Industrial Connectivity in the Toughest Environments

Digi International Digi International
August 04, 2022

Industrial conditions require solutions that include failure-proof industrial connectivity, industrial IoT devices and powerful remote monitoring and management. Without the most robust solutions, commercial enterprises and government entities struggle to provide continuity of critical services, which can result in costly downtime and lost productivity. Industrial use cases for connected Internet of Things (IoT) platforms underpin many of the services and processes that play an integral role in our local and global economies — from utilities to municipal services, traffic management, mining, manufacturing and agriculture.

Why is industrial connectivity so vital?

Unlike connectivity devices located in climate-controlled environments like offices or residential buildings, industrial wireless routers are frequently placed in tough, variable environments like oil fields, factories and remote utility installations, making them difficult to access for repair or maintenance. Additionally, industrial use cases require reliable, uninterrupted connectivity in challenging environments.

Remote installations depend on solutions that are built to withstand unpredictable and even hazardous conditions. Especially in industries like oil and gas, water/wastewater management, mining and agriculture, organizations need rugged connectivity solutions with hardened enclosures designed and tested for these harsh environments.

Essential Capabilities for Industrial Connectivity Use Cases

Sea port manager using IoT
With the right connectivity solutions, industrial organizations can implement technologies that help them achieve profit-driving digital transformation. Services like digital signage, predictive equipment maintenance and environmental monitoring can increase safety, efficiency and productivity — supporting long-term cost savings and business growth.

But it all depends on whether organizations have implemented an industrial IoT (IIoT) platform that can maintain reliable, stable connections despite variable or extreme environmental conditions.
Industrial organizations are recognizing the value of holistic digital transformation, turning to technology to cut operational costs, improve productivity and lower risks to on-site personnel and equipment. To achieve these benefits, these organizations are implementing IIoT solutions to improve their operations in multiple ways:

  • Process automation
  • Cloud and edge computing
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML)
  • Green and sustainable technology
  • Industry 4.0 or smart, automation-driven manufacturing

Digital Transformation at Work in Industrial Settings

Equipment manager using IoT
The way these solutions are implemented in the field can vary significantly, depending on the specific use case, the needs of the business and the data security implications. However, what they all have critical requirements in common:

  • Equipment designed for reliability and longevity. When placing industrial wireless routers in variable environments, organizations need to be confident that they’ve chosen solutions that will be able to withstand difficult and hazardous conditions. Not only does that ensure access to critical data from the field, but it also reduces the expense involved in maintenance of equipment at remote sites.
  • Fast, consistent data transmission. Industrial routers can easily be connected to hundreds or thousands of IIoT devices at once. In fields like oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation and urban traffic management, millions of data points about environmental conditions or equipment performance can be generated every second. Managing devices and processes in the field requires rapid, remote visibility, which means industrial wireless routers must be designed to handle high volumes of data.
  • Improved operational efficiency. Ultimately, cellular routers used at edge sites need to be capable of improving operational efficiency. Often, industrial use cases for connected devices are focused on process automation that can improve productivity and decrease the risk of equipment damage, on-site accidents or injuries to workers. Organizations and the applications they deploy at the edge need ready access to data to inform applications controlling predictive maintenance, which is why reliable industrial connectivity is essential.

Multiple Verticals Require Industrial Connectivity

Digital signage in a city center
Robust connectivity and industrial-rated devices are required for the expected industrial sectors, as well as multiple operations in environments that experience challenging conditions:

  • Industrial operations such as oil and gas, mining. Organizations in the oil and gas sector need industrial wireless connectivity and remote management solutions that allow them to continually monitor and maintain a variety of equipment in hazardous locations. Having timely data is essential for compliant operations that are safe for workers and the environment. This is also true for companies in multiple verticals with remote sites:
  • Manufacturing and Industry 4.0. With the rise of Industry 4.0 processes, manufacturing organizations are building smart factories to take advantage of advances in AI/ML technologies. Deploying smart applications on the factory floor allows organizations to automate the use of industrial equipment based on control data (I/O) while eliminating the need for operator intervention.
  • Traffic and safety. Another industrial use case for connected devices is smart transportation, which includes both public mass transit options like buses and subway systems as well as traffic management systems for city streets and highways. In both categories, devices deployed in these environments are subject to variable weather. These scenarios also make routine maintenance like software updates challenging, time-consuming and expensive. Robust connectivity options that support remote updates can help solve these difficulties.
  • Outdoor digital signage. Outdoor signage can be an effective way to implement smart traffic management strategies, as operators can change dynamic, high-resolution content easily and often. But to use these tools effectively, the municipalities and organizations that control them need trustworthy outdoor performance, remote monitoring and management of highly distributed deployments. All these essentials depend on reliable industrial connectivity through redundant primary or secondary cellular connections.
  • Kiosks, outdoor vending, and outdoor retail. Although you might think of kiosks or vending machines as something you’d find in a mall or store, point-of-sale transactions are deployed in a wide range of locations including outdoor events and pop-up retail. They can be used to track transactions and equipment or supplies used at remote industrial sites, temporary outdoor venues like festivals or for smart city metered parking, all while providing secure financial transactions with Payment Card Industry (PCI) certification.

