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Asset Data From The Edge To Cloud

Robert Bakelaar, IoT Solution Architect, Vopak [AMS: VPK]
Robert Bakelaar, IoT Solution Architect, Vopak [AMS: VPK]

Robert Bakelaar, IoT Solution Architect, Vopak [AMS: VPK]

Royal Vopak ( is the world’s leading independent tank storage operator for liquid bulk goods with over 400 years of experience in storage and transhipment. Vopak operates several terminals on strategic locations along major trade routes. Technology leadership is one of the five key areas that support Vopak’s purpose of “storing vital products with care.”

Technology leadership is shown by innovating and introducing new technologies, like the Industrial Internet of Things, robotics and mobile devices on our terminals to reduce safety incidents and improve service. Various innovative proofs of concepts and pilots are being executed on Vopak terminals, like predictive maintenance for motor-operated valves, energy management initiatives, cost-effective sensoring systems or digitising whole terminals in multiple dimensions (smart Piping & Instrumentation Diagrams or 3D models).

Operational Data the Pillar for Innovation

A common requirement for each of the initiatives that take place is the need to have access to operational data and the context in which this operational data is generated. For this, Vopak uses edge technology to:

1. make the operational data available in the cloud;

2. add context information to the operational data;

3. pre-process, aggregate, and filter operational data at the terminal, to limit cloud communication.

 Vopak uses edge technology in making operational data available on cloud by adding context information, to limit cloud communication​ 

The context can relate, for instance, to assets, product movements or supply-chain information. In particular, the relation to assets is important in providing the correct contextualised data. Assets and asset information is used in various systems across the enterprise, all serving different purposes. This asset data is used as input for contextualising the operations; data (adding additional data to the measurements, describing the context in which it is generated) so that in later stages it can be used to support business processes in IT systems and data analytics, the OT/IT integration.

Quite often, you will see that the data stored in operational systems are in general not exposed to IT systems, and if needed, it is difficult to get to that data. Industrial protocols like Modbus or classic OPC are not well suited to be used in modern application landscapes running in the cloud nor do IT business systems support them. Therefore Vopak developed an OT/IT architecture that is capable of overcoming the challenges of availability and communication while ensuring adequate security.

The Architecture has the Following Principles:

1. move away from all the industrial protocols as soon as possible and transform to standardised IP based communication;

2. process data close to the source as possible to support real-time analytics and prevent unnecessary data transfers and external dependencies;

3. contextualize data to maximize usage in various systems;

4. aggregate all data of all Vopak terminals centrally to ease access to the data.

Using Standardised Protocols for IIoT Communication

The above principles are realised by means of what Vopak calls a device gateway and an edge gateway. The device gateway is a service in the operational domain that can communicate with field devices and systems using various industrial protocols and translates these into a standard protocol, suitable for the machine to machine communication. In this way, a standard and secure method of exposing data and communication to operational systems has been implemented. For terminal to cloud communication, Vopak chose a lightweight messaging protocol to be flexible in connecting other systems and devices in the future (when needed).

Adding Context to the Data

The edge gateway that is deployed reads the data from the device gateway. This is the first touchpoint of IT with OT. The data that needs to be read can be configured in the asset management system. This enables the edge gateway to associate the data to registered assets and metadata (like the unit of measures, device identifiers, tolerances, etc.). The edge complements the data payload received from the operational systems to a more rich data structure that is ready to be used for consumption and analysis.

Analyse and Store at the Edge

The edge can also analyse the streaming data as it comes in, before eventually sending it to the cloud. This ensures that real-time operations can profit from outcomes of analytical models or detected events without dependency on the cloud. It also prevents unnecessary data communication to the cloud. A local historian is safekeeping the data as it passes the edge gateway, but also serves as a cost-effective replacement of traditional historians.

Make the Data Available

After processing on edge, data is sent to a cloud broker who makes the data available to other consumers in near real-time. Data is stored in an aggregated data store that can be used by various consumers by means of APIs. Access to the latest recorded data, historical data, or distilled events is all realised by these APIs. By using cloud technologies and cloud services, the central infrastructure of Vopak’s IIoT architecture is highly available, flexible and scalable so that it can support the current and future use cases.

The edge is the basis of the OT/IT integration at Vopak. With the device and edge gateways in place on all terminals, using open and industry standards, Vopak is capable of exposing field data in a standardised way. Using off-the-shelve services for protocol translation on the device gateway and a platform that allows high customisation on edge, Vopak can put effort into creating the most value out of the data.

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