What is Machine-to-Machine (M2M)?

Machine-to-Machine communication (M2M) is revolutionizing how manufacturers visualize and control industrial processes.

It can be difficult to differentiate between concepts that seem similar, however, like machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and IIoT.

So here we’ll take a look at the basics of M2M communication and explain what it means for you.

Machine-to-Machine Communication (M2M) Defined

M2M communication is communication between two devices or machines. It’s all in the name. In our personal lives, this could be a fitness tracker “speaking” to a cell phone or a wireless sensor to an office computer. In industrial contexts, M2M communication can occur between machine tools, sensors, and other information systems. 

The difference between IIoT and M2M

Given that both IIoT and M2M involve communication between networked entities, there can be some confusion between the two. 

The distinction is this: IIoT refers to the broader system of connected, communicating devices, while M2M refers to direct information transactions between two devices. So an RPM sensor measuring the spindle speed on mill sending data to an edge device, for one, would be an example of the machine-to-machine communications that furnish the industrial internet of things.

The main shift in technology with M2M is that many networks don’t need a central hub, such as a traditional PLC.

Decentralized Networks and  Machine-to-Machine 

Manufacturing networks are adopting decentralized models.

Previously, network architectures in manufacturing were centralized. All information generated on the shop floor was shuttled to a system that controlled the entire network.

The tides are turning, however. Wireless connectivity is the norm, and manufacturers have embraced the cloud. 

Decentralized networks are important for M2M. Instead of having to run a wire from the PLC to a device, a wireless sensor can send information directly to where it is needed. This could still be PLC, it could also be to a manufacturing application, an MES, an office computer, or a technician’s phone. 

M2M and Security 

When scaling connected devices security can be a concern. 

However, M2M devices often come with built-in security features like encryption. Since communication is only between two devices, it is possible to have end-to-end encryption, which means someone with malicious intent would have to gain access to one of the devices directly. Even then, password protections and firewalls can create a robust secure M2M communication. Additionally, if information is only sent from one machine to another, and each device has no other connections, if a malicious user gains access, only the information between those devices would be jeopardized.  

Networks, Bandwidth, and Distance

M2M communication is making it easier to connect devices, there are still important factors for manufacturing IT to consider.

While considering an M2M application it is important to understand what type of network and protocol governs the product. Common networks such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, Even RFID, NFC, and radio can be found in devices on the market. Each has a range of distances and data that can be sent over it. Additionally, power consumption and how many devices it can connect are important details to understand. 

Part of a digital transformation plan needs to understand the where, what, and how of integrating an M2M device. 

Where are resources, such as power?

Something as simple as asking if an M2M device will have access to power is important. One of the biggest concerns with scaling M2M and IoT devices is how much time will be spent replacing batteries if a device doesn’t have power.    

What is the distance between devices?

Each protocol for wireless communication will offer a range of distances for operation. Knowing where data is going may limit what device can be used based on the ability of the protocol or frequency it operates. Protocols will generally affect how much data and how far it can be sent. Also, be aware that the more data and/or farther the distance data is sent will affect energy consumption. 

Know what is between machines. For example, a dual-band Wi-Fi router can transmit data faster at 5 GHz. Unfortunately, if the application requires the signal to penetrate through walls, ceiling, etc. using the 2.4 GHz band might work better. These details can be the difference between M2M working effectively or causing headaches.

How much data will be sent?

While the frequency might help determine its ability to penetrate walls, there is another frequency to pay attention to for M2M communication; bandwidth. This is how much data can be transmitted. Applications such as a wireless sensor may not need much, but a live streaming camera communicating with another device will need higher bandwidth. 

Additionally, each protocol will have a limit of how many signals can be sent and received. As connected devices scale, noise can become a problem. Make sure when starting a digital manufacturing plan there is an idea of how to handle noise between devices operating within the same frequencies. 

Conclusions

M2M offers new ways to control and track manufacturing processes.

It can be an easy way to integrate and retrofit new technology into older machines and processes. While communication between two machines is easy, it has many options that can make or break a company’s digital infrastructure plans. The previously mentioned details are great places to start an education in how to best apply M2M successfully.