The smart revolution has brought with it many changes. For the first time, machines are sharing information with other machines, creating a networked environment in which data is processed and decisions are made autonomously. For many of us, this technology has found its primary application in the smart home.
The concept of the smart home is based upon household devices that share data with each other. Whether it is a refrigerator that orders its own groceries, or a smart meter that monitors energy consumption remotely, all of these innovations are made possible by the internet.
An IoT Chain is Only as Strong as its Weakest Link.
Have you Considered the Challenges of the Connector in Your Harsh Environment IoT Design?
The common name for this network of connected devices is the Internet of Things (IoT), and with the introduction of 5G communications technology, the potential for machine-to-machine communication has taken a great leap forward. With 5G connectivity, devices no longer need to be part of a wired network in order to share data at the high speed required for modern communications.
The result of this expansion in machine-to-machine communications is that many different industries are able to take advantage of the benefits of connected devices. The ability to share and process information is starting to blur the previously clear lines between sectors as diverse as manufacturing, energy production, agriculture and even urban planning. All can make use of the power of the smart revolution.
The goal of smart technology is to integrate all the different activities that contribute to the output of a system. The ideal example of the smart factory sees supply chain, production, maintenance and scheduling all integrated into a single entity. In a traditional factory, all these activities would be conducted separately.
In the new model, data is collected from sensors at every step of the process and shared with the whole network in order to help make decisions. In this way, the supply chain can ensure that raw materials are provided to the production line at the right time, and logistics can plan to provide transport for the finished goods just as they become ready.
The smart factory provides one of the clearest examples of this machine-to-machine communication at work. The production line process that has dominated manufacturing for a hundred years lends itself well to this type of integration. Each of the separate steps that make up the production process can be linked and unified to provide a more efficient result.
It is so powerful a concept for this sector that it has even coined a new term – Industry 4.0. This describes the 4th industrial revolution in which data becomes as important a raw material as steel or cotton did 2 centuries ago.
The hardware that collects this information needs to be robust and reliable. The factory floor is not a benign environment, and electronic devices must be designed to withstand the high temperatures, vibration and chemicals that are found there.
Within the agricultural industry, there is a trend that parallels the innovations seen in manufacturing, and the result is the smart farm. Sometimes known as precision farming, this technology embraces the latest sensor, computing, and connectivity technologies, and uses data to enable farmers to maximise their yield. The information is used to monitor everything from soil conditions to the health of livestock, allowing the farmer to make the best use of resources to ensure the greatest productivity.
New technology is vital to managing this information. The reduced size of modern electronics, lower production costs and efficient power consumption makes it possible to deploy an array of sensors in the wide-open spaces of the farm. Devices can be deployed to a static location within a field or fixed to a dynamic platform such as a tractor or combined harvester, and the connectivity provided by 5G allows them to form a single network that shares and analyses data over a large area.
The farming environment is just as harsh as the conditions found on the factory floor, although the challenges are somewhat different. Whereas industrial devices need to withstand the heat and vibration of constantly moving machinery, agricultural equipment will be deployed for months or even years in the open air, exposed to wind, rain and sunlight. However, even the traditional farming environment is changing.
In abandoned subways and tunnels around the world, a new type of farmer is tending crops using the latest technology. Growing plants in enriched liquids rather than soil and using artificial sunlight, this new urban farm is producing food regardless of the weather or time of year.
These urban farms are not only embracing the latest smart technology, but they also rely upon it. Removing the dependence on traditional growing seasons allows these farms to provide food year-round, but to do so requires growing conditions to be monitored constantly in order to achieve the best yield. This would be almost impossible without smart technology, and the agricultural industry demands smart devices that can function in tough conditions, whether above ground or below it.
The way we create and distribute energy is also changing. Conventional power networks have dominated the last century. Energy is generated in traditional coal, gas or nuclear power stations which benefit from the economies of scale. These feed energy into a network or grid to be distributed over high-tension power cables for use in homes and factories.
The infrastructure associated with powering a nation is costly. Miles of above-ground power lines and substations to convert the energy into a usable voltage impose massive installation and maintenance requirements. Despite this, for many years the conventional power grid has represented the most efficient method to provide power.
New methods of producing energy are allowing local generation to become a viable alternative to the traditional network. Instead of relying on large-scale power stations, users can now generate power efficiently at a much smaller scale.
Known as distributed energy resources (DER), these are typically power plants of less than 10 megawatts capacity. In addition, many DERs are using sources that reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, including wind, solar and the latest techniques such as biomass-fueled power plants.
Unlike the passive customers of the traditional power grid, paying for the power they use, the consumers of the smart grid become active participants. Information is collected in real time and shared with the network to allow the proper allocation of resources, enabling DERs to play a major role in the balance of supply and demand.
The Smart City
For the first time, the Internet of Things is providing the framework for a complete smart city. The smart city combines all elements of modern living, from transportation and traffic management to air quality and power distribution, to create a single ecosystem that is designed to improve quality of life.
Residents interact with the city using their smartphones, homes and even their cars to allow the city’s infrastructure to be reconfigured according to need. Such elements as traffic congestion and energy distribution can be managed to provide the maximum efficiency.
With a system of this scale, data will need to be collected and distributed across a large area. The hardware, from cameras to air sensors, will have much in common with the smart farm. The devices themselves will need to have minimal maintenance requirements even while being exposed to the elements for long periods of time. In these circumstances, designers must select components that they can rely on to provide reliability throughout the life of the equipment.
Choosing Your Connector
Whether this new technology is deployed on a farm or at the heart of the city, the environment is the greatest challenge for designers. Exposed to a wide range of temperatures, moisture and prolonged exposure to sunlight, these devices must protect the sensitive electronics within.
Connectors present one of the most important components in providing the correct interface while creating a tight seal against the ingress of water.
Extremes of temperature will also influence the protection of the equipment. Devices designed to be installed outside may be exposed to the cold of mid-winter in the Canadian north or the temperatures of equatorial Africa.
This variation of temperature means that designers must choose materials with care to ensure that they continue to perform at each extreme. In addition, some polymers become unstable under prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) component of natural daylight.
The Bulgin Circular Connector Family includes a comprehensive range of solutions that are ideal for smart applications. The waterproof design is sealed to IP69K, and the housings are manufactured in a choice of metal or polyamide. This is an ideal material for use in field applications as it is strong, resistant to corrosion and stable when subjected to UV radiation. The Bulgin range offers great versatility, with options including Power, Signal, Data and Fiber Optic connectivity.
The Smart Revolution is with us and will find new applications in a wide range of industries. Whether wired or wireless, the devices that form the backbone of smart technology will need connectors that provide power, data and signal in some of the toughest environments on Earth. In order to cope with ever-increasing demand for these advanced services, devices will need to be maintenance-free, scalable and easy to upgrade.
Selecting connectors that will function reliably in the years to come will play a huge part in the longevity of your design. Make sure you choose a connectivity partner you can trust to deliver reliability and performance.