|Product Performed to Expectations:||10|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||9|
|Product was easy to use:||10|
|Support materials were available:||10|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||9|
|TotalScore:||58 / 60|
Harting MICA CISS Complete IIoT Starter Kit RoadTest
By Gough Lui – June 2019
I am fortunate to be bringing you this review of the Harting MICA CISS Complete IIoT Starter Kit, thanks to the support of Harting and element14. With the proliferation of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices in the consumer space, it is only natural to see the same kind of revolution occurring in industrial environments. Named Industry 4.0, this data-driven revolution centres on the Industrial Internet-of-Things, otherwise known as IIoT, which intends to benefit industry by providing more intelligent condition monitoring, enabling real-time condition monitoring, predictive maintenance which can reduce unscheduled downtime and increase reliability. At the core of this are the robust industrial-grade technologies and equipment that collect, store, transport, analyse and respond to the data. As usual, I’ll be doing my best to bring you an interesting, comprehensive, insightful and impartial review of this industrial computer.
If you found this review interesting, entertaining or enlightening, I’d appreciate if you leave a ‘Like’, rate the review/documents, ‘Bookmark’ the posting or share it with your friends. Also, if you’d like to know more details, click-through to the detailed blog posts for each chapter or leave a comment with your question and I’ll endeavour to answer it.
The internet-of-things (IoT) revolution seen in the consumer market is also sweeping the industry, with Industry 4.0 centred upon the industrial internet-of-things (IIoT). In this application, it’s about machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance to reduce costs, improve reliability and reduce unscheduled downtime.
While the IoT and IIoT certainly draw parallels in connecting machines to networks, the requirements are quite different. IoT is perhaps the “overarching” term which encompasses IIoT solutions as well. However, IoT in general includes a lot of consumer-grade devices which are low-cost, have standard operating temperature ranges and are not especially hardened or ingress protected. These devices are also often produced with a short support lifetime, on proprietary “cloud-connected” systems with little scope for customisation or expansion.
The requirements of industry are different. Harsh operating environments with large temperature ranges, power fluctuations, vibration and EMI noise are common. Devices involved in production often are running uninterrupted over long periods, require long operating lifetimes, with the need for ongoing continued support. Such equipment has to be flexible as well, interfacing with legacy equipment such as PLCs or field-buses to collect data from these devices and where network connectivity cannot be guaranteed, make decisions at the edge rather than waiting for a cloud-back-end. Every installation is a little different, with very specific requirements. To achieve the necessary reliability requires a good design, exacting component choices, high-quality manufacturing and thorough testing. It also requires attention to the software, which needs to be robust, secure and upgradeable, backed by a support team capable of maintaining the system throughout its lifetime.
Industrial embedded computers can be found from a large number of vendors but many of these are ruggedized versions of the familiar x86/x86-64 architecture used on a desktop computer with varying levels of performance and power consumption. Many of the units have a significant power appetite, resulting in the use of fan cooling, have a larger chassis and lower IP-ratings. Most of these are sold as “PCs”, where the software that runs on the device is left to the user, requiring development input. With IIoT potentially resulting in the installation of many nodes over a network distributed over a facility, such solutions could prove quite costly and consume significant amounts of energy.
When looking around for IIoT Starter Kits, it seems there aren’t too many around, but those which have been identified are not apples-to-apples, thus a market survey would not make sense. The closest unit I identified was a Moxa IIoT Gateway Starter Kit which is Debian-Linux based edge computer for use with Modbus with ThingsPro Gateway software and LTE-ready certification. However, this unit is made of plastic, with a -10 to 60°C operational temperature and no IP rating at all. Avnet’s MicroZed comes in an IIoT starter kit as well, but this is merely a collection of boards without so much as an enclosure – not quite “ready to go”. Some smaller vendors claim to offer IIoT starter kits for certain applications, such as ORing, but the details are very scant, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Other established vendors seem to be adding IIoT tags to existing products, which may be applied to IIoT applications but it isn’t an entire IIoT solution.
