IIoT in heavy industry: mining, oil, gas, iron and steel – L&H Industrial sets new standards with 5G monitoring, tracking and IoT core

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In this podcast episode, there’s exclusive insight into heavy industry with a project from L&H Industrial – the largest machines in the world. They optimize their service with suitable technologies and selected IoT hardware!

Episode 62 at a glance (and click):

  • [04:36] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
  • [11:45] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
  • [29:10] Transferability, scaling and next steps – Here’s how you can use this use case

Podcast episode summary

Episode 62 of the IoT Use Case Podcast is about an IIoT project from the rough industry of “Heavy Machinery” – presented by Roundsolutions and their partner Amazon Web Services (AWS). L&H Industrial helps customers design, build, deploy and operate large-scale machinery. With their 24/7 global field service and over 50 years of real-world experience, they are now using IoT technology to set new standards in service. Their goal: to constantly support their customers in troubleshooting, repairs, rebuilds, installations and relocation of heavy machinery. Based on valuable data, engineers and technicians can use the findings to save costs for customers in operations. With the help of sensor and camera data, signs of wear and possible downtimes are detected and prevented at an early stage.

– the leading supplier of LTE, NB1, CatM1, 5G, NB-IoT, GSM/GPRS, UMTS/HSPA(+), GNSS and BLE/WiFi modules in Europe. They bring the necessary “plug and play” hardware with robust housing, which meets the IP67 safety standard. For cloud and software expertise, Round Solutions selected its partner Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the world’s most comprehensive cloud platform, with more than 200 fully functional services around the world.

In this episode, we discuss the top 3 use cases:

  1. L&H Industrial: The world’s largest machines enhanced with 5G monitoring
  2. Volkswagen Group: Increase plant efficiency and availability to improve production flexibility and enhance vehicle quality with AWS-IoT
  3. Amazon mail order: monitoring for renewable energies

The interview guests of the 62nd episode are:

Podcast interview

Juan, today we’re talking about your services with your partner Round Solutions. Let’s learn a little more about how to choose the right hardware. But also, of course, which AWS IoT services you offer here. One question in advance: What is happening in this market and why is the issue important – IoT, IoT services?

Juan

IoT technologies are key to integrating the real and digital worlds. For example, it allows devices to be migrated to the cloud safely and securely. Today, we connect millions of devices to the cloud to support a variety of use cases – environmental sensors, for example, temperature measurements, humidity. But we are also seeing more and more IoT in the industrial sector – for example, industrial equipment connected to the cloud.

Challenges, potentials and status quo - This is what the use case looks like in practice

It’s about concrete use cases to really understand how these IoT services work. That’s why I always talk about concrete use cases from practice. – You have an insane amount of different reference stories and projects with clients. Can you tell us about the top 3 use cases you’ve worked on?

Juan

Of course, in fact, we have many customers who use these IoT technologies in the industrial sector. For example, the Volkswagen Group uses AWS-IoT to increase plant efficiency and availability, improve production flexibility, but also to increase vehicle quality.

Amazon itself, too – we use IoT to monitor renewable energy. That means we’re really trying to optimize performance using AWS services, but also best practices in terms of cloud technologies.

 

Now that’s about your mail order business itself, isn’t it?

Juan

Exactly.

 

We also dive into a customer project in a very concrete way. Ben, what you brought to us: your customer is using AWS services with you as well as your hardware. Who is your client and what exactly is this project about?

Ben

Today we are talking about the project we are currently running with our customer L&H Industrial in Wyoming, USA. L&H designs and manufactures machines for applications in mining, but also industries in oil, gas and rail. They have locations in North America, Mexico and Chile. We have two products with them that we’re looking at IoT-wise: One is an undercarriage – of a giant excavator. That’s much larger than man. Really gigantc parts. And then there are crushers, where stones and ores are thrown in and crushed. That’s where L&H wants to ensure three things: The first is internal quality assurance and improvement of their products. The second is that L&H offers a service for mine operators to monitor the wear and tear of the machines and to make sure that there is no damage and no downtime. And they put the third point this way, “IoT is strategic for us. We just want to learn how to use it in our products and with our customers.”

 

I also had a look at your customer in advance. If you’re not in a car at the moment, you can google L&H Industrial Maschinenbauer. These are giant plants with orange components. They also promise to provide the best service for their customer. Whether it’s troubleshooting, repairs, moving the equipment, or getting replacement parts. So this is also a bit of a new digital business model for your customer – very exciting, take a look. Going into this project: What were your client’s challenges when you started the project? What was it all about?

