Hirose: Connecting the future
Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 106 / 12
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Kinetic mesh networks for secure oil & gas operations

Scalable, high-bandwidth kinetic mesh networks provide unmatched connectivity for upstream, midstream, and downstream applications. To realize peak productivity and savings, mission-critical applications need to run on a communications network that offers highly reliability, agility, and adaptable connectivity.

INDUSTRY 4.0, THE INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT), autonomy, advanced data analytics, and anywhere, anytime mobility are helping a variety of industrial organizations significantly improve productivity and reduce operating costs.

At exactly the same time, advanced communications, surveillance, and sensor technologies are helping increase safety, protect assets, improve productivity and reduce downtime. In order to achieve the desired benefits of these evolving digital technologies, the communication network must have infrastructure that is capable of supporting these business enablers.

A private kinetic mesh network can enable the always-on, continuous communications required to support such technologies while providing reliable, secure, mobile access to vital data and applications. Self-healing, layer 2 peer-to-peer mesh networks have been operating successfully in a wide variety of industrial environments, including mining, military, oil and gas, ports, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, and government.

Similar to many other industries, oil, gas, and petrochemical operations depend on a variety of vehicles, equipment, heavy machinery, and personnel, dispersed across vast, rugged terrain, all of which require reliable, high-bandwidth, mobile communications.

Every aspect of exploration, extraction, and production must be carefully monitored and managed to ensure continuous operations and cost containment 24x7x365. A mesh network can provide real-time, site-wide communications for employees, contractors, vehicles, drills, well heads, video cameras, smart meters, sensors, laptops, smart phones, and an abundance of other assets.


Scalable kinetic mesh networks provide connectivity for upstream, midstream, and downstream applications.

Mesh network uptime

Given personnel and asset mobility, line-of-sight issues posed by rapidly changing environments, and the growing demand for autonomous vehicles and equipment, providing the needed level of wireless coverage requires thorough planning, coordination, and support.

Network flexibility, scalability, availability, and ease of use are paramount. Plus, network infrastructure must be easily deployed, be exceptionally rugged to endure moving, adding or rebuilding infrastructure.

Unique technology

Rajant kinetic mesh networks consist of BreadCrumb nodes powered by patented InstaMesh networking protocol, enabling voice, video, and data communications, even while people and assets are in-motion. BreadCrumbs are rugged, IP-67 certified wireless nodes that create a mesh network when deployed with other neighboring BreadCrumbs. They can function as infrastructure or mobile nodes and can rapidly adapt to changes in the network topology to assure that IP traffic uptime and bandwidth are optimized.

With any-node to any-node connectivity, BreadCrumb networks can scale to hundreds of interconnected mobile nodes, providing thousands of potential pathways over which data can be sent and received. Since BreadCrumbs automatically form multiple connections with other nodes within the mesh, the networks are inherently redundant.

Unlike many competitive wireless technologies, these networks actually grow stronger and more resilient as nodes are added. In addition, the networks do not employ root "controller" nodes, and can easily transmit and receive data through a satellite, point-to-point wireless, or wired link if a wide area link is required.

InstaMesh networking software is the mobility enabler in solutions and responsible for the continuous and virtually instantaneous forwarding of all wired and wireless connections within the network. While InstaMesh utilizes a proprietary routing algorithm, it is fully compatible with 802.11 standards. If the information can be sent over Ethernet, it can be sent over a kinetic mesh network.

As nodes are added, moved, or removed, InstaMesh automatically adapts to the changes, establishing new links in real time while keeping the network available, intact, and secure. The software enables complete network mobility, robust fault tolerance, and high throughput with minimal maintenance and administration.

C1D2 certification

BreadCrumb ME4, model 2450R, will be Class 1, Division 2 (C1D2) Hazardous Locations (HazLoc) certified in the second quarter of 2018. This certification indicates that the ME4, 2450R-C1D2 is intrinsically safe in C1D2 petrochemical, oil, and gas environments where flammable gases, vapors, or liquids may be present.

Multi-radio, multi-frequency

BreadCrumbs operate within a specific band of frequencies and are programmable to certain channels within that band. They support the simultaneous use of 900 MHz and 2.4, 4.9, and 5 GHz frequencies for redundancy and interference mitigation, and individual network nodes can accommodate up to four radios. In addition, custom transceiver configurations and frequencies are available for development upon request and may include a mix of licensed, military, or unlicensed frequencies.

