Connect industrial machines to Azure IoT within minutes using CloudRail
Published Mar 30 2022 08:00 AM 5,474 Views
Copper Contributor

Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications such as Condition Monitoring or Predictive Maintenance allow companies to optimize production processes, create better products or reduce waste. While the benefits of IIoT became apparent in the industry, the actual adoption is still challenging. Besides security questions, connectivity is still one of the major roadblocks for most companies. Due to the lack of standardization, various machine ages, and general accessibility of data, it usually takes multiple weeks to just connect a single machine to the cloud.

CloudRail and Microsoft worked closely together to allow industrial customers to connect their assets to Azure IoT (Hub, Central, or Edge) within minutes using a plug and play approach.



About CloudRail


Headquartered in Mannheim, Germany, with offices in Detroit, MI and Pune, India, CloudRail is a leader in OT-to-Cloud connectivity. Enterprise customers around the world connect their factories to the cloud using CloudRail. With on-site support and hardware availability in 95 countries combined with a strong network of system integrators, CloudRail is the best choice to liberate OT data for IIoT projects.


Connect both modern as well as legacy systems


A typical factory is a very heterogeneous environment, consisting of equipment from different OEMs and generations. While modern equipment often supports industrial standards like OPC UA, older machines do not. Even though OPC UA has been around for quite a while, not even 10% of all machines within a factory actually support it today. As machine lifetimes in the industrial segment are around 30-40 years, this situation is not expected to change anytime soon. CloudRail, therefore, supports multiple connecting methods.








OPC UA is supported by many modern machines, PLCs, or even factory management systems (SCADA / MES). CloudRail can easily connect these machines to Azure IoT by acting as an OPC UA client to establish a secure and reliable connection to the cloud.




Many companies address sustainability as their top priority. To do the transition to green production, Modbus smart meters for energy monitoring applications are a simple system of choice. Using CloudRail, customers can connect both Modbus RTU and Modbus TCP sources to Azure IoT.


Retrofitting with Secondary Sensors


The idea of retrofitting using secondary sensors is to identify the parameters required for an IIoT project and measure them by adding new sensors to an existing machine. For example, vibration sensors are attached to motors to identify the occurring vibration and hence monitor the motor behavior. These secondary sensors are usually much easier to handle compared to working with old PLCs or legacy protocols. Moreover, installations are non-invasive as no access to the production network is required. Often secondary sensors are also the only way to get necessary data since the respective parameters are not measured by the original system or data is inaccessible due to e.g. OEM restrictions.
To retrofit machines, CloudRail supports over 12,000 industrial sensor models from vendors like ifm, Turck, Pepperl+Fuchs, Sick, Balluff, and many more. These could be IO-Link, digital I/Os, or analog sensors and cover use cases like temperature, pressure, velocity, vibration, counting, positioning, flow, and many more. Sensors are being connected to CloudRail via IO-modules that can connect up to 64 sensors per CloudRail.Box (edge gateway).


Plug and play connectivity for the IIoT


CloudRail follows a simple plug and play approach to connect industrial assets to Azure IoT. All necessary hardware like the CloudRail.Box (Edge Gateway), IO-Modules, and sensors (in case of a secondary sensor installation) are just plugged in without any required local configuration or even programming.


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The entire configuration is done through a cloud-based device management system called CloudRail.DMC. After creating an account, edge gateways are added by simply scanning a QR-code.


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The system automatically discovers connected OPC-UA sources or IO-modules and sensors and displays them in the CloudRail.DMC. The user just selects the respective sensor and sets the transmission interval.


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Industrial assets can be connected to Azure IoT Hub, Azure IoT Central, Azure IoT Edge, or various other cloud platforms and solutions. Even parallel connections are possible.


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After defining a name for the sensor, CloudRail automatically adds a new device to e.g. IoT Central using the Azure APIs. Moreover, the system refers to the IoT Plug and Play model, which is a semantic description of the respective sensor to allow IoT Central or other applications seamlessly work with the data source. Note that the IoT Plug and Play model is "resolved" in IoT Central from a large repository of models that can be enriched by device manufacturers.


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The whole process takes less than a minute and can even be automated using roll-out scripts.


Security in IIoT


IIoT data often contains very sensitive information. Also, in the case of OPC UA or a Modbus connection, the factory network needs to be connected to the outside world using an edge gateway which adds a critical potential point of attack.
CloudRail addresses these issues by implementing security features like end-to-end encryption between the edge gateway and Azure IoT, built-in firewalls, physical separation between factory network and internet, and much more.
Moreover, CloudRail is a fully managed solution. This enables necessary security patches to be centrally distributed to all edge gateways using remote firmware updates. This ensures functional and secure installations, even on a large scale.
Enterprises from sensitive industries like Defense, Pharmaceuticals, Automotive, and many more already trust CloudRail in keeping their global IIoT installations secure.


Scaling from PoC to multi-site roll-outs


Many IIoT projects fail after the PoC phase. A common reason is the use of solutions that are not ready for industrial production. This could be due to inappropriate hardware like the use of consumer sensors, “Raspberry Pi” setups, or missing certifications for a factory environment. Often questions around IT security like “how do I distribute security patches to thousands of edge devices” or “how do I ensure user and rights management”, remain unanswered as well. Moreover, PoCs are often custom-built for a single use case or machine and require large effort to adapt to a similar setup within another site, leading to intensive programming.
Using CloudRail, customers already realize their first IIoT PoC on industrial-grade hardware, which has been proven for decades in harsh environments. With its central and cloud-based configuration and management system, CloudRail takes care of security patches, device monitoring, device replacement, access control, and roll-out processes. Customers can start small and scale to millions of integrations using the same system.



With Azure IoT and CloudRail, customers can now easily turn their IIoT projects into reality. With a minimal investment and within hours, a first IIoT use case can be realized which delivers real results. CloudRail is available in 95 countries and offers hardware starter kits or even complete implementation bundles including consulting, installation, and digital services by a Microsoft partner.


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‎Mar 29 2022 12:34 PM
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