As I’m more familiar with Harting for their industrial connectors, I was not aware they also provided an industrial computer. However, compared to the competition, the MICA does have a number of advantages including the open-source containerised Linux architecture with no ongoing licensing costs, hardened electronics with a completely passive fanless design, high EMC tolerance, industrial-grade connector and reliable IP67-rated enclosure. It also seems to be a good deal smaller than many other units being just 397cm3 in volume and also consumes less power with flexible PoE or GPIO alternatives. As a Hermes award winner in 2016, I’m sure the design is innovative in more ways than meets the eye.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch1: Introduction to IIoT & Market Survey.
The MICA came packaged in a shrink-wrapped elegant display box which looked more akin to what a high-end piece of consumer electronics would be packaged in, rather than an industrial piece of equipment. Unboxing the unit was a delight, as every item had its place, neatly packed into the customised foam inlay.
Removing the items, it was immediately apparent that the Harting MICA is not your average piece of equipment. It feels heavy, substantial, built-like-a-brick with absolutely no flimsiness at all. Its design is stylish with its powder-coated die-cast aluminium case, but functional, outfitted with convenient push-pull IP67-rated connectors. A peek through the rear microSD slot also suggests the use of high-quality components and careful construction techniques. The supporting cables matched the unit for quality.
The Bosch CISS was also equally impressive, packing all of six sensors (Accelerometer BMA280, Gyroscope BMG160, Magnetometer BMC150, Temperature sensor, Humidity sensor, Air pressure sensor BME280, Light sensor MAX44009, Microphone AKU340) in an IP54 rated enclosure with a USB or Bluetooth Low-Energy interface. It is provided with a magnetic mount for quick or temporary mounting, with a detachable USB cable for convenience.
Looking at contents of the kit, I would have to say that it is quite comprehensive with everything needed in one box and is certainly aimed at getting someone up and running with the Harting MICA and Bosch CISS as quickly as possible. Aside from what appears to be a one-off omission of the USB port cover, the only other things lacking would be a cover for the I/O port in case the GPIO is unused and power is being provided through PoE. Something that would be nice to have is a break-out for the GPIO lines rather than just being wires tucked away behind heatshrink so that system integrators could more easily and rapidly evaluate the capabilities of the GPIO interface. Another thing to be aware of is that the MICA is capable of DIN rail mounting with an optional kit which is not included.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch2: MICA Unboxing & Feature Introduction.
The datasheet for the Harting MICA CISS Complete IIoT Starter Kit makes a fairly bold claim – that you could be up and running with a condition monitoring system in just 10 minutes. After trying it out for myself, I find this claim quite plausible. The kit contains everything needed to get started – it’s just a simple matter of plugging things together and powering it up. The necessary software including CISS Gateway, MQTT Broker and NodeRED comes pre-installed, although, somewhat out of date. This is enough to get a quick demonstration up and running.
The MICA uses a containerised Linux system based on LXC. Administration tasks are handled through a password-protected web interface with three user privilege levels which is simple to use. Each software container runs in an isolated environment, almost like a virtual machine but without the significant overhead which that would incur. This improves security and makes dependency management and deploying updates easier. Through the web interface, it is possible to start, stop, export, update, install and remove containers as well as configure the network interfaces available to each container. Configuration of the MICA system is possible as well, including passwords, devices, time-zone, certificates and network. While passwords can be changed, they cannot be recovered or reset by the end user – once forgotten, it must be sent back to Harting for a full reset, removing all data.
The MICA container website contains a large number of containers ready for use – this includes BLE Gateway, CISS Gateway, Euromap 15 Gateway, Euromap 63 Gateway, GPIO, Industrial Ethernet, MICA Energy Data Collector, Modbus Gateway, OPC-UA Gateway, MQTT Broker, Node Red, TICKpy, Hadoop, MySQL, NAS/SMB, Alpine, Busybox, Debian Jessie, Debian Stretch, Java8, Node.js, Python 2.7 and Python 3.4. Not all containers will make sense on all devices, but having these pre-configured containers can ease development. Users must be careful, however, as the containers may not have the latest versions of software and come configured with default passwords that must be changed for security reasons. Users can instead use the Busybox or Debian containers to develop and deploy their own versions of software as necessary.