Multi-frequency BreadCrumbs are capable of simultaneously sending and receiving on different frequencies. In competitive wireless networks, standard single-frequency radios use store and forward, receiving a packet on the radio, storing the packet, and then forwarding it when the channel is available. Standard client access-point, single-frequency systems use half duplex mode which cuts the available bandwidth in half across each hop. In full duplex mode, networks have higher bandwidth speeds across multiple hops (mesh nodes). As a result, data packets get to their destination much faster with extremely low latency when compared to other solutions.

No single point of failure

While many competing solutions claim to use multiple frequencies, in reality, they use one frequency for mobile nodes and another for infrastructure nodes or access points. Only access points mesh because mobile nodes cannot talk to each other directly. In addition, mobile nodes with single-channel radios can connect to only one access point at a time.

When an access point fails, all nodes connected to the failed access point are disconnected from the network. As a result, access points have the potential to be a single point of failure. In the case of a root node, that one device manages all routing for the wireless network. If the root node fails, the entire wireless network goes offline. So, the root node also has the potential to be a single point of failure.

As a wireless mesh network, InstaMesh continually discovers and maintains information about the cost of multiple routes at each BreadCrumb in the network and forwards traffic as needed through the best available path. InstaMesh proactively scans nodes and takes corrective action the instant it encounters interference or an obstruction, redirecting traffic as needed.

In addition, Automatic Protocol Tunneling (APT) technology allows for multiple ingress and egress points into the wired network, further eliminating the possibility of a single point of failure. The result is that communications continue unbroken, and productivity and safety are not compromised.

Continuous connectivity

One widely held assumption in wireless networking is that good coverage means good connectivity. This simply is not true. Continuous connectivity is only available with a network designed for continuous connectivity.

Many competitive networks use a handoff technique called "break-before-make," meaning that as people and assets move, the network must break an old connection before forming a new one. Because most Wi-Fi networks utilize low-cost, low-capability radios on their mobile equipment, client devices can maintain only one connection at a time.

When a vehicle travels down a road, away from its current access point, the signal will become weaker and weaker, in much the same way as when driving away from a city and gradually losing a radio station. While a client device will hold onto an access point as long as possible, the transmission rate will slow down, and eventually the signal will become so weak that the client device will lose the connection which can cause dropped packets and communication outages.

These networks do not break connectivity during mobile communications. Instead, InstaMesh uses a "make-make-make-never-break" approach. As a vehicle or other mobile equipment equipped with a BreadCrumb travels across a site, it is continually adding new connections and always has multiple connection options available at any given time.

Nodes never break connections to form new connections with approaching nodes, and all connections are maintained until they are no longer needed. These capabilities enable networks to support a wide variety of mission-critical applications, including Industry 4.0 and autonomy which require constant communications.

Military-grade security

Petrochemical, oil, and gas organizations are high-risk targets for potential malicious attacks. Should a cyber-attack block the ow of sensor data, halt the ow of communications to an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), or inject malware into production control systems, the results could be devastating. The consequences can include everything from significant business and service disruption to financial systems collapse, and even catastrophic situations impacting human safety and well-being.

Recognizing how absolutely essential security is, significant investments have been made in providing multi-level, military-grade security to protect Kinetic Mesh network traffic. The networks offer several robust security features, including multiple cryptographic options, configurable data and MAC address encryption, and configurable per-hop, per-packet authentication.

Load balancing

Because BreadCrumbs can accommodate up to four radios and frequencies in a variety of combinations, the nodes can make use of all installed radios for multiple functions at the same time. This capability is crucial, and runs counter to other mesh networks.

Most multi-radio wireless networks separate traffic into two types: client access traffic which includes communications between access points and Wi-Fi clients such as laptops, tablets, smart phones, and sensors; and backhaul traffic which connects access points over long distances.

Wireless mesh networks are designed differently. The radios in BreadCrumbs are capable of simultaneously sending and receiving on different frequencies, enabling exceptionally high availability. The mesh can use any one of its multiple radio frequencies for conducting local-access traffic and backhaul traffic. This design allows users to maintain critical access to mission-critical data and applications, even in the most challenging environments.

Scalability

In oil, gas, and petrochemical operations the only constant is change including changing topology, changing locations, changing weather, changing applications. As operations expand, so must the network that is responsible for carrying the data and applications. The problem with most wireless technologies is that scaling the network with additional nodes results in performance degradation. As a result, applications are often ported to additional networks that operate in isolation and with limited bandwidth.

One key advantage of the technology is its ability to extend coverage and support new applications as needs grow. BreadCrumb-based networks can scale to hundreds of interconnected mobile nodes and higher densities. As the network grows, bandwidth availability actually increases. Plus, with multiple ingress and egress points into the wired Ethernet network via Automatic Protocol Tunneling, usable bandwidth increases and data can be delivered to client devices faster.