Ben

It was about a remote connection. That from the headquarters, whether that’s in Wyoming or a branch office in Phoenix … that the technicians can look at the wear, the condition worldwide, wherever the equipment is being used. So once from sensor data, but also partly visual. Of course, we have to deal with extreme environmental conditions, both minus and plus degrees. Everything is very rough; you could say dirty, very rough. There are not necessarily electronics engineers on site. But these are maintenance workers, who can also handle things in a robust way, so to speak.

 

Sensor data – now many listeners are technically inclined. Many are also interested in going a bit deeper into the matter. If we talk about data that is relevant in this project – which ones are interesting for your customer today?

Ben

This is partly simple sensor technology. You want to be able to see what an excavator is doing. Whether it’s shoveling or moving or downtime, its hours of operation. This can be done using a sensor – a vibration sensor as an example, accelerometer. So that’s pretty rudimentary in this example. Second point is that we have also built in cameras. That’s where photos of parts that are subject to wear and tear are created and uploaded to the AWS cloud, and stored. Then the engineers and technicians can take a look at them. So of course we chose special cameras, for this harsh environment, with very high resolution. Also worth noting, electric motors also exist in this area, in a crusher, for example. Then you also want to see that it still works properly – that’s where vibration sensors come into play again to check the bearing.

 

What else were the customer’s requirements? First of all, the customer has a free choice of the hosting platform to which the data is to be transferred.

Ben

After all, we are talking about an Industrial IoT wireless gateway here. The housing must be IP66K or better. Communication, connectivity, is a challenge. After all, there are locations where this is not so well developed, or not at all. But this is supposed to work worldwide. One would like a location function, with which one can detect where the devices are currently located. Of course, data transmission must also be highly secure. On the cloud side, the customer wants us to run US cloud hosting and for the data to be hosted securely in the US. It has to be an architecture that is scalable – if you still want to roll that out. You might also want to add machine learning and the like. The opportunities must exist for this to happen. Device management is also part of this solution. We’re talking about an Industrial IoT gateway, but also connected to a device management.

Solutions, offerings and services - A look at the technologies used

You talked about the gateway – maybe we can shimmy a little bit from the bottom up into the cloud. Start with the hardware and then move into the evaluation via data acquisition and data processing. What hardware did you need?

Ben

Of course, we looked around in the market again to make sure that we weren’t building just any industrial gateway, just for this application. But it became clear pretty quickly, it also has to be able to connect to 5G. We are now very quickly approaching the 5G rollout. This is a super exciting topic because we then combine edge with cloud. This also additionally has a global standard. We also have it downward-compatible to 4G, because the rollout will only really start to cover the whole country in the next few years.

IO-Link has been a must criterion for this to be plug-and-play – then you end up with IO-Link very quickly. We compare this a bit with USB for the mouse. IO-Link is the counterpart in the sensor area. So you screw on a vibration sensor, a temperature sensor, and virtually seconds later you see the measured values in the right scale, in the right format, and so on. This all runs in the background with the IO-Link protocol.

And that is then passed back to the network via a specific protocol so that it is available in the AWS IoT Core?

Ben

Right. We have selected AWS. We use the MQTT Hub from the AWS IoT Core. We send the sensor data via this interface. The photographs, pictures, run on a different protocol.

That means we now have relevant sensor data for the customer, we have cameras … we have data about the bucket itself, for example, or also operating hours. They are passed on with a service, so to speak, and via your gateway I have the option of routing this data out via appropriate mobile radio standards in order to be able to receive and process it in the first place.

So the next step, Juan, is to process that data. You offer AWS IoT Core. How does that work exactly and how do you connect that hardware to the cloud?

Juan

Via AWS IoT Core, you can connect billions of IoT devices and route trillions of settings to AWS services – without having to manage the underlying structure. Connectivity is of course bidirectional, supports MQTT natively, but also https – for older devices. The platform also provides device management tools to help our customers ensure device security. It also provides integration with a variety of AWS services, such as our Data Lake S3. Or Lookout for Equipments is a machine learning tool that allows detecting anomalies in industrial equipment. This, of course, brings with it a great deal of flexibility. I can combine all of these services into one use case.

