Developing control software over the years at Spiro, we realized that easy and stable data communication is key to a successful project. Over the years, the industry has been shifting towards the new age industrial and IOT communications protocols. These are protocols like OPCUA and MQTT, which are based on open standards. Being open and free in nature, a lot of high quality open source implementations of these have sprung up in the last few years.
Internet being ubiquitous and hardware being cheap, huge amounts of process data is being produced and transmitted via these protocols. Efficient storage of this type of time series data is another thing that the open source community has gotten behind. Databases like InfluxDb are becoming popular due to the sheer volume of time series data that they can handle.
We have been tinkering with data transfer between OPCUA and MQTT protocols for our projects and storing large amounts of process data in InfluxDb. A typical use case being an MPC (multivariable predictive controller) running on an edge device close to the Chemical Plant hardware, communicating via the lightweight MQTT protocol. It would be required to transfer the data from this MQTT topic to the OPCUA server in the plant DCS and also store the data point into the InfluxDB. Another example would be just storing process data into InfluxDb before we even start the project. Visualizing process data and looking at PID control loop performance could be useful at an early stage. We developed the Node-Connect software to make these use cases as reality. It can used connect data points in above use cases and use one of the many data visualization tools like Grafana to visualize the data stored in InfluxDb
It has been the reliable work horse in our projects over the last few years. It does one thing and does it well. It is easily deployable and runs on any system that supports NodeJs or Docker. Text file configuration makes it easy for our engineers to version control them. Log messages generated by Node-Connect help them when troubleshooting connectivity problems. Gathering data, storing it or writing it back to the process and the maintenance of it all has now become the easier part of the project.
We have drawn heavily upon the hard work of many people who chose to set their work free and make it open source. We believe it is this Free and open-source software (FOSS) principle that will foster the next major transformation, not only in the process control industry, but in industry in general. Initiatives like the Open Process Automation are already gathering steam and bringing us a step closer to it.
It is in this spirit that we decided to do our part and to open source Node-Connect today, with the hope that it will be useful to engineers out there looking to meet their data connectivity and storage challenges. It is available at SpiroControl/node-connect. We would love to know the your Node-Connect use cases. If you need any help you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.