Industrial Edge Networking Hardware: Evolution of IoT Networking Form Factors for Remote Monitoring Markets

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By Tancred Taylor | 4Q 2023 | IN-7116

CoreTigo’s bridge devices show one way in which edge networking hardware is evolving for industrial automation and remote monitoring markets, highlighting how much space for innovation there is for Internet of Things (IoT) hardware.

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CoreTigo Continues to Receive Industry Approval


CoreTigo is an Israeli startup focused on one industrial automation issue: adding wireless connectivity to wired sensors using “bridge” devices. Bridge devices take inputs from wired analog and digital sensors and backhaul data wirelessly, allowing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or machine operators to reduce wiring, while maintaining the reliability and throughput of wired connections. CoreTigo achieves these capabilities by using IO-Link Wireless to connect the bridge device to an IO-Link Master device, backhauling data to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), server, or cloud. CoreTigo has also partnered with NXTGN, a vendor offering LTE-M gateways, to increase the number of ways for data to get from the IO-Link Wireless bridge at the edge to the cloud. Bridge devices can be retrofitted to existing sensors, sold alongside new off-the-shelf sensors, or embedded into machines and equipment.

Founded in 2017, CoreTigo has successfully raised multiple funding rounds since this date and has seen a succession of industrial partners lining up to use its technology. In June 2023, the company announced its latest funding round of US$18 million, with prominent industry investors such as the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, Emerson Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, and Verizon Ventures. CoreTigo also regularly announces new partnerships with industrial automation vendors and machine builders, with the bulk of these in robotics systems, packaging and conveyance machines, and other equipment requiring monitoring or control. Its most recent partnership in October 2023 was with industrial OEM Schmalz to replace cabling with wireless connectivity to monitor and control vacuum generators on robotic arms.

Edge Networking Hardware Is Evolving


Bridge devices have grown in popularity over the past 3 to 4 years in particular. These devices allow machines to be retrofitted or embedded with wireless capabilities without the need for significant additional networking infrastructure investments, process changes, or equipment rip-and-replace – important in markets where equipment usually lasts longer than a decade. The architecture of industrial automation remains the same with machines, gateways, and PLCs; instead, it is the hardware that is evolving to facilitate data acquisition and backhaul, while slotting seamlessly into Operational Technology (OT) operations.

Bridge devices have the additional advantage of being able to plug into any type of sensor and backhaul the data—in other words, offering a modular and sensor-agnostic way of adding wireless capabilities. Given the variety of sensors used for industrial automation, it is, at best, impractical to replace existing sensors and protocols with new wireless devices. Bridge devices take advantage of already-installed sensors and existing industrial automation protocols, simply adding a layer of value with wireless communication.

Bridge devices are only one of the ways in which networking hardware is evolving to facilitate industrial automation. Another important way that has been gaining traction in the past few years is the growth of wireless multi-sensor interface devices. These devices are, in effect, miniaturized Data Acquisition (DAQ) systems, sacrificing some function and performance in favor of flexibility, size, and cost. Multi-sensor interface devices sit at the machine edge, and allow a small number of wired sensors to be connected to it using a variety of industrial protocols; the device then backhauls the data in the same way as a gateway.

The advantages of this approach are similar to those of bridge devices: these devices use existing industrial automation protocols, high-reliability industrial sensors, and offer great flexibility in the types of sensors that are connected to the interface. For example, pieces of rotating equipment that require monitoring often need multiple sensor types (e.g., temperature, vibration, oil level, and others) installed at different critical points on the machine. Wired sensors are needed to ensure that sensors can be placed on the different parts of the machines, while the multi-sensor interface aggregates all of these data and backhauls them wirelessly. As sensor fusion software or remote monitoring software moves closer to the edge, these devices will become increasingly critical parts of the OT environment, in particular for simple monitoring applications. Larger DAQ systems will continue to fill their existing role in continuous monitoring applications.

The World between the Machine and the Gateway


Wireless Internet of things (IoT) in industrial remote monitoring markets is different from that in many other IoT applications. While there are a number of applications where IoT sensor devices can be retrofitted onto machines and equipment in a “standard” IoT architecture, wireless industrial automation comes with a much greater diversity of needs.

The evolution of edge networking hardware in the form of bridge devices and multi-sensor interfaces reflect these changes, with the focus on sensor-agnosticism and on adding a wireless layer on top of existing sensors. Only a minor part of the networking innovation in remote monitoring markets comes from the transition of routers, industrial gateways, and controllers from Ethernet to 4G and 5G. The most significant innovation instead comes at the machine edge: namely, how data are actually taken from machines, and what happens to these data in the multiple layers before they even reach the industrial gateway level.

Vendors looking to enhance their industrial automation portfolios should continue to innovate at these levels. Banner Engineering is a strong example of a company having the flexibility required to address the huge diversity of needs across industries and machine types, merging wired and wireless technologies, and focusing on reducing the complexity of data acquisition from the edge. While much of the focus in industrial automation, rightly, is on software and applications, there is a huge amount of innovation happening at the device level—with regard to form factors and device intelligence—which should not be ignored. Companies like CoreTigo are important in highlighting this fact through their success over the past 6 years, demonstrating the ongoing importance of edge networking hardware innovation.



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