IoT Frequently Asked Questions

Learn about AvanTech IoT

Below are answers to the most common questions clients ask about IoT. Click on a question to see the answer.

We collect any number of sensors into groups known as devices. We have a completely scalable solution using AWS for massive capability.  While millions of sensors can be handled by our service, it is structured into device groups to allow you to view data in a meaningful way.  Therefore, it is the quality of data organization, as opposed to hardware or software capabilities, that limits the number of possible sensors.

Typically, the hardware part of IoT is structured as a series of devices which feed data into our software platform. Devices are hardware items that accept the signals sent out by sensors, such as an Ardurino. The sensors then connect to the devices. One device usually has 1 – 50 sensors connected to it. This number could, however, be much larger. The number of sensors that can be connected to a device is primarily limited by device messaging limits. We typically use less than 0.5% of our message limits for 25 sensors. This means that thousands of sensors could be connected to a single device.

The speed at which data can be viewed is limited by the speed at which it travels from the sensors to the web app.  There is minimal lag between the sensors and web app in a well connected communication system, meaning data can be viewed remotely (on your desktop or mobile device) within 50-300 milliseconds of the sensor reviving an input. Typically, data is considered “live” if it takes 1-15 seconds for it to travel from sensor to web app.

Yes, as long as you have a control component capable of handling the remote commands. In the case of temperature control, you would need a thermostat that could be controlled via WiFi. Our platform can then be configured to turn off a heater (or other device) based on a set point you select (such as 30 degrees). This set point can be changed at any time. The platform also allows for manual remote control of components such as heaters. In otherwords, you could open our platform on your mobile device 

SCADA and IoT overlap in many ways. Both collect and/or control data from sensors and display that data in a meaningful way. Data can then be viewed and monitored. However, SCADA is typically for operational control, and for a system that must be monitored and operated with a standard set of views, historians, alarms and events. SCADA typically has fixed hardware and is often stand alone, meaning it is not necessarily web enabled or able to make its data available for analysis and interoperability with other systems.  SCADA mostly uses OPC for data gathering and system devices that are part of SCADA don’t usually exchange data.

IoT on the other hand, uses more open data exchange protocols, allowing devices to seamlessly interoperate. Data is cloud oriented so analysis and integration with other enterprise systems is easier. The protocols and web standards that IoT is based on naturally makes data more accessible. These protocols are used to ensure data stays safe. The scalability of IoT cloud based systems greatly exceeds that of single server based SCADA systems. IoT also generally costs less.

IoT is advancing far more quickly than SCADA. While there are many some cases for which IoT is the better choice, it’s often best to augment SCADA with IoT technology.  While IoT can replace SCADA, there are still a few strong cases where SCADA can not be easily replaced by IoT: 
  • Tag configuration engines that allow remote management of data collection from one common interface. SCADA does, however, limit the data types and may be unable to store of complex data.
  • SCADA’s alarm systems use hardware based notifications to ensure alarm conditions are seen by an operator and tracked.  IoT systems don’t typically have this ability (although they can). IoT alarms often are automatically handled or simply sent as notifications to remote interfaces, not just to an HMI (human machine interface).  
  • SCADA HMIs  have become an industry standard for process control diagrams and the configuration of HMIs in many SCADA packages is impressive. 
If any of the SCADA features listed above are not necessary for your application, IoT may be a more suitable choice. If you already have a SCADA system, it is best to augment it with IoT technology. If you are considering a new system, some advantages of IoT platforms are easier to use dashboards, simpler or more automatic configuration of devices and sensors, massive scalability and cloud based data analytics.  IoT is also more interoperable between devices, more affordable and is advancing at an quick pace. It is likely that IoT will completely replace SCADA systems in the future.  

There are many areas of security that we address.  First, we secure our device data communication with encrypted messages to the cloud. Everything is private key encrypted and transported over secure transport layers. Devices and data sources are individually secured with strong passwords, are connected to secure networks or secured physically by limiting access. Our web platform then uses secure sites and secure token based login credentials to protect data access. Nothing is exposed to any public entity without appropriate login credentials. This is crucial in not only securing IoT data, but also in protecting device interoperability or controls implemented using IoT devices.

We live in a data connected world where data is becoming critical to most decision making.  The business of data is now a larger industry than Oil and Gas worldwide. and that data is only as good as you make use of it, or refine it. Those decisions can be made faster, from anywhere and with more accuracy by having great data.  Products and services to collect and host data are surprisingly cheap and the science of data and analytics is also growing and more available through industry experts, data scientists and a plethora of free or affordable software tools.  Mobile and edge computing enable us to capture more data from more areas with impressive network coverage systems, which all make data more useful, more available and more essential in everyday life and business.