Oil, gas, and petrochemical operations are typically geographically dispersed, operating many applications that are extremely bandwidth-intensive. Consequently, organizations are often forced to operate multiple networks running in parallel. In most cases, these networks have reached their limits. So, new applications and updates to existing applications cannot be run.

These overtaxed networks can lead to downtime, applications running in isolation from each other, and ultimately decreased productivity and safety. The system′s unique architecture and scalability, plus its abilities to autonomously select the best available traffic path and compensate for changing network status, enable enterprises to run applications over a single network and transition to new architecture and applications without incurring costly downtime.


The challenge of edge computing is to provide access to data that brings IT and OT solutions together.

Cost benefits and ROI

Implementing applications such as process and production control, vehicle dispatch and routing, machine health, precision drilling, and surveillance represents a significant investment in any gas, oil, or petrochemical operation. Simply installing these applications does not automatically ensure the expected ROI. Plus, deploying drones and robots, sensors, and autonomous vehicles and equipment imposes added communication requirements on existing networks and requires continuous, ultra-reliable connectivity to operate effectively.

Organizations seeking to achieve maximum benefits from technology investments can rely on field-proven networks to help drive ROI.

Continuous Communications: Having reliable, anytime, anywhere connectivity enables access to strategic decision-making insights that help operators optimize all aspects of exploration, extraction, and production. The resulting productivity and cost savings can improve bottom-line profits.

Well-Site and Platform Monitoring: Well and platform cameras, smart meters, and sensors allow operators to monitor conditions as they occur and instantly spot problematic issues, often before they cause downtime or production delays.

Site-Wide Mobility: Having site-wide communications allows personnel and contractors to access vital information and applications, maintain communications with command and/or dispatch, and perform operations more efficiently. Autonomous vehicles and equipment can be monitored and controlled effectively, even at the network edge.

Safety: Since the mesh network can provide GPS-based locations and status tracking, operators can maintain communications with people and assets for greater safety.

Investment Protection: BreadCrumbs are built to withstand the extreme conditions present in petrochemical, oil, and gas locations. As a result, a Kinetic Mesh network investment is protected for the long term. Many users have had networks that operated for several years without environmentally-induced failure.

Vehicle and Equipment Health: A Kinetic Mesh network and predictive maintenance system can help keep vehicles and equipment operating at peak efficiency, reduce downtime, and extend the service life of such assets.

Big Data and Predictive Analysis: Advances in meters, sensors, and other digital tools are delivering volumes of valuable decision-making data. These networks can provide the high capacity required to support current and future Big Data demands and supply needed intelligence to help achieve operational objectives.

Surveillance: To protect facilities and operations from malicious attack, video surveillance is a mission-critical application requiring high-bandwidth connectivity. Operators can view site-wide video in real time.

User-friendly network management

While BreadCrumbs offer virtually one-button set-up, many operators prefer to exercise more administrative control over their networks. To help configure, monitor, and manage individual BreadCrumbs or groups of BreadCrumbs, networks include BC|Commander software. Available for both Microsoft Windows and Linux, this software provides a global view of the Kinetic Mesh network through an easy-to-use graphical interface.

Key features include point-and-click configurations of multiple BreadCrumbs, real-time network views in tabular and topological formats, wireless client displays, configuration reporting, ability to perform firmware updates remotely, and per-BreadCrumb alerts and warnings.

The BC|Enterprise application provides historical network performance data with live updates to complement the real-time, tactical network views available from BC|Commander. The software displays network conditions showing what has transpired on the mesh for any chosen time period. The system also provides automatic alerts to identify and address network anomalies. Alerts can be delivered via email or text message. Plus, it can also send alerts via an API to a business chat network. With fast access to performance, traffic, and configuration data, users can obtain valuable insights to optimize kinetic mesh network performance.

While operators of smaller networks may prefer to monitor and manage their Kinetic Mesh networks using BC|Commander alone, larger enterprise networks will find the software tools indispensable to reduce troubleshooting man-hours and increase network productivity.

Summary

The information network is the backbone of any complex gas, oil, and petrochemical operation. It is the linchpin on which the productivity, safety, and profitability of the organization relies. Bandwidth and availability are precious. Downtime is unacceptable.

Application data, voice, and video owing over the network are as essential to operations and efficiency as the fuel in vehicles. To realize peak productivity and savings, mission-critical applications need to run on a communications network that offers highly reliable, agile, and adaptable connectivity that survives and thrives in diverse and evolving mobility-driven environments – a "living" mesh network that moves with and adapts to ongoing connectivity demands.

Dava Baumann, VP, Global Marketing, Rajant.


Source: Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 106 / 12
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