PCN Technology Translates Industrial “Tower of Babel” Networks Into Language of the Internet

The key to the formation of San Diego’s PCN Technology came almost a decade ago, while co-founders Daniel Drolet and David Stumpf were working in a corner of the information technology sector that the Internet had seemingly left in the 20th century dust.

In the world of industrial computer networks and embedded systems, Drolet tells me, they were dealing with many different types of wired and wireless systems known generally as SCADA networks (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). Most SCADA networks were installed long before the Internet came along with its standardized protocols known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Yet these legacy networks are often mission-critical systems that are used to monitor processes and control equipment throughout refineries, power plants, chemical plants, water treatment plants, and other industrial facilities.

The way Drolet talks, however, SCADA technology embodies a Tower of Babel of industrial proportions—with many different types of communications protocols, different systems, and many different types of hardware.

PCN co-founder Dan Drolet

PCN co-founder Dan Drolet

By 2002, Drolet says, two themes were obvious: “There was a lot of wire [in commercial and industrial settings]—whether it was data wire or power wire—and the rest of the world was moving toward TCP/IP. So you had on the one side all this Internet connectivity for the consumer, consumer applications, and many smart devices coming out. But then you saw [outdated telecommunications technology] in the industrial, mission-critical world.”

Joining the Internet revolution, however, was not simply a matter of stringing some Ethernet cable across a factory floor.

As an example, Drolet says a gasoline service station built before the Internet era typically uses a legacy network installed under the concrete slab to control its gas pumps. A station owner who wants to install an encrypted payment system at the pump island, or add display screens with multimedia advertising, is often discouraged by the cost and time required to break the concrete slab and retrofit the pumps with Ethernet cable. Installing a wireless network poses a different set of … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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