Real World Use of the Particle Photon With Azure IoT Hub

One of our blog entries last month told how Logical Advantage used the Particle Photon microcontroller to build an IoT solution for a client in the textile spinning industry. So, what did we do with all that IoT data being generated from the manufacturing machinery? We sent it to the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub for use in analytics, reporting and maintenance notifications.

Particle teamed up with Microsoft to develop an enterprise level integration with the Azure IoT Hub. It was designed from the ground up to provide a seamless way to send Particle data into Azure.

Though easy to implement, IoT Hub is equipped with some pretty complex features, like per-device authentication, a portal dashboard for device monitoring, development libraries and the ability to send and receive millions of device messages per second.

What’s more, it’s communication patterns include device-to-cloud, as well as cloud-to-device, and did we mention it’s been optimized to support millions of simultaneously connected devices? We did, but it’s worth repeating.

How can it be used in real life?

Reading about these kind of solutions is one thing, but seeing how they play out in the real world is something entirely different.

Luckily, we had the opportunity to apply Azure IoT Hub to a case study with Service Thread, a leading American manufacturer and worldwide supplier of industrial sewing threads and yarns.

When Service Thread first came to Logical Advantage, they wanted visibility of their spinning machine uptime so they could take steps to improve Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Like other manufacturers, knowing if a machine is up or down is critical to Service Thread, and increased utilization would add significantly to the bottom line.

Our first step was to obtain knowledge of machine activity. We developed a solution using existing sensors on the 4k+ textile spinning machines, which collects movement data through a Particle Photon microcontroller. This data is passed through the Particle Cloud onto the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub via Wifi.

The Particle Cloud pushes data to the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, which sends the data wherever it needs to go. Essentially, the Azure IoT Hub acts as a sort of broker by sending messages wherever a programmer needs to send the data, which, in this specific case, is a Microsoft SQL Server database.

Why Microsoft Azure IoT Hub? 

Though it’s a fairly new, subscription-based Azure Cloud Service, IoT Hub is a triple treat in terms of messaging:

  • It can receive messages from
  • It can send messages to
  • And with Azure Event Grid, it can send messages elsewhere, as well.

It’s bi-directional, meaning it can send messages, as well as receive them, from the system, and it can also manage up to 10 end points. We mentioned earlier that IoT Hub is easy to implement, which was a great benefit during our Service Thread project. In fact, IoT Hub wasn’t a huge part of the time spent on this project; it was more like a post office we used to send messages back and forth.

What’s next?

When we stand back and look at an outcome as successful as the one we provided Service Thread, we can’t help but ask, what’s next? Thanks to the complexity of the capabilities provided by Azure IoT Hub, the options are seemingly limitless.

We could build a web screen that tells users if a spindle is on or off; imagine how helpful this type of information would be to users who are at home. We could build a screen with a map of all of the machine, displaying the status of each. We could even put the data into the hands of plant managers by sending text messages when machines are down.

To learn more about Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, we invite you to watch our recent TechTalk on the topic.

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