The short answer is any and all types of sensors are available.  Truly, there are sensors for nearly every kind of data, in a huge range of costs.  Everything from temperature probes costing a few dollars, to nuclear densometers costs tens of thousands of dollars.  There are physical sensors for pretty much anything you can imagine (accelerating, optical, proximity, motion, temperature, moisture, sound, gas, flow, pressure, magnetic, levels, strain, etc)  and the biggest difference between them all, are the connectivity options.  Many protocols exist for sensors, industrial interfaces differ and devices vary in supporting these so its best to explore a solution with you to determine what is needed.  Protocols such as MQTT, OPC, I2C, 1Wire, RS485, ZWave, TCP, BLE, ZigBee, RFID, HART, CoAP, LoRaWAN, NFC are all used in various types of sensors and devices.

Devices and sensors continue to operate without internet access yes, but they may be limited to their own feature set, such as controls or safety interlocks or simply waiting for the network to be re-established.  This depends entirely on the gateway device used to collect data and connect it to the internet.  Some systems may employ offline data storage and caching, where that can be retransmitted upon a network re-connection, but we do not have that in our platform or any of our device to date, but could custom build it if it is essential to your system.

If an IOT device is doing controls, it should also be the source of its own data that it relies on or it should fail to a safe known state if its data source is unavailable.  This ensure predictable behavior of the device and appropriate action can be taken when it is offline.

Sensors will fail and the action needed depends on what that sensor is needed for and what the device reading that sensors is going to do to detect and manage a sensor failure.  Remote monitoring systems might simply send a notification if a sensor dies or a more critical control system, might need to take action and shutdown to a safe state.  These actions depend on what the sensor is used for.  You will want to design your device and sensor to properly report and / or detect sensor failures with appropriate event messages, notifications and data representation for display.

Our IOT solution is fully cloud based so you can run it from any operating system using only your browser, this includes mobile browsers to easily access and view your data from.  The various devices within an IOT solution can be windows based, linux or other embedded OSes such as PLCs or small computer platforms, where data can be sourced from.

Well I think most people consider IOT sensors to be physical sensors but no, IOT data is not restricted to physical sensors.  In fact, we use database statistics, third party APIs and even manually entered form data as IOT sensors and datasources, so anything can be considered a sensor in our system.

Well unfortunately the answer to this really depends on what you want to do with your IOT solution and how you want to be involved.  This can vary from no training required to lots if you are engineering a new product or solution you want to integrate IOT with. Selection of sensors and devices as gateways need to be designed specifically for your system.  There is no immediate need for any training if we are providing a turnkey solution to bring your data online in our platform. This allows you to view and access the data and leverage our platform services in a simple to use web application as soon as it is online.

However, there could be some training required to help understand and connect with your data systems and for you to support an ongoing IOT solution.  You don’t need to learn or understand any of the technical aspects of IOT, since we can do that for you.

Value is only derived when the benefits of IOT technology can be used or acted on in your business.  This is done by ensuing you have meaningful easy to access data to make decisions on that help improve efficiencies, reduce cost and shortened reaction times, which can all save money when it relates to production outages, poorly performing equipment or a quality issue with production. This depends then what your IOT alerts you on and what it is actually monitoring that is of value as well.

Secondly, the data from IOT systems overtime, can represent a significant advantage in understanding your systems better, to then operate them more efficiently, automate with device control, and intelligently react to and handle failures earlier or without human intervention.  This can be realized when you have the data to make these decisions, learn what the data represents and can use that to optimize or run your business and systems differently.

Obviously technology systems vary in quality so there is no general comparison that makes sense without considering the use cases for your business and specific traditional technologies you use.  However, IOT systems are built upon secure web standards, cloud based access and massive data storage, those improve the user experience by making data more accessible on any device from anywhere, and making the data easy to interoperate with other systems.  IOT systems using web standards are usually delivering easier to use user interfaces and dashboard style of applications, with quick access to highlights of your IOT system.  No installation of programs or complex IT access is required, just your browser and a login.

Reliabilty encompases many facets in an IOT system.  We consider 4 main solution layers: devices, access network, control layer (software applications) and back end services.  We have selected AWS to be our back end services layer and it has an incredible reliability, with interconnected services with five nines of reliability, redundancy and nearly infinite scalability, it simply can’t be beat for the entire cloud and back end infrastructure. The control layer is as good as the software applications that are built within that. Avan-Tech has decades of experience building enterprise level production operated solutions for daily operations and data management solutions, so we certainly know what it takes to build reliable software and user interfaces that just work, and work everytime. Our access network relies on best practices for secure IOT systems, leveraging MQTT protocols (and others) with secure transport from end to end in the entire system.Device connectivity varies with different communication standards as to their reliability (cellular, wifi, bluetooth, etc) but the reliability at the device layer can be defined by what is needed and how much you want to spend on extra reliability, or redundancy of your data.  The devices and sensor then vary in cost and its important to design / purchase them according to the reliability you need.

