What Are The Potentials Of The Cloud For The Future Measurement Technology

Sensor. Amplifier. Software. This is the “traditional” measurement chain, as used for decades in test and inspection projects, and production and infrastructure monitoring. However, this measurement chain is now changing because of cloud technology. What advantages does cloud technology offer the user? Where can we expect the greatest leaps ahead in terms of efficiency and innovation? And moreover, what are the risks of using this new technology?

From the sensor to the cloud: this is the new measurement chain, which today, in the age of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things, is coming into being right now. One standard function – already available today in HBM’s EVIDAS test and measuring software – is the storage of measured data in the cloud. But this technology has far more exciting potential than mere data storage. The future of cloud measurement technology lies in the fact that data don’t travel from one storage location to another: instead, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, they instantly – and in many cases automatically – become useful, in communications, in controlling machines, and in preventive maintenance, for example.

But let’s examine the subject more systematically. And we’ll start with the question: what is the cloud? Let’s simply use the definition by Microsoft Azure, HBM’s preferred partner for cloud implementation:

"Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services – servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics and more – over the Internet (“the cloud”)”.

The measurement technology cloud combines these functions

This definition is already extremely helpful. It tells us that the cloud is not just a storage location. It is a great deal more than that. In the cloud measurement chain, depending on the data connection measured data can be transmitted to data centers in parallel, so that monitoring of measurement technology can be coordinated and managed around the world at all times (24 hours a day, 365 days a year). High frequency raw data are also saved in the cloud in parallel at certain intervals. This way, hot stream analyses (post-processing in the current data stream) can be conducted for alarms and trend analyses even during measurement. But more complex analyses of raw data, which require a high computing capacity, also become possible, as modern cloud solutions allow you to book computing time when needed. This creates flexibility where the use and exchange of (virtual) hardware technologies are concerned, and also cuts the cost of the IT infrastructure.

Typical fields of application for the measurement technology cloud

In fact, nearly every application involving the use of a sensor and amplifier could be affected by this development.

For example:

Tests and inspections in the cloud: Faster coordination of global development processes

All over the world, developers of technological products are under growing pressure to reduce the time to market. On the one hand, the testing and inspection of components and entire systems are increasingly being virtualized (e.g. by the use of virtual tests); on the other hand, they are becoming ever more complex and are increasingly conducted alongside product development. Whether the number of measuring points increases or decreases due to new test methods such as machine learning (both outcomes are conceivable): the end result is that the user is faced with the challenge of growing data volumes, sometimes in test projects running in parallel worldwide, with more advanced analytical tasks. Only the intelligent interweaving of data and performing analyses in the cloud will enable this high speed product development in the era of the IIoT. The availability and comprehensibility of measured data are also important factors. Cloud technologies enable data to be accessed worldwide by authorized parties, and improve information flow and work in international teams. As one very concrete example, an HBM customer is currently using cloud storage to monitor its test benches at three different sites.

Production monitoring and machines that learn: No Industry 4.0 without the measurement technology cloud

Production monitoring and machine control are already fairly established where use of the cloud for measurement technology is concerned. And this is undoubtedly where discussion about possible standards and processes have made the most progress. In addition to protocols such as http, CoAP, XMPP and MQTT, the debate is currently about enabling machine-to-machine (M2M) communication protocols. In other words, about the ability not just to transport machine data (control variables, measured values, parameters, etc.), but also to describe them semantically so that they are machine-readable (as in OPC UA). In smart production and machine systems in which, ultimately, machines will communicate with one another, the role of sensors is growing in importance. While major digitization advances are not yet evident (or necessary) in the world of sensors, signal conditioners (such as the ClipX from HBM) play a key part.

Long-term infrastructure monitoring

A real model application for the use of the measurement technology cloud is long-term infrastructure monitoring, e.g. in structural health monitoring (SHM) projects. Monitoring of bridges, buildings, tunnels and structures such as pipelines and wind turbines is ideal for cloud use. For one thing, data are collected over long periods of time, while it would be impossible to have an engineer on site at all times. In fact, access to measured data via the cloud is a must. However, even today, the cloud has more to offer these applications: measurements are evaluated in parallel, reports and analyses are compiled and provided as logs that comply with the law and can also be accessed by partners and contractors. The process can be monitored at any time by the quality management system and audit processes. And importantly, it allows highly efficient predictive maintenance measures, and swift intervention on the occurrence of undesirable events or even disasters.

What is still putting the brakes on the measurement technology cloud today?

As our examples show, the measurement technology cloud already has many uses today – some standard, some individual. As for other applications, these are still dreams for the time being, but thanks to rapid technological advances in this field, they are now much closer to the real than the visionary.

Moreover, despite the numerous obvious advantages, using the cloud for measurement technology is still difficult for many users. It may not fit in current company and development processes, for example, can be tricky to link to existing IT systems and, last but not least, there are security considerations to overcome.

