Start with temperature sensors. Tempted to try LoRaWAN but unsure where to begin?
In this article, John Tillema, Chief Technology Officer of TWTG, covers the basics of LoRaWAN and reflects on the questions most heard and the fundamental ones often overlooked. John shares the first steps to take when evaluating this new technology for your future roadmap and considers some lessons learned in bringing this pioneering technology to the industry.
As the CTO of a modern tech company – and championing a pioneering technology like LoRaWAN – I see it’s easy to quickly get left behind. Technology develops incredibly quick; often, we run so fast that, at times, we overlook the rudimentary questions needed to be addressed when deciding which technological route is best to adopt.
We increasingly see LoRaWAN making a mark in the oil and gas industry. With companies like Shell rolling out LoRaWAN networks in increasingly higher volumes across the globe, this doesn’t go unnoticed. LoRaWAN is officially on the radar.
For the executives and engineers involved in introducing these projects – whether developing new refineries or updating old ones – it’s undoubtedly an exciting time and represents new horizons and opportunities for a data-driven age.
But for others, we understand that it’s still a daunting subject – and recognise, at times, it’s good to return to basics.
Why Should I consider LoRAWAN?
LoRaWAN. So you have heard the term, but what does it really boil down to? Well, first, LoRa stands for Long Range. And this is not a marketing exaggeration; its range is long – actually, it’s really long. Think kilometres between transmitter and receiver. And this is what makes it unique. Even after factoring in double redundancy, a typical industrial facility only requires three or four gateways to be fully covered, with every gateway capable of serving up to 10.000 devices.
And best of all; it’s also very low power – resulting in battery powered devices that can last close to ten years and still be able to relay data multiple times a day.
Put like this, you can understand why LoRaWAN is rapidly gaining such momentum and popularity within the industry.
No downsides? Well, the bandwidth is only bites, so probably don’t use it for your remote cameras or big data use cases. And since LoRaWAN architecture is optimised for device-initiated communication it fits use cases that revolve around remote measuring instead of remotely operated assets.
In short, LoRaWAN scales brilliantly and is perfect for sensor applications. It is low-cost and offers trouble-free, wire-free placement, with battery-powered sensors that last years. And most importantly, for industrial applications, it could even be used with devices certified for ATEX or IECEx surroundings down to zone 0.
Does LoRaWAN work with other solutions?
This question is often asked when engineers and system architects worry about choosing one solution over another.
Firstly, the quick answer is yes. LoRaWAN, as an open-source solution, is free from any vendor lock-in, and data can be integrated into most other solutions and DCSs.
However, there is a good argument for investing in more than one solution. A combination can give maximum protection, and maximum data. Bringing you close to the digital twin.
Within a modern oil or gas refinery, there are enormous amounts of digital communication to relay and operational data to harvest. To consider that a single solution could be optimal to cover all your monitoring and data harvesting could be false. The best advice is to get the right tool for the job.
LoRaWAN can certainly monitor critical assets, particularly regarding long-term wear, asset status and gathering predictive-maintenance data. However, we recognise that occasionally there may be a scenario where a far more costly solution, such as WirelessHART, may be a better option for a super-critical component that requires instant action and constant supervision. For example, continuous monitoring, instant alerts or immediate 2-way control to avoid certain downtime or possible catastrophe.
Remember, that while there may be a very occasional use case where LoRaWAN may not be the best solution, LoRaWAN is still ideally suited and adaptable to meet the majority of day-to-day use cases and data harvesting needs.
In addition, in a technological age where data analysis is a crucial differentiator, LoRaWAN presents a plethora of new applications and use cases that will give engineers novel ways to view, scrutinise and manage a facility, and crucially share powerful data.
What do I need to get started?
To quote an old expression. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”, and compared to other industrial wireless protocols, LoRaWAN is one of the easiest to just start.
So, what do you need to get started?
The three components needed in every LoRaWAN network
First, you need a LoRaWAN Gateway – This is the center of your installation. And acts as a router for the network. This gateway has “normal” internet access on one side (either LAN or 4G) and LoRaWAN on the other. This allows the LoRAWAN devices to be reachable remotely and acts as a gatekeeper to send messages in and out.
Next to that you need a data entry and end point. In the LoRaWAN world, these are the network and application server.This software routes messages through the network and manages gateways, security keys, access, etc. There are great cloud-hosted solutions perfect for initial tests.
Sometimes it is desired to move this layer inside the OT domain with self-hosted options when rolling out. But with different vendors available and even open sourced software options with great support, even these self hosted alternatives are no issue.
Lastly, you need a sensor. As well as our own retrofittable TWTG NEON sensors, numerous options are available – from vibration sensors that monitor rotating equipment to valve sensors that monitor the position of the valve. Having a LoRa network is like a wifi network. Connecting a device is just a matter of entering the correct security key. Depending on the use case, some require custom brackets or special installations to gather data reliably. Others need more software integration to visualise the data where it is needed, from a cloud hosted IoT platform or even, for some cases, inside a DCS.
Why start with Temperature Sensors?
Working closely with our customers, we see that often our NEON magnet-mounted surface temperature sensors are the most popular among the first tests.
Why? Simply because these sensors are the easiest to deploy in the field.
Magnet mounted, or bandclamps, mean no engineering in the mounting and adjustability to find the optimum location. Surface temperature readings can indicate a perfect health status or point to a potential issue inside a process.
Sensors can quickly identify issues such as whether the heating is correct, the pipe is filled, or the product is close to freezing. Knowledge like this has a direct impact on the bottom line. Data can be readily interpreted using simple temperature logs with fixed time intervals or alerts sent when remotely configured thresholds are met.
For engineers new to this type of monitoring, it is clear to see the instantaneous result. LoRaWAN delivers actionable insights rather than a retrospective graph that nobody ever sees or benefits from.
Motivated to see what all the fuss is about? Then contact our team below, and we can help you start testing with a NEON temperature sensor. It couldn’t be easier.