Costs vary completely with complexity of your IOT system so there is no immediate answer to this.  An IOT system could be as simple as a consumer produce you buy for a few hundred dollars with a free yearly subscription to something completely custom, with unique hardware, thousands or data points and enterprise level dashboarding and data integration, which could be tens of thousands of dollars or more.  

We built AvanTech IOT as a service to make getting started easy and affordable, which we price based on the features you need, the amount of data and sensors you want to connect and the customizations and views that make your system the most valuable to your business.  Those are also the 3 aspects of our pricing:

  • A tiered license model for different features
  • Monthly support and service fee to host your IOT solution & data
    • Customization costs to build your unique views and dashboards, alarms / notifications, operational controls, and data analysis to ensure your business is more effective with your IOT solution.

This really depends on each system and the data being interfaced with and how critical the data is. We have already addressed many of the challenges by building device agnostic functionality and an abstracted user display for all types of devices and sensors. The integration of your system however will define where the challenges are, specifically if you have controls for operational data, since they involve more risk and safety considerations.

This depends on the number of devices and sensors you are operating as well as the overall robustness of those devices.  Time to maintain them is required if there are device or sensor failures, or where the network infrastructure is not working for your data. The physical installation and complexity of those systems will then dictate how much time and money it takes to maintain it. Once your IOT system is setup, there should not be any time required to manage it, as our webapp and IOT service is all managed for you, so we keep it operational and available for you to use at any time as part of our monthly service fee.

We have purposely built our system on the MQTT protocol, which is the majority of IOT devices, but it is not limited to that.  We can relay data from any type of device or protocol into our MQTT data requirements to capture data from any type of gateway device or sensor.  This allows us to support any variety of industrial devices and protocols, whether that is MQTT, Modbus, OPC, Serial, RFID, I2C, BLE, TCP or whatever else you have. Most gateway devices can be used directly as a datasource with our system and whatever sensors are connected to it.

We ensure our cyber security by having secure end to end encryption between every gateway device and our platform, so each data stream using unique encryption credentials for its data.  Our cloud environment is protected with equally safeguarded encrypted data channels and all exposed data to the end users are protected on secure HTTPS web protocols. Maintaining strong passwords is also enforced and all data access and device access is defined using strict policies in our cloud environment, with no outside access or direct interface to.

This depends on what sensors you want to get data from.  You don’t need any hardware if you have existing data systems you want to display data from, such as our own product or service.  For example, another of our products, AssetIntel, can be used in our IOT solution to monitor your inventory statistics, with alerts and event histories of inventory changes and additions.  Your might have your own data available through existing hardware, that we can interface with or web data to consume as well.  If you are looking to get data from physical sensors, you will need some kind of data acquisition with a network connection or gateway.  These devices can range from a PC system, an embedded DAQ, custom machine interface, PLC or even a raspberry PI, depending on what you want to use it for.

Yes of course.  We can setup the data in your IOT system to be anything you like, live data, numerical, text, visual, or even your own interface driven through a web service or uploaded data.  We also then customize how you view your data, which can be tabular, charted, live numerics or graphical with diagrams. We can help you get any data you need into the system and visible in the most useful formats.

Often, IOT sensors are connected to a device or machine power so it doesn’t always have batteries.  If you do run battery operated sensors though, then they can last up to 10 years with some of the low power systems now such LoRaWAN. Many other sensors have 6-12 months of battery life. Battery life depends largely on data transmission frequency, so more updates means more battery power consumed.  Some batteries can be solar recharged or manually swapped though.  Cold environments can also cause more frequent battery replacements.

Yes, our IOT solutions are based on a monthly licensing and support contract, which is required to keep your IOT solution operating.  We have different tiered support levels for sensors counts, and data transmission rates based on the devices and sensor updates in your system.

This is answered above in several other FAQs related to sensors, protocols and security. We employ best practices in our solutions and will continue to explore new technologies to improve our service and IOT platform.

Absolutely, there are many sensors available that tie in to your vehicle for tracking location, as well as engine diagnostics and driving habits/patterns, which can give you tremendous insight into how well your vehicles are operating and your drivers’ habits. Even mobile phones can be used to track travelling vehicles directly as they already have the GPS capability and cellular network access.

Not directly at each sensor, but the sensors must then connect to the internet through some kind of network gateway.  Typically the data acquisition systems that connects all the sensors will act as your gateway or internet enabled device.  Data can be collected and sent at a later time as well if it is not as critical or too costly to have live updates, where infrequent data might be transmitted only when connections are available.