloud, but it seems like a lot of work. Is it worth it?

The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is that everyone is talking about Cloud-based automation solutions because of what the Cloud can do – which is promote secure, intelligent, efficient automation.

As for being a lot of work, that depends on how you go about implementing your Cloud solution. Finding the right partner is essential. At MSA FieldServer, we make it easy to modernize building automation, industrial automation, energy management, and life safety systems through Cloud-enabled equipment. Contact us to learn more or start by checking out our series on Third-Party Integration here.

Q: How does Cloud technology work in the industrial automation world?

Very well, thank you. All joking aside, here’s a visual that can help you understand how it works:

And here are some of the many benefits of Cloud technology for industrial automation:

  • Autonomous operation and programmed automation
  • Remote configuration, diagnostics, and troubleshooting
  • Multi-user, multi-device accessibility
  • Location independent, real-time monitoring
  • Scalability
  • Systems, resources, and operational optimization
  • Unlimited virtual storage
  • Reliable, persistent situational awareness
  • Streamlined reporting and compliance

Q: We want to have a Cloud strategy but where do we start?

Congratulations! Given its many benefits, it’s understandable that you’re anxious to get going and take the leap into intelligent automation. We suggest, however, that you take your time and partner with someone who can guide you through the transition. The starting step, then, is to find a connectivity partner and learn from them.

Next, look at your systems and compare them with your overarching objectives for implementing a Cloud strategy. This will help you determine what to prioritize first. Then look for the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Determine which area of your operation offers the greatest opportunity for a return. Where can you achieve the most meaningful outcomes while using the least number of resources. Finally, remember that technology changes quickly so adjust your expectations accordingly. Cloud computing for industrial automation is not a “one-and-done” undertaking. So, move forward deliberately, ask questions, and learn as much as you can before you make any decisions.

Q: Is connecting to the Cloud going to put us at risk for cyberattacks?

Smart question. When it comes to Cloud connectivity, cybersecurity is an extremely important consideration. Our goal is to help our customers eliminate exposure to their entire organization. We’ve developed several products to help us do that, like the MSA FieldServer Dual Ethernet Port Device. Among its many capabilities is that it allows for secure LAN or WAN connectivity while blocking VPN and proxy tunnel.

As a rule, remember that connecting to the Cloud brings with it some inherent risks. Be sure to ask your solutions provider what they’re doing to mitigate these risks. Then make sure their answers include such measures as:

  • Industry-standard password policies
  • User verification requirements
  • Encryption to restrict access
  • Annual penetration and vulnerability testing
  • Comprehensive incident response plan

Q: We have a lot of disparate devices from different manufacturers along with legacy components that are too expensive to replace. Can we keep them and still connect to the Cloud?

Absolutely! While start-up organizations have the advantage of investing in the latest and greatest technology (for now, anyway), established OEMs and other companies shouldn’t have to invest in new devices or costly IT infrastructure to leverage the Cloud.

As an example, the average industrial plant has a mix of new and legacy devices that can be swiftly, seamlessly, and more affordably integrated, thanks to MSA FieldServer gateway products, including Modbus, Ethernet/IP, GE-EDG, and a host of other state-of-the-art protocols. Learn more about no-hassle legacy integration here.

Q: Are Cloud-based applications and platforms expensive?

They don’t have to be. We’ve developed connected, Cloud-based solutions that don’t require significant upfront investments or expensive add-ons. Affordable alternatives do exist. For example, we offer one-box solutions in the form of our FieldServer portfolio of products. In fact, we believe that the right Cloud-based applications and platforms will save you money.

Q: When our company data is in the Cloud, can others using the same Cloud see our data?

Not with the MSA Grid. That’s because it is a tenant-based system, which means that your data is separate from anyone else’s. MSA Grid customers cannot see another customer’s data – and neither can MSA, unless the customer wants us to see it so we can offer technical support.

Q: Can I move my Cloud data to other Cloud applications?

With the MSA Grid, the answer is yes. The Grid has two APIs or application program interfaces, that define how applications or computers talk with one another. The Grid allows you to move data to third-party Cloud, notably a RESTful API and Webhooks. A RESTful API is what lets you retrieve data from one place and display it somewhere else. A Webhook works similarly, only it uses automated messages.

Q: Will moving to a Cloud-based solution for remote monitoring, configuration, and data capture/analysis slow us down?

On the contrary. With proper implementation of a highly secure, robust Cloud solution, you can expect to streamline operations, improve safety, save money, support your customers in the best, most time-efficient manner, and a whole lot more.

Q: How soon can I have a go-to-market solution up and running?

Very quickly with MSA. That’s because at MSA, once we fully understand your objectives, we can get you up and running with a sample within two weeks, and help you determine the right Cloud solution to benefit you and your customers.

Want to learn more? Talk with an MSA Sales rep today.

Remote Connectivity and Notification: Are you getting the message?

The year was 1987. Star Trek: The Next Generation Fans were mesmerized (and, perhaps, rather envious) when Captain Jean-Luc Picard told a simple box machine to deliver on his command: “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.”

Now, of course, not only is that kind of technology possible, it’s also quite common, thanks to connected smart devices, cloud data, and automated notifications.

For many, it’s both convenient and helpful to use connected devices to remote-start a cold car or get timely reminders to descale the coffee maker.

With such technology literally at our fingertips, have you ever wondered why the same can’t be said within your HVACR systems?

Why can’t our $500K machine tell us when it needs to be calibrated or maintained?

Why, indeed! Perhaps the better question is, Why doesn’t our BAS equipment supplier offer this?

The truth is, there is technology available right now that enables exactly that. And, frankly, it’s far more game-changing than a cup of hot Earl Grey.

Remote Connectivity and Real-Time Notifications

I talked about this topic during my presentation at last week’s AHR Expo in Las Vegas. Everyone else was talking about the value of connectivity and the cloud within the HVACR industry, too.

But for those of you who may have missed out, here’s a recap of the most common problems facing HVACR, along with the fix for helping prevent failure of high-value assets.

Problem: The biggest contributor to chiller failure is infrequent or improper maintenance.

The Connectivity Fix:

  • Intelligent, predictive maintenance
  • Automated checks to ensure optimal working conditions

Problem: Overheating and other factors like voltage unbalance and poor ventilation contribute to electric motor failure.

The Connectivity Fix:

  • 24/7/365 remote machine monitoring
  • Remote configuration and programming

Problem: An overlooked or neglected boiler increases energy consumption, reduces performance, and poses a threat to safety and well-being.

The Connectivity Fix:

  • Pre-emptive notifications
  • Asset optimization

FieldServer and You

Of course, these are just a few examples of what can happen to your systems and how technology plays a role in overcoming such challenges.

The point is, when you don’t know how your assets are performing and you don’t have a reliable method for ensuring proper and regular maintenance, your operations are at risk of catastrophic failure.

There is a better, more connected way: the MSA FieldServer suite of automation gateway products and FieldVEU, an MSA Grid cloud solution.

How It Works

Imagine your high-value asset sends you a text, notifying you that there’s a problem. Before you go scrambling to figure out where and what, the text already has you covered.

  • It details what the issue is.
  • It provides a URL to machine web interface.
  • It enables you to use your mobile phone to look at the interface.

Bottom-line, it sends the right information to the right person at the right time, providing full visibility and actionable insights on your assets.

If you’re ready to learn more about how applying this technology to your organization can help you “get the message,” please email us.