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Event Insight and IONX – Data integration fueled by Imagineering

In June of 2010, IONX met with the SAP Imagineering team in Palo Alto, CA to discuss the capabilities and integration options utilizing Event Insight. There are many aspects of Event Insight that are appealing to our customers…  but before I get into that, let me start by briefly explaining what we do at IONX.


IONX is a provider of M2M (machine-to-machine) technology for the railroad industry.  Our asset monitoring products consist of a Communication Management Unit (CMU), optional wireless sensors, and software, which enable users to monitor the location and condition of rolling assets.  This location and sensor data is collected on the CMU, analyzed, and transmitted over-the-air through satellite and/or cellular networks to our back-end systems.  The data is coalesced and analyzed once more against a more robust set of business rules, then posted on our website, as well as optionally transmitted directly to our customers’ IT systems.  This information can then be used to improve fleet utilization, automate supply chain operations, and provide visibility into the health and security of their assets.


SAP Event Insight

So, what does Event Insight do for us at IONX?  Well, there are three main aspects that resonate with our customers:


  1. Complex Event Processing engine – The CEP can process hundreds of thousands of events per second.
  2. Secure and scalable connectivity to internal and external networks – This allows for communication to their own systems as well as with external suppliers and distribution centers; be it SAP, another ERP, or a legacy/proprietary system.
  3. Event Federation – The ability to publish queries and filters upstream to the system that understands the data best; reducing excess data transmission and improving throughput.


Event Insight Block Diagram

Event Insight Block Diagram

With the IONX Event Insight subscription, our customers and partners have the ability to receive new events as they occur on their assets, and immediately update the appropriate modules within their business context.  And by taking advantage of the EI capabilities mentioned above, they can very rapidly scale to include their entire fleet without any changes to hardware or software.


Even for smaller fleet-sizes, the benefits of the CEP and Event Federation quickly come into play when interleaving data from other sources and integrating with external systems.  As an example, one of the scenarios we are setting up in test now is the ability to use our location and sensor data alongside other railroad data sources and weather feeds.  As a chemical shipper, would you really want to send out a new shipment of dangerous goods to a location expecting a hurricane or tropical storm?  These types of scenarios can be processed and alerted within milliseconds to ensure safety and security of the asset and its contents, as well as the associated cost.



IONX/Customer Event Insight Integration

IONX/Customer Event Insight Integration

For any fleet size, the ability to automate your supply chain has its obvious benefits.  Utilizing an IONX CMU and wireless sensors along with location information, our customers can tell when their tank cars are loaded or unloaded at an internal or external facility.  This allows them to immediately modify their inventory levels and seamlessly communicate production demands to their suppliers as well.  Beyond vendor managed inventory, this data within the SAP system can increase fleet visibility to location based work orders, equipment operating rules, asset utilization, and condition based maintenance.


Scenario in action – IONX at TechEd 2010: DemoJam in Las Vegas

At the end of July, we submitted our video entry for DemoJam 2010 that showed an unloading event on a tank car on our test track behind our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  The event data from the hatch and load sensor was collected and transmitted over satellite to our servers, and by using Event Insight, the events were sent to our customer’s SAP instance, and viewed within the SAP GUI and BI dashboard.  Here is the abstract that was provided with the video submission:


SAP Event Insight and IONX Live – Matt Bonnes and William Lefebvre, IONX

IONX LLC will demonstrate how the railroad industry
is using IONX wireless technology to improve supply chain operations. Utilizing
Event Insight, IONX publishes event data to subscribing customers, who
integrate the data connector into Plant Maintenance and Operational Business
Intelligence. The demonstration will show a tank car equipped with an IONX Edge
asset monitoring system that includes a communications management unit, a
wireless open/close sensor, and a wireless empty/load sensor. During the unloading
process, an open hatch message followed by an asset empty message will be
generated and sent to both the IONXlive website and the SAP Event Insight
system. Upon receiving this message, the customer can automatically begin
fulfilling the next order, and flag the tank car to be returned – all directly
within SAP.

Fast forward to mid-September and we discover that we have been selected as one of six to present at DemoJam.  For this live on-stage demo in Vegas, we wanted to make this simple scenario a bit more exciting.  To accomplish this, we teamed up with our friends at Victory Brewery in Downingtown, PA and converted our empty tank car to a large rolling keg – fully outfitted with Victory Brewery logos and banners.  To see the full six minute demonstration, see the link at the end of the post.