It seems the MICA is based around a Texas Instruments AM335x ARMv7 CPU at 1Ghz. It seems some bootloader information is stored on an AT25DF321A 4MiB SPI Flash memory, with the remainder of the data stored in a Micron Technologies (?) Q2J54A 4GiB eMMC attached to mmc0 bus. The USB bus is being handled by the MUSB driver, which has the Microchip MCP2210 USB to SPI Master, smsc95xx USB 2.0 Ethernet (similar to the Raspberry Pi) and the Bosch CISS Sensor attached to it.
Using the Debian container, I was able to use the MICA to control VISA instruments through pyvisa and pyvisa-py. I was also able to access USB memory sticks and microSD cards. Using the NAS container, it was possible to share the microSD card as a network share and access the recorded data conveniently. As a result, the MICA is somewhat flexible and capable of performing tasks other than just the CISS demo which is headlined on the box.
On the whole, Harting’s documentation is sufficient and of good quality, but somewhat fragmented and difficult to navigate with several versions of the same documentation online, many of which refers to outdated firmware and container versions, and requires cross-referencing between documents to gain a complete understanding.
That being said, my journey with the MICA was not exactly fault-free, with a number of issues with CISS Gateway identified including duplicate erroneous humidity values, spikes in the lighting channel and faults in initialisation of the CISS sensor on the first time. I also experienced issues with Ethernet connection establishment which was determined to be due to connector damage due to my clumsiness in aligning the connector properly prior to mating. It seems the design of the connector is perhaps somewhat prone to this due to the sharp edges and plastic body, along with the hidden alignment mark while mating the connector.
Regardless, Harting’s support team were one of their strengths. Dealing with them was a positive experience overall with a collaborative approach to solving the problems, resulting in new test-versions of CISS Gateway addressing the issues and practical advice to resolving the issue with the Ethernet connection. The only downside was the difference in time-zone, dealing with Harting’s EU team which is almost exactly opposite to the time zones in AU resulting in some longer turnaround times.
The Bosch CISS is an IP54-rated puck-shaped device incorporating six sensors, connecting via USB or BLE which aspires to be a sensor for the Industry 4.0 revolution. It offers sample rates of <=100Hz for accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer and <=1Hz for temperature, humidity, pressure, light and noise. A special 2kHz mode for accelerometer-only operation also available. Microphone data is not accessible via USB. Internally, it is powered by an ARM Cortex M3 32-bit microcontroller with 1MB Flash and 128kB RAM and 2MB of user data memory. The CISS can be purchased individually online from various distributors with pricing approximately US$530, and comes with good quality documentation online including brochures, datasheets, quick start guides, firmware updates, BLE and USB communication protocol specifications, Python sample code and the Virtual CISS App.
I had no problems using the Python sample code on the Harting MICA in a Debian container (once I had sorted out some silly mistakes on my behalf) or on my Windows 10 machine with WinPython. Likewise, the Virtual CISS app worked just fine on my phone via BLE, allowing for immediate remote viewing of the sensor data in real-time and plotting of data over the shorter term. While the Virtual CISS app is lacking in some functionality, it is useful as a test of the capabilities.
The CISS is capable of more features than the current CISS Gateway container currently offers. It allows for changing of sample rates, enabling/disabling sensors and the BLE radio. I can envisage some instances where having active BLE radios that can be accessed openly in a factory environment would be considered unwise, so I have made a request to Harting to see if they can update the package to allow for more configurability of the sensor to make the most of its capabilities.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch4: Bosch Connected Industrial Sensor Solution (CISS).
