M2M APPS: Could you start with an explanation of your company's name? What does eWON refer to? And what do you do?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: It means Eyes Watching Over the Net. We’ve always been involved in the Internet environment as well as industrial automation. eWON was one of the first companies to provide an Internet connection to a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) through a VPN for remote programming and maintenance. At the time, eight to nine years ago, PLCs only had serial connections for port programming. Therefore enabling remote TCP/IP access to a PLC was a real challenge, which we realized by embedding an Ethernet to serial gateway function in our industrial routers. Today PLCs have an Internet interface, but older products are still out there so the gateway functionality is still relevant.
M2M APPS: Where does the Cloud come in?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: Enabling remote access via the cloud is another area where eWON took an early lead. We were probably the first company to market a cloud-centric solution. It’s enabled on commodity servers and the service they provide is known as Talk2M. It let’s users talk to the PLCs and it also allows PLCs to talk to the users, by sending mail or text messages. A systems integrator or machine builder can therefore check the PLC program remotely and adjust or modify the code, which is a great feature during installation/initial start-up or for maintenance operation. It eliminates the need to install a complex IP architecture. Talk2M is deployed on server farms around the world and they connect to customers’ PCs over 2G/3G or the company’ LAN. The traffic to Talk2M is outgoing. Usually only outgoing ports such as the HTTP port on a company’s firewall are used to let users access the Internet. We only use outgoing ports so that we don’t have to request an incoming port to be opened. We took this approach in order to remove firewall problems and it has turned out to be very successful. The number of connections is growing at around 30% every quarter.
M2M APPS: If it’s in the Cloud how do you address security concerns?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: We employ a central Talk2M Server farm with state-of-the-art OpenVPN technology that has been adapted to industrial needs. For example, data passing through VPN tunnels are encrypted using 2048 bits key, which takes a little computing overhead but gives advanced security. Every company possesses an own account in which all routers and users are registered. To get access to the machines, the user must comply not only to connection rules installed in the cloud but also in the router.
M2M APPS: What are the quantifiable benefits of your solution?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: We market an end-to-end solution that's based on a central Talk2M VPN Server farm. This enables an unlimited number of on-demand connections, which are easy to implement thanks to installation wizards. No special incoming port setup is needed and there are no firewall issues. The customer only has to download eCatcher, which is the VPN client software of Talk2M, and that allows the creation of an account, which is done using the wizards. eCatcher enables access to a large number of machines and devices over the cloud. This simple process allows our customers to focus on their core competence while still being in full control of deployment and management. The solution is flexible and scalable: new users can be added at any time as well as new accounts. There’s no need for fixed IP addresses and standard data SIM cards can be used for 2.5G/3G services. Those are intrinsic features of M2M communications over the cloud. Traffic is always outgoing, so it can pass through the firewall.
M2M APPS: How much time and money is saved?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: Technicians visit sites in order to service machines at regular intervals and all too often — 63% of the time according to a study conducted by ARC Research— no corrective action is needed. Therefore this model is inefficient and expensive: moreover, it doesn’t enable preventative maintenance. Typical service costs are 45% for emergency calls; 40% for routine calls; and 15% for preventative calls. With remote access the emergency cost goes down to 9%; routine to 15%; and preventative goes up to 25%. Do the maths and you get an impressive saving of 51% and a clear indication of the ROI that can be realized in a very short timeframe simply by preventing a few unnecessary service calls. There are also longer term benefits. The machine builder or OEM can rethink customer service and employ Talk2M as a proactive model. Convert it from a cost center to a profit center, one that can offer teleservices having different SLAs.
M2M APPS: Where do you see smart surveillance heading in the next 12 months?
FRANCIS VANDER GHINST: Mainly in the area of Cleantech, renewable energies, waste process, etc.. For example, Germany is going to close down some of its nuclear power plants in less than 10 years and this has resulted in a lot of companies entering the market with smart energy alternatives like wind turbines. And of course this means that there is a large, expanding market for smart metering and smart surveillance. We expect to see other European countries taking a similar approach. Water and waste-water is another interesting area. We are working on a huge project in the U.K. where a utility company is replacing their monitoring equipment. I expect to see numerous remote maintenance opportunities.