Below, I will walk you through the demo and what is happening “behind the scenes”:

We start out by explaining the unloading scenario and what will take place during the demonstration.  The idea is that we placed a beer order for the TechEd event from Victory’s distribution center in Nevada.  This order will be fulfilled from the tank car they have on location, which they received from Victory’s headquarters in Pennsylvania. The inventory and status of the asset will be updated on both systems automatically in near real-time through our device and software, leveraging Event Insight for the system-to-system communication, filtering, and module updates.


William (left) and I explaining the unloading scenario

William (left) and I explaining the unloading scenario

The tank car is outfitted with an IONX monitoring device (CMU) and two wireless sensors: one for the hatch, and one for the load status.  The video is then shown, with the hatch closed, and the car roughly 30% loaded…just enough for an order to cover all the attendees at DemoJam.  The CMU can be seen in the video, it is the small gray box on top of the car, to the right of the fence around the hatch.


The Victory Brewery tank car

The Victory Brewery tank car

The XCelsius dashboard, which is plugged into the Event Insight consumer within Victory’s system, shows the current status within the SAP Plant Maintenance module.  Both the dashboard and appropriate modules will be updated when the status of the asset changes.


XCelsius dashboard on Victory's BI system

XCelsius dashboard on Victory’s BI system

Now the unloaded process begins.  The hatch is opened, which causes our sensor to register a new event and send this data wirelessly to the CMU.  The CMU collects the sensor data along with time and location, and sends the message over satellite to the IONX servers.


Unloading the tank car

Unloading the tank car

This hatch-open event is passed into the Event Insight instance on our servers, filtered based on the recipient, and then published to Victory’s Event Insight instance within their SAP infrastructure.  The data is transmitted securely within Event Insight to each of our subscribed customers.


Once received by Victory’s Event Insight consumer, the data is filtered based on their SAP configuration; in this case, the Plant Maintenance module is updated.  The screenshot below shows the graph within Event Insight that filters the sensor data and updates the dashboard based on the sensor type (accelerometer, hatch, and load status).  A similar graph runs in parallel that issues a remote function call (RFC) to a custom ABAP function that updates the SAP module.


Event Insight Graph Designer - Java Filter and RFC Nodes

Event Insight Graph Designer – Java Filter and RFC Nodes

The same occurs for the load status.  As the tank car is emptied, the load sensor registers the event, and transmits the data through the same system.  Event Insight processes the emptied event in the same manner as before.  The dashboard and GUI are updated to reflect these changes received from the actual tank car equipped with the sensors, so that both Victory Brewery, and their Nevada distribution center know the status of the asset automatically, and in real-time.


SAP GUI - Plant Maintenance Module and XCelsius Dashboard

SAP GUI – Plant Maintenance Module and XCelsius Dashboard

This demo focused on a single asset, but is immediately scalable across any fleet size, by use of the Complex Event Processing engine within Event Insight, which can filter and process events from thousands of incoming data-streams simultaneously.  The graph designer is used to easily add (or modify) destination modules based on the events passed through the IONX subscription, without the need to add another custom integration point.


Presenting at DemoJam in Las Vegas, and being a part of TechEd 2010, was a great opportunity for us at IONX to learn more about how our customers are using SAP and what we can do to provide more information within their business context from our data.



Working with the SAP Imagineering team in Palo Alto has been a great experience.  In a short amount of time, through our collaboration, we were able to release a proof-of-concept that enabled us to have a fully integrated working demo to present to our customers and on-stage at TechEd 2010.


The most beneficial aspect of the Imagineering process is having a small, like-minded group of individuals from SAP, IONX, and a mutual customer in the same location, working toward the same goal.  This process allows all three partners to contribute their domain knowledge and skill-set towards the project and its deliverables.  It is truly amazing what can be accomplished, when a group of engineers, developers, and/or managers show conviction to new ideas and exploring new concepts in a “thinking outside-the-box” environment.


Without our session in Palo Alto, we would not have known about Event Insight and its benefits until much later; depending on the release date and how long it takes to pass through the appropriate marketing channels before it reaches the engineers at IONX.  The ability to work directly with the team at SAP has allowed us to explore this product and its technical advantages during ramp-up, making it possible to deliver a product much faster, and to work closely with customers to integrate into their systems.


Next Steps

The most important next step is to integrate SAP Event Insight and our subscription service into a larger number of customer environments.  For this, we will work with the Imagineering team and other brilliant folks at SAP in the Palo Alto, CA, and Newtown Square, PA offices.  We want to continue increasing fleet visibility, and connecting internal and external partners in an effort to maximize supply-chain operations and fleet visibility for our customers.


Related Links

DemoJam 2010 – Las Vegas 




For more information in created a custom adapter in Event Insight, see this blog post by Sebastian Steinhauer: 

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