One of the key features of an “industrial” piece of equipment is its tolerance to environmental extremes. In order to test this, I ran a series of tests. I put the Harting MICA and Bosch CISS outside, unprotected in the mild Australian winter to serve as a weather station, connected to a Wi-Fi bridge, with the MICA being powered from a pair of Li-Ion laptop power banks through a diode isolator circuit. Data was being sent over the network as UDP to a desktop for logging, via UDP to the Debian container within the MICA for logging to microSD and via MQTT to NodeRED for plotting. The setup was exposed to daily battery swaps, temperatures between 3 - 38°C, relative humidities of 29-99% including direct rain and sunlight exposure without any failures.
The system was then advanced to a solar-powered system from an oversized 50W solar panel and a Century 12V/18Ah sealed lead-acid battery without shutting down the system. The system survived the step change in voltage from 19V to 12V and continued to operate, logging for a total of 16 continuous days before being taken offline for a change of experiment. The experiment would have run longer if not for the fact that a whole week was taken up in debugging various CISS Gateway package issues with Harting, resulting in spiky and incorrect data that was discarded.
In these tests, the Harting MICA proved itself to be robust to loss of network connectivity, exposure to unregulated battery and solar voltages with occasional jumps due to switching power sources and having the ability to locally record data to microSD card, thus overcoming data losses due to network outages or computer restarts (thanks to Windows 10).
As such a unit would be commonly used for condition monitoring, I tried to answer a question I have always had – “how often does my gas fuelled tank water heater run, and how long does it run for?” By attaching the CISS to the flue of the heater, it was possible to answer this question.
Finally, I thought it would be good to test the IP67 rating and perhaps push it slightly, thus I let the MICA have a swim in a container of cold water of about 45cm depth for over an hour. The unit functioned flawlessly throughout, with inspection afterward showing two or three drops of water had entered on the CISS USB cable port only. I would consider this a pass, as testing was not done to standards (lower depth, but longer duration) and it did not interfere with operation. As a result, we can conclude that the MICA isn’t afraid of a bit of water.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch5: Environmental Testing.
The Harting MICA claims to be able to run from 12V or 24V (±5%) via the I/O port. To understand its voltage tolerance and power consumption, I ran an experiment using a Rohde & Schwarz HMP4040.04 Programmable Power Supply to step from 0V to 29.900V inclusive in 0.100V steps, pushing beyond the ratings of the MICA as this covers even the worst-case voltage that may be expected from 24V sealed-lead acid batteries on maximum cycle charge voltage of 29V.
It was found that the MICA will not boot if the voltage input is slowly ramped up and instead sticks on either a red light or a blinking-green LED. This is not unusual to encounter equipment that behaves like this, although it could pose a problem if on a remote site. The running of the test took a number of hours and resulted in a total of 300 steps and around 240 unexpected power removals and reboots. I can report that the MICA suffered no ill effects from having been rebooted so many times unexpectedly.
From the results, it seems that the MICA was able to operate reliably from about 6.5V through to almost 30V, although perhaps with additional stress to the components and with GPIO voltages that follow the input voltage. The power curve approximates a constant power of about 2.8 to 3.0W with changes in the power curve predominantly due to efficiency of the internal switching converter. In all, no damage was incurred during this test despite pushing beyond on-paper specifications.
Testing voltage tolerance with cyclical waveforms that included 24V (5s) to 12V (1s) and 12V (10s) to 6V (1s) were tolerated by the Harting MICA with aplomb, operating without any interruption or anomalies. This suggests that there is sufficient capacitance within the MICA to ride through even significant dips in the power bus, making it well suited for harsh industrial applications.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch6: Power Consumption & Voltage Tolerance Testing.
The Harting MICA offers a total of eight GPIO lines, four of which are configured as high-side driving, two of which are configured as low-side driving and the final two being configurable. The drivers provide the same voltage as provided through the I/O port – if powered through 12V, then output is 12V. The GPIO is capable of 50mA per pin, up to a total of 250mA in total to avoid overheating.
The GPIO can be accessed on the I/O port through modification of the supplied grey cable to expose the necessary connections. The necessary documentation is provided in the Harting HAIIC MICA Hardware Development guide, although its format could be improved to better relate the pin number, wire colour and pin function without needing to cross-reference two diagrams manually.