When you say it’s about connectivity and device management – that means you would integrate those individual sensors from the customer as well as the cameras themselves into the services? I get access to AWS IoT Core and can register the hardware there; that’s probably the first step. So I have a ready service right away where I can route directly to the sensor, the hardware and connect my data to the cloud. Is that any way to put it?

Juan

It’s partly like this. For example, the case we are talking about right now – when a gateway is connected to sensors via IO-Link: what we are already doing via Device Manager is the interaction or management of the gateway. But the IO-Link protocol itself is of course something completely different. This is a protocol that is not integrated with the Device Management tool. But on the other hand, what we can do very well: All the management parts associated with the gateway itself.

Ben, how did you do that? You do have access to AWS; how does that work in practice?

Ben

We connect that over MQTT protocols, and https for the photos, the Pictures that we upload. There’s an IODDfinder, that’s what it’s called. Is also in a cloud, where we download the IO-Link sensor data – that is, from the sensor manufacturer. We connect that to the sensor that will be connected so that the device can recognize which sensor it is in the first place. That’s what I was saying before, kind of like the USB. This is the driver, so to speak, that we then install. After all, there are 10-15,000 different IO-Link sensors, and we have to be compatible for each one.

That is, you install such a driver once, and then it communicates via the service. Just a quick question, if I’ve never logged into AWS IoT Core before – what does it look like? You get a business account probably and then I have all the tools I can choose to connect my devices? You have to think of it like a dashboard?

Juan

It’s a little more than that. We offer more than 200 services. For IoT alone, we have 14 different services. The background is simply that it allows our customers to choose exactly what they need. It happens more often that you have an application of which the end user ends up using only 20 percent. – It’s not like that with us. With us, it’s broken way down: For example, if someone wants to use AWS IoT Core, the customer can do that. If I also need device management, I can connect and integrate that separately – everything can be integrated. This means I only pay for what I actually use. No overhead with all the functions – that’s always a problem at the end of the day.

In the case that Ben brought with him, one of the goals is to monitor the wear and tear on the machine to ensure that no damage occurs with corresponding downtimes. That’s where we’re at the next level now. Initially, it was about data management – and device management to connect the data in the first place. The next level is the data evaluation, the applicative part. What service do you have there?

Juan

The idea is, we have a microservices architecture. These components can be connected in any way to develop the final application. How the whole process works: We provide a catalog of solutions. For example, if you go to aws.amazon.com/iot/solutions, you get a public page where you are presented with a real catalog of solutions. There you will find a collection of reference architectures that can be used to identify which services are really necessary to build a specific use case. For example, if I want to implement a WLAN predictive maintenance use case, you see on these reference architectures, okay, I’m probably going to use an AWS IoT Core… I’m going to have an S3 system to make a data lake… I’m going to have to connect that to a Lookout for Equipment as well… et cetera.

So many different use cases can be mapped by the services

Juan

Quite a lot, really. And in any industry. That’s what we usually suggest to our customers: Take a look at these solutions, these reference architectures. Always work backwards from the use case. Then you can work with these architectures using a design-by-exception method to figure out which components you really need for the application. – This means that even if we have a great many services available, in the end the entire process can be comparatively simple.

Ben, if we jump into your customer’s practice: Which services from the huge selection are interesting for you in the current case? Of course, every customer has their own use cases and their own projects.

Ben

We’ve broken that down into phases. At the stage we’re at right now, we have IoT Core and Device Management underneath it. By that we mean something like onboarding the devices, firmware over the air. Then we also have Data Lake S3 for the phase, where all the sensor data is first stored. The phase that comes next is the whole thing around analytics. That’s where we imagine working with Amazon Sage. But we’re not quite there yet. We first consolidate the device management and visualize the evaluated sensor data, enable their download. This will be followed by the next phase, where the whole thing will move in the direction of predictive maintenance and analytics.

If I want to implement that now: We’ve already talked about a wide variety of building blocks – what specifically do I need from you? Ben, you are the contact person for the hardware. How do you work with the customers?

Ben

We are edge experts. So you get Industrial IoT Gateways with wireless 5G functionality from us; 4G as well. And you get device management, where you can also evaluate the sensor data. The way we work is that we sit down with customers. In the case with L&H, we will also offer customers device management plus analytics. However, there will be customers who, for example, have their own AWS platform for data analytics – then it may well be that we provide the device management or device manager on AWS, and the customer processes the data afterwards in their own infrastructure. Or even, the customer has EVERYTHING himself and actually only wants to have the Industrial IoT Gateway from us – that is also possible. We have deliberately kept this very flexible.

