ASCII to the Cloud Part 2

Stash is an old friend of mine (we’ve called him Stash since high school when he grew the stupidest looking mustache in the world). He’s worked in industrial automation for quite a few years now. I kid him about not being able to hold down a job because he’s worked for vendors making industrial drives, distributors, and manufacturing companies.

Unlike me, Stash isn’t very inquisitive. He comes to work, does what they ask him to do, and goes home. He has a life beyond the factory floor – unlike me who’s always reading something, writing articles, and talking about who showed what at which trade show. (Editor’s Note: I’m not a workaholic – I just find manufacturing technology endlessly interesting.)

A few days ago, I was talking to Stash, and I shared some of the things that customers were asking me to do. He was making fun of customers that wanted to move ASCII data to the Cloud. He told me that ASCII is obsolete, we’d be well rid of it, and they just don’t know how to run their factory if they are using ASCII.

As usual, Stash doesn’t know his you-know-what from a hole in the ground. Here’s some of what I told him:

  • As long as there are humans on the earth, we’ll need ASCII data. It’s how humans encode information.
  • ASCII is how we communicate written information in a way that humans can process it and it’s not going away.
  • ASCII is how the majority of retailers encode product data. As long as we are manufacturing products, we will have product data, and that data will be ASCII data. We’ll have to manipulate it, use it, and store it.
  • ASCII data often represents some product that is being transferred from the factory to a wholesaler, distributor, or retailer. Some of these people are using blockchain to track and trace products as they move from the production facilities to the retailer and customer. They need to move ASCII to the Cloud to get it into a blockchain app. For example, Walmart tracks peaches using a blockchain system. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find ASCII data in their blockchain store.

Finally, Stash asked, “Why not just store it in a local on-premise database?” I thought that was a really good question. A lot of people are asking just that.

What a lot of people like Stash don’t understand is that all the “on-prem” stuff is disappearing. Wonderware, PI from Osisoft, and other middleware applications are all dying. There is so much more you can do with data in the Cloud, it is so cheap to move it there, and the connectivity is now so good that no one wants to bother with local applications. Everything beyond semi-real time operation is quickly becoming a Cloud application.

So, to answer the question Stash asked me, “How do we get ASCII data into the cloud?”, I told him that’s really the easy part. ASCII data can be transferred in lots of different ways:

  • One way is to use MQTT. In MQTT, a publisher, the device holding the ASCII barcode, simply publishes the data to an MQTT broker that makes it available to any subscriber that wants it.
  • Another is to move that data into an OPC UA server that makes the data available to any of the OPC UA Clients in the Cloud.
  • Another is to just send the data as XML data files or JSON objects to an application in the Cloud.

These aren’t all the mechanisms. As I said earlier, the technology for moving data from the factory floor into the Cloud is now easy. What’s not easy is what to do with it when you get it there. With ASCII data, things are pretty simple. You are either going to pick it apart if it contains some embedded numeric data or archive it for future reference.

Stash left without finishing his beer. As I said, he is not a very inquisitive guy who’s more interested in just getting a job done than thinking through the different ways of doing it.