FM Issue: Power Protection For IoT Connection

IoT Internet of Things
(Photo: Thinkstock)

By Dan McGinn
From the July/August 2016 Issue

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a megatrend affecting the far-reaching corners of the globe. At its heart, the IoT concept centers on the idea that devices possess more intelligence and are more connected than in the past, constantly providing and consuming information via the Internet. Research firms IDC and Gartner have expounded on its impact: a predicted 6.4 billion connected “things” will be in existence by the end of this year, driving a market that will reach $1.7 trillion by the beginning of the next decade.

While the term “IoT” may be just a few years old, it has been a growing trend for quite some time. In industrial environments, for instance, the scale of deployment and the degree to which IoT connections are relied upon is reaching critical mass. In fact, the World Economic Forum claims it is “IoT’s industrial applications or the ‘Industrial Internet,’ which may ultimately dwarf the consumer side in potential business and socioeconomic impacts” adding “the Industrial Internet will transform many industries…” with adoption continuing to increase (growth of over five times was seen between 2012 and 2014 alone).

As IoT looms larger, the importance of the communication and control systems that connect IoT devices, and leverage and make sense of all the data generated, has also grown. These technologies have become critical for driving improvements in productivity, quality, and system availability. And it is increasingly imperative that these systems be protected from a very real threat facing facilities within any industry, from industrial to commercial: loss of power and power related disturbances. Issues such as these are capable of disrupting the entire communication chain—a chain that can be quite long, resulting in potential loss of data and interruptions to production and operational continuity.

Because of this, it is vital that any organization depending on IoT technology for important application needs assess its power protection strategy to ensure important data isn’t permanently lost during an outage.

“The Brains” Behind “The Mains”

Facility management experts familiar with the issues that affect facilities and their environments understand certain “main” loads (which constitute the primary power feed to a given system or appliance and is often the only feed) warrant full power protection. This is likely to be any technology, process, or piece of equipment that would cause harm or damage if shutdown unexpectedly because of a power outage. More often than not, in a well-equipped facility, these loads are connected to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which provides backup power following a utility outage.

But, what many may not consider is the increasing need for power backup of the intelligence within the equipment and machinery that keeps an industrial IoT facility together. Ensuring these “brains” on the industrial operation or facility—the systems for controlling IoT processes, such as sensors, programmable logic controllers, building management systems, security systems, and the networks that enable them—stay up and running is increasingly important.

Should an outage occur, having a UPS in place—even a small one—would allow these systems to remain up and running for a given length of time. Now, you might ask, “Isn’t this what generators are for?” And the answer, frankly, is no.

Generators can provide higher volume, longer duration power to a full facility or facility system, but precious data can be lost in the few seconds it takes for the generator to become operational. A UPS, on the other hand, is triggered instantaneously, saving the sensor and controller data currently in transmission as well as maintaining ongoing collection of information.

Consider the security systems in most modern industrial or commercial facilities, which are often IP-enabled, and connected and powered over Ethernet networks. In power loss situations, the uptime for this technology becomes even more critical and warrants UPS backup.

In an ideal world, all critical “brain” loads throughout a facility would be backed up individually, but this isn’t always the reality. Simply adding a UPS onto every system in the facility isn’t cost-effective. Instead, to ensure uptime while keeping expenses in check, it will be necessary to rethink power backup strategies. One recommendation is grouping certain pieces of equipment, so these can share the same existing UPS.

Another is exploring and investigating new UPS solutions, such as a managed UPS that has alert functionality and enables customized outlet configurations (i.e., which solution is backed up and when). These types of systems can also remotely shut off power to certain outlets to reboot them or preserve battery life for other, more critical, devices.

In order to understand which systems warrant backup, facility management leaders need to ask questions about what happens to various systems should they lose power. What does it take to get the systems back up and running? What sorts of critical data may be lost? But the buck doesn’t stop there. Once determined, it is essential that backup solutions remain operational and ongoing maintenance be performed.

UPS Maintenance

As more UPS technology is integrated into and relied upon in facility systems to keep the IoT connection running, properly maintaining these solutions is critical. Batteries, which provide the core of a backup solution, can often be neglected and are the most common reason for backup power failure. In order to keep a UPS operating at maximum efficiency and avoid downtime, care must be taken to ensure proper operation.

Modern UPS technology has simplified ongoing maintenance processes. Many new designs offer regular, automatic status update functionality, enabling users to collect and monitor information on UPS performance and life cycle. New types of cloud-based digital services that monitor entire networks of devices can also make systems more predictive and proactive by obtaining live access to data that enables visibility into equipment performance, maintenance, and service requirements.

Beyond this, regular, hands-on inspections can help to assure a UPS is operating properly. During these procedures, it is recommended that records of the type of maintenance performed and condition of equipment be kept for benchmarking purposes. Data on UPS degradation—reduced battery runtime, for instance, can facilitate in identifying potential future failures. When providing maintenance inspections to a UPS, a few general best practices are recommended.

  • Take a proactive approach to battery and full UPS replacement. A UPS more than five years old has a higher likelihood of internal component failures, causing a higher risk for downtime.
  • Be prepared and anticipate potential needs by having battery replacements on-site, if storage allows. This helps to increase availability and decrease the overall length of maintenance procedures (i.e., downtime).
  • Remain organized by routinely scheduling maintenance inspections that include documentation on what procedures were performed and when.

IEEE Standard 1184-2006 describes various battery systems and covers the design, selection, installation, maintenance, and testing of stationary standby batteries used in UPS systems.

If unable to perform the maintenance in-house due to time constraints or lack of trained personnel, partners such as equipment manufacturers can provide a host of services to ensure the uptime of the UPS and other electrical equipment in a facility, even if they did not specifically manufacture it.

Examples of machines, processes, and devices that could benefit from UPS backup are plenty, especially in this IoT era. Ensuring these various elements stay up and running isn’t an unbeatable challenge. These systems, while critical, often require little power. But it is a problem that requires attention. IoT is simply too important to leave such power protection decisions to chance.

IoT Internet of ThingsMcGinn is the director of secure power systems at Schneider Electric. In this role, he is responsible for business development strategies and execution in the area of UPS and related technologies for the industry and infrastructure spaces. McGinn has over 20 years of experience in process automation, energy management, and manufacturing IT systems with extensive experience in the application of UPS technology. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

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