In order to access the GPIO pins, the GPIO container can be used which provides a Websockets-based RPC interface, MQTT or a web interface for manual demonstration and configuration. Input pins configured for MQTT publish updates at 200ms intervals, with each pin having an MQTT topic name which can be redefined. The documentation was initially confusing due to misleading headings, as it was unclear to me what format MQTT messages should be in as the manual seems to mix Websockets RPC with MQTT information, however, Harting support were quick to point me in the right direction.
With this, it was simple to implement a simple bang-bang controller in NodeRED, both with and without hysteresis to keep the Bosch CISS sensor at 25°C. Such a design allows for processing at the edge, requiring no intervention from a back-end. However, it is discovered that more complex flows may suffer issues with processing such as delays or jitter due to limited computational resources and the multitasking nature of the operating system. Later, another test realised the use of the controller to “cook” the Harting MICA, bringing the unit up to about 73.9°C while remaining perfectly functional, thus verifying its industrial temperature rating.
For more details, see Harting MICA RoadTest-in-Depth – Ch7: GPIO Connectivity.
The Harting MICA CISS Complete IIoT Starter Kit proved to be quite an impressive offering in a multitude of ways. When compared with the other embedded industrial computers and IIoT kit offerings, it was one of the only “ready-to-go” kits that I was able to find. Whereas many of the industrial computers are ruggedized x86/x86-64 PCs without consideration as to software, the MICA was instead a more complete solution featuring a containerised open-source Linux operating system with no ongoing licensing costs, a selection of freely downloadable software containers, hardened electronics with a completely passive fanless design, high EMC tolerance, industrial-grade connector and reliable IP67-rated enclosure of a compact size.
The unboxing experience was a delight, with a high-quality magnetically latched box opening up to unveil all items packed securely in a custom foam inlay. While my package was missing a USB port cover, this was likely to be a one-off omission. The MICA appeared to be built solid as a brick, with the use of quality components internally based on the small amount of PCB visible through the rear microSD port. The setup experience was straightforward, with pre-loaded software making it a plug-and-play affair.
While the included software was out-of-date, the web administration facilities were straightforward to use. The containerised approach to software provides deployment, dependency management and security benefits, however the downloadable containers often had limitations and default settings which need to be changed by the user to avoid compromising their own security.
During the review, a number of deficiencies in the CISS Gateway package were uncovered, although Harting’s support team were helpful and resolved these issues through several test-releases. The feature set of the CISS Gateway package is incomplete, so hopefully Harting will be able to improve the container in future versions. An issue with the Ethernet was also discovered, but determined to be a case of mea culpa as I had damaged the connector during mating. On the whole, the documentation was sufficiently detailed, albeit fragmented and sometimes difficult to navigate.
Where the MICA impressed most was in testing, where it endured the mild Australian winter unprotected, including exposure to direct sun, rain, dew and wind. It was also exposed to unregulated DC power from battery and solar, handling voltage jumps on switching sources without any difficulties. It resisted immersion in about 45cm of water for over an hour with no functional problems, and was able to run with a voltage input from about 6.5V through to 29.9V DC, beyond its on-paper specifications. During testing, it was subjected to over 240 sudden power removals with no ill effects, and endured cyclical power dip waveforms even down to 6V without any operational difficulty. In further environmental testing, it endured case temperatures of 73.9°C with no operational anomalies, further validating its industrial rating. The MICAs eight GPIO lines were also tested, with a simple bang-bang controller implemented in NodeRED with relative ease. Likewise, the Bosch CISS sensor itself seemed to perform flawlessly despite being subjected to the elements in much the same way.
As a result, I can conclude that the Harting MICA CISS Complete IIoT Starter Kit is a complete starter kit that can get you up and running within ten minutes. It is a high-quality piece of equipment, built tough and ready to handle the industrial environment, but also eases the development of IIoT systems by being flexible enough to develop with using open-source software that has no ongoing licensing fees. What you do with the MICA is really up to you.
Thanks to Harting and element14 for selecting me for this RoadTest review.