And you don’t work alone either, but have built up a whole network of partners. An ecosystem where you look at what the customer needs to bring the appropriate skills on board.

Ben

Yes, that’s one of the challenges in the IoT environment: there is almost no company that keeps all the capabilities in-house; very few. Instead, we have to gather several experts for a project like this. So it is totally logical to build up a partner network. We have partners we’ve worked with for a long time – whether it’s Connectivity or, as in this case, AWS. It can also be in the field of sensor technology. And that can then be made available to the customer as a project team.

Juan, thinking about your services, if I want to start tomorrow, what do I need from you? How do I get started?

Juan

Since the beginning, AWS has offered an open-access platform that people can explore after a simple registration process. All you need is a credit card number. We then offer a free starter quota for many services so that our customers can experiment with them. For example, before I was on AWS, I already had an AWS account myself. I’ve used that for many years to have my own photo repository at S3 that I also sync with my personal hard drives – it’s something anyone can do at home. This is also not so expensive, but quite cheap.

That sounds like it’s pretty easy to get started right away. To elaborate a bit more on the business case itself. Ben, you said, in the end, your customer wants to save costs in the processes, of course; on the other hand, he also offers a new service for, in turn, his end customer. Juan, stupid question: what’s the business case with AWS IoT Core for example – what do I get out of it?

Juan

For example: We have a customer in the metals industry that has been able to reduce their unplanned production downtime by 70 percent and increase their overall productivity by 8 percent just by implementing centralized remote asset monitoring! Another customer, from the traditional energy sector, oil and gas – Cepsa from Spain – is using IoT in conjunction with machine learning. They have thus managed to increase a phenol production in southern Spain by 5500 tons per year – and without increasing energy consumption! These are just two examples of many more.

It’s super helpful to have some concrete measurable metrics like that to guide you to justify such investments in the end. Ultimately, however, it is of course based on a holistic digitization strategy in which the services are considered and deployed individually. Ben, what were your learnings from this project? You’ve certainly encountered a few stumbling blocks, too, or just things you learned along the way with your client – what were they?

Ben

That development of IoT gateways, the hardware and firmware that goes with it, is just very costly, time-wise. This is a very intense time. Especially now due to the component shortage that currently exists worldwide. As a result, there is also a price problem – this was a real challenge in terms of timing; it still is. But we have some news that I think is super exciting for new prospects: In the past, you often developed a hardware and a firmware; that sometimes took two years or even longer. Then they presented it at a trade show; customers looked at it and so on. – The current approach is to involve the customer in the development at a very early stage. Nevertheless, this is not a customer-specific device, but is intended for a wide range of applications. However, you then take Friendly Customers and include them in the development team – they then give feedback and sometimes even drive the development forward with their features and their requirements.

That’s right, in the end it’s really about not only creating something customer-specific, but also finding out best practices that you can transfer to possible further use cases. – If I have similar challenges now, how does the current use case translate to others? In the end, you develop hardware that is scalable and theoretically transferable to any use cases, right?

Ben

Yes, that was and still is the intention. Everywhere where IO-Link sensors or wireless communication, wireless, can be used: That’s what this gateway is for. We also see ourselves as an enabler for the sensor manufacturers – for example, to present the sensors to various customers, machine builders and so on.

Exactly, you also work with a wide variety of large manufacturers on the market. Without giving away too many names, but a few of them are also in our network, such as ifm. Of course, they are also pioneers in this area.

Transferability, Scaling, and Next Steps - Here's how you can use this use case.

Juan, maybe last question in your direction: how can this use case be transferred from YOUR point of view?

Juan

There is a whole range of possible applications. There is another significant point. At AWS, it is very, very important to us to be drivers of innovation. We are in the middle of a digitization revolution, I would almost say. That means that when we look at what needs to be done today, it is essentially about inventing new use cases and really focusing on establishing them, and not thinking about the platform, where all the elements are basically already there. But rather, you should think about leveraging the whole thing, really focusing on the business, and just trying to drive innovation as quickly as possible.


Exactly, that is ultimately the key factor, to really get these innovations on the road and to look at business potential – both the cost perspective and customers who want to make new profits with this IoT technology. If you are interested, you can deepen the conversations with you again: The contacts are linked in the show notes. And maybe soon we’ll talk to Ben more about how machine learning is being used and can scale. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit

Host & General Manager
IoT Use Case Podcast