Keeping it simple: Embedded IoT connected devices

Philip Hooker
Oct 26 · 4 min read

Industrial equipment manufacturers face many challenges when creating IoT connected devices. Learn three things industrial product manufacturers need to tackle them.

Industrial equipment manufacturers are facing many challenges when creating IoT connected devices. And while the Internet of Things (IoT) is considered important in 50% of all embedded projects, according to the EE Times Embedded Markets Study, creating a secure product that is easy to manage is fraught with difficulties.

  • How do you create a secure product that is still easy to manage?
  • How do you create and operate a product that remains reliable and robust 10 years into the future?
  • How do you do all this while balancing features vs cost?

Industrial equipment manufacturers are facing these challenges when creating IoT connected products. And tackling them has resulted in 58% of embedded projects being completed late, regardless of the advances in development tooling and methodology. These are being increasingly compounded by the need for IoT devices in certain sectors to conform to security standards, like the ETSI Cyber Security for Consumer IoT, which mandates remote software updates.

This is extremely problematic in a sector that is focused on delivering to stringent bill-of-materials costs for development and productization. So, what is required to solve these multifaceted challenges?

Three simple things

Industrial product manufacturers need three simple things:

  1. Secure cloud and hardware agnostic connectivity
  2. Robust IoT device management
  3. This software to be efficient on resource constrained devices

Addressing the connectivity challenge is not made easier by the lack of standardization across the industry, forcing enterprises to make early decisions that have potentially irreversible consequences. Until recently manufacturers had limited choices.

DIY: Some enterprises choose to make sense of the jumbled technology landscape and develop the connectivity adapters for their solutions themselves. This is a considerable undertaking and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially as embedded IoT software engineers are a scarce and expensive resource.

All-in: Other enterprises have chosen to go all-in with one of the big cloud vendors, embedding their vendor’s device agent or SDKs into the core software of the connected product — and permanently tethering their fielded devices to the capabilities of the vendor.

The third way: Now there is a third option, with the open-source thin-edge.io initiative, that provides robust extensible cloud-agnostic IoT connectivity.

Through being cloud-, hardware- and programming-language agnostic allows enterprises to shorten time to market, reduce in-life software management overhead and future-proof their products. This ensures that the connected products continue working at their peak performance throughout their lifespan, regardless of the evolving business, operational and cyber-security environment.

thin-edge.io

thin-edge.io is a collaborative project involving the lead contributors, ifm and Software AG, as well as a growing eco-system of contributing partners, like Nexus Group, Inetum, ADAMOS, Brainboxes, Kunbus, and IPComm, providing their domain expertise.

The framework’s extensibility allows you to leverage community and commercial plug-ins, including streaming analytics and machine learning engines, industrial fieldbus protocol adapters, connectors to additional cloud platforms.

The modular architecture of thin-edge.io offers you the freedom to connect any IoT platform, use any programming language, adopt any message payload, deploy onto any hardware platform, and leverage any software artifact, including Mender, Debian or Docker. The framework’s plug-in mechanism also simplifies the integration with custom software. Comprehensive certificate management is built in with easy-to-use processes for both developers and operators in live deployments.

Open, secure, reliable

The software management functionality of thin-edge.io requires special recognition, as each Linux distribution has its own package management tools, managing the bug fixes and security updates. The software management agent in thin-edge.io removes this constraint by receiving cloud agnostic commands and performing the software installation, uninstallation, and reporting regardless of distribution using package manager plug-ins for the appropriate software artifact.

thin-edge.io has been developed in the reliable, efficient and secure Rust language and contains watchdogs, device monitoring and remote access to assure the operational robustness essential for industrial embedded software.

Third party community and commercial modules are already available for lightweight streaming analytics, machine learning, industrial protocol conversion, and industrial sensor applications.

“With these modules and components, it is very easy for companies to integrate a wide range of edge devices into cloud platforms such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure or our own cloud Cumulocity IoT in a plug & play manner,” says Bernd Gross, CTO of Software AG. “Enterprise customers don’t even have to invest, the thin-edge.io framework is open source and can be used for free and integrated with commercial third-party extensions. “

“Until now, customers had to spend a lot of time developing device software,” adds Nadine Rahman, CEO of ifm solutions GmbH. “This includes the connection to the cloud platform and the appropriate handling of IT-grade security. Previously, they had to develop expensive components or agents that often could only connect to a single cloud platform. Now, companies have an open source and cloud-agnostic framework at their disposal that significantly shortens the time-to-market and noticeably reduces the development costs.”

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Check out more information about the project on our Github, YouTube, Twitter and Medium pages.

thin-edge.io

- The open edge framework for lightweight IoT devices