But none of these obstacles is unsurmountable. Changing market and technological requirements seem to indicate that they will not endure much longer:

  • Development processes are becoming faster and more global, whether we like it or not. Therefore, the only companies that will survive are those that use the cloud to exploit the opportunities of digitization for their own benefit.
  • As standards advance, linking new technology to existing IT infrastructures will be considerably simpler in future than it is today.
  • And security issues are also being addressed. The important thing here is to acquire the right partner for cloud technology, who demonstrably and lawfully complies with stringent EU regulations, for example.

Ever ready for the next technological leap: The HBM Cloud-Storage in everyday use

HBM (Hottinger Baldwin Messtechnik) is a global supplier of sensors (primarily for mechanical measured quantities), amplifiers and test and measuring software. In our HBM Prenscia line, HBM also offers software solutions for virtual testing. As a global technology leader, for HBM the decision to get actively involved in developing the measurement technology cloud was clear, for handling big data with highly complex test and measured data – sometimes from tens of thousands of channels – is our core area of expertise.

In view of the various uncertainties and opportunities that use of the cloud in measurement technology entails, HBM took a modular and future-proof approach. Consequently, some standard cloud technology functions are already available today. And continuous further development of the “HBM Cloud-Storage” is ongoing, including in individual customer projects and for individual customer requirements.

Microsoft Azure as a platform

The choice of the ‘right’ cloud partner is a vital cornerstone of this strategy. HBM chose Microsoft Azure. What attracted us most to this provider was the availability of dozens of data centers around the world, where data can be stored in accordance with the laws prevalent at the company site in question. In fact, in the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, Australia or Africa, the customer can choose where to store its data. The data are replicated on backup servers across the continent, and conform to today’s most stringent data protection regulations, security rules and legal provisions. Data are encrypted for transmission, and can also be forwarded to other project participants, e.g. to an engineering partner, for further processing.

But where customer requirements demand, we also help with connecting our products to private cloud systems, which are employed where security requirements are exceptionally demanding. In the end, a traditional cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken when deciding whether to use a private cloud or the HBM Cloud-Storage (via Microsoft Azure).

The HBM Cloud-Storage as standard: Examples of use today

Data storage in the cloud

The new EVIDAS data acquisition system from HBM offers the option of storing measured data in the cloud as standard. This is achieved via Microsoft Azure, and offers users additional, practical benefits, e.g. sharing data between project teams in the company, and further processing them rapidly. This way, sending Excel files or manually hosting an FTP server – with all the security risks this entails – are now also a thing of the past.

HBM-Push-App

The “HBM Push” smartphone app (currently available for HBM catman and Perception software and the SomatXR CX23-R data recorder) lets the user know about events, particularly during long-term measurements. These events are defined beforehand and transmitted immediately via push notification.

Individually linking the HBM Cloud-Storage to customer projects

Above and beyond our standard projects, HBM offers numerous options for individually adapting the measurement technology cloud in future. These adaptations include the production of suitable interfaces, in particular, including for feedback channels.

Using SDKs

When test projects need to be linked to private clouds or a customer’s specific architecture, HBM offers software development kits (SDKs) for the easy integration of measured data. Via Common API, both integrators and development departments can communicate directly with HBM hardware and sensors using standardized interfaces.

Post-Processing with HBM Prenscia

HBM has always been the master of the “complete measuring chain”, and as well as extending this to the cloud, we have also added virtual testing using software solutions. Here, our HBM Prenscia division offers a top-performing portfolio of analysis modules covering all aspects of reliability, durability and performance. Huge opportunities are offered by integrating HBM Prenscia solutions in the cloud, such as conducting complex analyses in real time, and therefore shortening development cycles and enabling predictive maintenance concepts.

The cloud: More than a product

As the above examples demonstrate, future measuring, testing and inspection are unthinkable without the cloud. Concrete benefits can be seen in:

  • Central, globally available data storage
  • The clear indication of status, condition and evaluations on dashboards
  • The possibility of complex analytical and computing processes, when needed

The first hurdles, such as security concerns, have largely already been surmounted. Now, the next step is the further development of standards and, importantly, global processes. Ultimately, use of the cloud – in measurement technology projects, too – means the development of new business and value creation models.

HBM supports customers with HBM Cloud-Storage projects, in both standard solutions and individual projects, with creating IIoT solutions that enable processes such as the networking of sensor data, remote monitoring, data processing for predictive maintenance, and even structural health monitoring. All this ensures meaningful, useful data and monitoring functions. The key lies in networking sensors, amplifiers and other systems, machines and buildings.

This also makes it clear that the HBM Cloud-Storage is not just a “product” like many others – that is, we are not simply joining up a sensor, amplifier, software and … cloud. No, the cloud influences and embraces all products and processes involved in measurement technology.

By signing up to the cloud, HBM has signed up to the future. Using experience gained in recent years, our development team is enthusiastically working on further developing this technology – bringing genuine added value to countless customer projects for their internationalization and networking. Just get in touch with us!

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