Can You Stand the Heat?

By JC Ramirez

VP of Engineering and Product Management

ADL Embedded Solutions, Inc.

November 23, 2020

Story

Can You Stand the Heat?

Rugged Devices Used in the Oil & Gas, 5G Cell Towers, and Smart Grids Need to Operate Reliably in Extreme Heat and Cold.

Introduction

Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) has provided a digital transformation and disrupted industrial segments in many ways. Unlike commercial and typical industrial products, these connected rugged devices must perform well in punishing environments.

  • Oil & Gas Exploration
  • Outdoor 5G Infrastructures
  • Remote Smart Power Grids

The Beginning of a New Era

The Oil & Gas Gold Rush

By providing remote monitoring and data analysis capability, IIoT will help the industry increase efficiency, profits, and reliability. According to market research firm McKinsey, revenue related to IIoT improvements could potentially reach $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025.

Oil & Gas exploration sites are typically remote and not easily reachable. With many oil rigs and offshore oil drilling companies operating in rugged and hazardous environments, workers have health and safety concerns as these machines and equipment operate in extreme heat and cold. To generate profits, operators of such sites are motivated to reduce non-productive time (NPT) which could run up billions of dollars from issues like drilling machine and SCADA equipment breakdown, spills, emergency shutdowns, pipeline problems, and the challenges of remote site management. At the same time, there is incentive to reduce operating costs by minimizing workers’ onsite activities with remote monitoring.

IIoT can digitize and automate the process by providing real-time, round the clock remote site monitoring and data for preventive maintenance which helps to minimize machine shutdowns. While traditionally workers perform manual data collection and machine maintenance, IIoT reduces travel to remote sites, minimizes worksite accidents, and increases machine uptime…sometimes significantly.  Because oil & gas is very asset intensive, IIoT can also provide asset tracking and monitoring to ensure high utilization.

Figure 1: Oil and Gas Platform Challenges and IIoT Improvement Potential

To avoid work stoppages, the machinery and equipment used must be extremely dependable with long life (long MTBF) and work reliably in extreme environments. Downtime due to equipment failure can be very costly both in time lost for failure analysis and repair as well as the opportunity cost of idle capacity for the oil platform.

The Transitioning from 4G to 5G

The super speed 5G, supporting 20Gbps, is becoming a reality. It will revolutionize many industries including smart cities, autonomous driving, and remote surgery assistance in medicine, enabling applications not possible before. Many companies and research institutions have already started the smart city experiment. As an example, it has been demonstrated that in a smart city, computer vision and machine learning can be used with a smart camera installed at the top of a smart streetlight capable of monitoring traffic. Additionally, it can tell the difference between a bicycle and an automobile and can count vehicles. When the traffic is slow or jammed, the smart streetlight will communicate to a display to reroute traffic. When an ambulance drives by, the smart traffic signals will synchronize to allow the ambulance to come through. The nearby hospital or clinic will be alerted in advance of the approaching ambulance with the condition of the patient ahead of time so the caregivers will be ready.

So how will 4G be transitioning to 5G? New cell towers need to be built but it won’t happen overnight. Initially, the 4G infrastructure will be shared with added 5G capability. Then it will be transitioned over to new 5G cell towers. 5G carriers are rushing to be among the first to provide such services. Reliable service is critical. 5G outdoor equipment, including the gateway devices, will need to operate reliably under all weather conditions. Equipment failure must be avoided at all costs. Blackouts not only lose revenue, they may also mean the irreversible loss of leadership and market share. Therefore, using equipment with high mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) is critical. In outdoor environments, 5G equipment and gateway devices need to have small form factor to fit in the small spaces available on cell towers.

The Coming of the Smart Power Grids

The power grid has been around for many years. Its basic function is to deliver electrical power from power plants to residential and industrial users. IIoT is transferring the grid into a smart power grid which enables better communication including faster access to data and more efficient use of clean and smart energy when the demand is low.  According to an SAS report from 2019, 57% of utilities are using some form of IoT, implying the market is ready.

IIoT has the potential to enable better efficiency for the power grid in several ways:

  • Smart meters can measure and communicate electricity use to utility companies in real-time via networks.
  • Monitor the grid with sensors to report problems and damages caused by storms.
  • Analysis to predict overuse in hot weather and prevent black outs.
  • Management of renewable energy. With the advancement of solar energy and equipment, the smart grid will enable better use and trade between utility companies and customers with solar panels. When customers generate excess power, they can sell it to the utility companies.

The smart grid operation depends on the cloud connection and needs to have reliable communication in extreme environments. Therefore, equipment needs to perform reliably 24/7 with minimum maintenance as most of the grids are in remote areas - sending a crew to do routine maintenance can be costly. Equipment must be compact, operate reliably in hazardous weather, and have long life.

