Using Particle Photon in the Real World for Real Results

We’ve always had the human connection, but now, thanks to the onslaught of IoT and Industry 4.0, there’s a another kind of connection in the manufacturing world. Today, everything is connected, and with platforms like the Particle Cloud and their Photon micro-controller, it’s easier than ever to securely connect sensors and devices to software applications and machinery.

We can talk about the basic Particle hardware and platform capabilities until we’re blue in the face, but talk is cheap, which is why we’d rather share a real-world example of how Particle gave one of our clients exactly the value they needed.

Service Thread is a textile spinning firm that specializes in the design and development of industrial thread and engineered yarn. A longtime Logical Advantage client, they needed help building a scalable solution that would help them reach their “overall equipment effectiveness” (OEE) objectives. Specifically, they wanted better visibility of the up and downtime of their manufacturing machinery to measure and meet those OEE goals.

With close to 4,000 spindles, most of Service Thread’s textile machinery is equipped with computers (known as PLCs) that perform basic machine functions like turning the spindles on, setting tension, and controlling speed. In addition, these machines are already wired from the spinning devices to inform the computers about their movement information.

The information that wasn’t easily available—and where Service Thread needed our help—was the status of each individual spindle in a centralized location. This is where things could get a little more complex, as we’d have to program each machine’s computer, or PLC, to provide the data and send it through the network to a central location. This would be both over-complicated and time-consuming.

But we had a better idea.

Using the existing spindle sensors, we simply connected them to prototype breadboard with a Particle Photon, allowing one Photon to collect information from 16 spindles.

The approach was perfect for a quick prototype, proving we could gather sensor data, wirelessly stream it to the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, and plan for an enterprise level solution. The next step involved engineering and manufacturing of Photons onto the final hardware solution. These “enterprise ready” boards help Service Thread improve overall operational effectiveness.

Why Particle Photon?

As it turns out, this was the perfect solution. The Photon is basically a small computer, which meant we could build and deploy software to its memory. And because the Photon is already equipped with a wireless chip, it can attach to a wireless network with ease.

The other benefits of Particle Photon were as follows:

  1. The Photons proved to be easy for client setup, with a little mobile site we developed for spindle sensor provisioning.
  2. The Photon is always communicating with the Particle Cloud. In this case, it’s informing it of the state of the spindles, whether they’re moving or not.
  3. Though a subscription is required, it’s not costly.
  4. Photons allow for Over the Air (OTA) updates. This is critical as we tweak the Service Thread product after being deployed.

Additionally, we were able to program the Photon for Service Thread to reboot in the event of any issues.

To learn more about Particle Photon and how it helped Service Thread, we invite you to check out this presentation, and take a look at the breadboard used for Photon. Also, learn more about getting started with Photon here.

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