The following application diagram illustrates a configuration in the construction industry, with Digi solutions driving connectivity, cloud integration and edge computing.
Application diagram showing industrial connectivity in construction

Industrial Connectivity for the Harshest Environments

Oil and gas operations
Maintaining reliable network connections under extreme conditions requires physically tough solutions. Features like hardened, fire-resistant and temperature-resilient enclosures and components can make a significant difference in the longevity and reliability of your organization’s routers.

To select the right options for your specific industrial use case, each organization must identify the challenges they face. Industrial cellular routers often need to withstand variable conditions where they are exposed to extreme temperatures (ranging from -20°C to 74°C), accidental leaks, equipment breakdowns or flammable substances, including gases and vapors.

Once you’ve identified the likely scenarios that may affect your organization's remote sites, what’s next? How can you gain confidence in the devices you deploy in these environments?

Fortunately, there are widely recognized design standards for devices that need to function in hazardous sites commonly found in industrial operations. You’ll need to find solutions that are specifically tested and rated for reliable operation in the toughest environments, and that provide the critical management and visibility tools to access your deployed devices.

Digi designs 4G LTE and 5G routers that are rated for use in Class I, Division 2 (C1D2) environments, as defined by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in the United States. Devices with the C1D2 rating can provide reliable operation under hazardous conditions. These may include:

  • The presence of flammable vapors or gases under normal operating conditions.
  • Other hazardous materials normally contained within closed canisters, equipment, or systems. (During abnormal conditions, such as when systems or containers fail, and leaks or ruptures occur, these materials may become exposed.)

Meet Digi’s Toughest Industrial Router

Digi IX30Recently, Digi introduced a new product to its line of industrial wireless routers. Digi IX30  — which can be rapidly configured, deployed and managed remotely via Digi Remote Manager®  — is the most rugged, robust 4G LTE cellular router in our IX family. This C1D2-certified router has an IP30-rated aluminum enclosure designed to withstand the harsh environmental conditions found in industrial use cases across verticals including manufacturing automation, oil and gas, mining, water/wastewater management, utilities, manufacturing, agriculture and the many and varied use cases that require industrial connectivity for monitoring and control.

Digi IX30 supports connections via Ethernet, serial I/O, Analog and Digital I/O. USB, and Modbus bridging and includes a GNSS receiver supporting GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo. It is available in FirstNet Capable™ models designed to meet the demands of first responders for priority, pre-emptive communications in the event of a public emergency. And it uses Digi SureLink, our proprietary software that monitors router connections to ensure continuous uptime and data transmission.

This device's construction and software capabilities make it uniquely suited to industrial applications for organizations that need high-performance, low-maintenance connectivity. Organizations in oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, water and wastewater management, and agriculture will benefit from the flexibility and cost-efficiency that Digi IX30 delivers.

All of the router’s status and performance metrics can be overseen via Digi Remote Manager, the command center of your intelligent network. Through Digi Remote Manager, your organization can monitor, manage and update your connected devices in the field from a single dashboard. And because the Digi IX30 can be managed via this platform, your organization can easily coordinate its use with other powerful networking devices like the Digi EX50 5G.

An End-to-end IIoT Solution that Lets You Connect with Confidence

Digi TrustFenceDigi IX30 also offers the advantage of the Digi TrustFence® security framework, which ensures that Digi routers only connect with secure protocols, right out of the box. And if there’s ever an attempt to make unauthorized changes in your device settings, Digi Remote Manager blocks the attempted configuration change and automatically sends you a security alert, enabling you to address the problem without requiring on-site troubleshooting.

Together, Digi Remote Manager and our full line of industrial wireless routers — which includes Digi IX10, Digi IX20 and now Digi IX30 — comprise an end-to-end solution for all your industrial connectivity needs. This complete solution can be fully managed from configuration to security monitoring and rapid system-wide firmware updates across the network with just a few clicks.

Simplifying Industrial Connectivity for Challenging Applications

Digi Remote ManagerToday’s organizations need industrial connectivity solutions that can adapt to meet varying technology requirements, with flexible options for network redundancy, security configurations and remote monitoring and management. Digi offers robust solutions — which can all be centrally managed with Digi Remote Manager — that are designed for easy configuration, deployment and management of your industrial devices and applications.

See how you can take advantage of our end-to-end solution, Digi IX30 — fully managed by Digi Remote Manager — for industrial connectivity in the toughest, most remote environments.

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