Finally, grid technology has been around for a long time and often lacks cybersecurity. The Ukraine power grid cyberattack in 2016 left 230,000 residents without electricity and shows the critical need for the cybersecurity of power grids. This means that cybersecurity must be a major consideration for any IIoT technology upgrades that are implemented by government, state, and local regulators and power utilities.                            

Development Challenges

The new era presents developers and solution providers both opportunities and challenges. In the industrial segments such as oil and gas, 5G deployment and smart grids, the infrastructure systems must work reliably in rugged and hazardous environments for extended periods of time without failure.  

What are the critical design criteria? The following list provides a summary of the six most important design requirements for developers and solution providers to consider.

§  System Critical - Perform reliably in mission critical, rugged environments. Failure to perform or operate intermittently has dire consequences. It is important to specify components to meet the demands of rugged environments, including using a high-IP chassis, pass the shock and vibration tests, and meet all EMI and ISO standards. 

§  Small Form Factor - Most of the outdoor applications, whether it is a 5G cell tower or remote smart grid, have existing equipment infrastructure into which IIoT improvements must fit. This means that size and power are at a premium and the more compact the edge device or other equipment is, the easier the task in integration will be.

§  Extreme Temperature - Perform reliably in extended temperature ranges (-40-85C). Outdoor and offshore temperature can fluctuate a great deal. Being able to stand the extreme heat and cold is a must.

§  Long Life (MTBF) - The cost of system maintenance in remote, rugged areas is extremely high. The systems need rugged design with long mean-time-between-failure results. Failure to perform in these industrial environments is costly and increases liability. When workers are sent to troubleshoot the equipment, they are exposed to hazardous situations.

§  Long Term Availability – Due to the high development costs of any computer design, it is important to protect the hardware and software solution within a system. As workloads and performance demand increase, new solutions with high performance processors will be required. Most commercial products provide support up to 7 years. In industrial applications support and services up 15 years are often needed.

§  World Class Support - Support and services from a reputable supplier whether it is component, software or modules are extremely important. In mission-critical applications, tech support, product support, and availability are the lifeline for both users and developers.

Picking the Right System Design Approach

What design approach should developers and solution providers take? There are two general approaches to consider. One is buying standard off-the-shelf (COTS) products and the other is choosing custom designs.

Examples of COTS products are ADLES’ line of compact systems: ADLEPC-1500, ADLEPC-1520, ADLEPC-1600, and just released ADLEPC-1700 fanless embedded PCs. They all have small form factors, a wide operating temperature range and multiple types of input / output ports that enable easy expansion, customization and integration. All are based on the Intel Atom® processor, which provides superior and reliable performance and all systems are Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT. See Figure 2 and 3 below.

Figure 2: ADLES’ compact chassis offer multiple expansion and additional I/O options and possibilities in a very small footprint.

Figure 3 : Standard or Custom Design

The advantage of selecting a standard off-the-shelf product is availability. Usually, they can be shipped in a short period of time. However, in many occasions, developers have special requirements due to space constraints and I/O specifications. ADLES has solved these problems with custom designs. Customers have needed a variety of I/O combinations such as unique combinations of USB 2.0/3.0, SATA and other options.

Additionally, ADLES provides solutions with either vertical or horizontal expansion. Within an infrastructure, the space inside an equipment enclosure is often limited. To add new equipment or to retrofit can be challenging. Therefore, the flexibility of adding a module vertically or horizontally as provided by ADLES is especially useful. Figure 4 and 5.

Figure 4: ADLES provides custom design with horizontal expansion.

Figure 5: ADLES provides custom design with vertical expansion.

Summary

Regardless of which system design approach is chosen, reliable operability in all extreme and rugged conditions for extended periods of time without failure is key to overcome these development challenges. Companies like ADL Embedded Solutions, Inc. recognizes the tremendous cost and time of designing, developing, and customizing embedded system solutions for these specific industrial applications by offering robust technical, engineering, and design support to meet customers’ expectations and requirements.  


About the Author

JC Ramirez is the VP of Engineering and Product Management at ADL Embedded Solutions, Inc, a leading provider of high-performance embedded systems targeting demanding thermal and rugged environments for industrial and military applications.

JC (BSEE, MBA) has a technical background that includes Navy nuclear plant operation, nuclear instrumentation, semiconductor product development, and embedded systems engineering.

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Experienced Product Engineering Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the computer hardware industry. Skilled in Research and Development (R&D), Engineering Management, Engineering, Strategic Planning, and Business Development. Strong engineering professional with a MBA focused in Executive MBA Program from San Diego State University-California State University.

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