The world of virtual commissioning.

15/06/2018
Robert Glass, global food and beverage communications manager at ABB explores the concept of virtual commissioning and how system testing can benefit the food industry.

In 1895, pioneer of astronautic theory, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, developed the concept of the space elevator, a transportation system that would allow vehicles to travel along a cable from the Earth’s surface directly into space. While early incarnations have proven unsuccessful, scientists are still virtually testing new concepts.

Industry 4.0 continues to open up new opportunities across food and beverage manufacturing. In particular, these technologies help improve manufacturing flexibility and the speed and cost at which manufacturers are able to adapt their production to new product variations. Virtual commissioning is one of these key technologies.

What is virtual commissioning?
Virtual commissioning is the creation of a digital replica of a physical manufacturing environment. For example, a robotic picking and packing cell can be modeled on a computer, along with its automation control systems, which include robotic control systems, PLCs, variable speed drives, motors, and even safety products. This “virtual” model of the robot cell can be modified according to the new process requirements and product specifications. Once the model is programmed, every step of that cell’s operation can be tested and verified in the virtual world. If there are changes that are needed in the process automation or robot movement, these can be made on the same computer, allowing the robot to be reprogrammed, orchanges made to the variable speed drives and PLC programming. The ABB Ability™ RobotStudio is one tool that enables this type of virtual commissioning.

Once reprogrammed, the system is tested again and if it passes, it’s ready for physical deployment. This is where the real benefits become tangible. By using virtual commissioning to program and test ahead of time, less process downtime is required and manufacturers can reduce the changeover risks.

Automation programming and software errors in a system can be incredibly difficult and costly to rectify, particularly if they are found later on in the production process. Research by Austrian software testing frim Tricentis, estimated that software bugs, glitches and security failures cost businesses across the world $1.1 trillion.

To achieve the full potential of virtual commissioning, the simulation must be integrated across the entire plant process, including both the planning and engineering phase. Known as simulation-based engineering, this step is integral for the installation of reliable systems. The use of simulations in a plant is not a new concept, in fact virtual commissioning has been researched for more than a decade.

The benefits
The implementation of virtual commissioning brings with it a number of benefits. The ‘try before you buy’ concept allows plant managers to model and test the behavior of a line before making any physical changes. This saves time as the user can program the system’s automation while testing and fixing errors. The use of a digital model can also reduce risk when changing or adding processes.

One company which has seen significant improvements in production since investing in virtual commissioning is Comau, a supplier of automotive body and powertrain manufacturing and assembly technologies. Comau’s head of engineering and automation systems, Franceso Matergia, said: “We were able to reprogram 200 robots in just three days using virtual commissioning as opposed to roughly 10 weekends had the work been done on the factory floor.”

Just as you wouldn’t build a space elevator without meticulous planning and years of small scale prototyping, it’s very cost and time beneficial to build and test in a virtual environment where you can find the bugs and discover the unforeseen challenges and mitigate them without added downtime or loss of production. It’s much better to discover that bug while on the ground versus at 100,000 feet midway between the surface of the earth and that penthouse in space.

@ABBgroupnews #PAuto @StoneJunctionPR
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On the road with IoT.

18/05/2018

How the field service management sector is being changed by IoT

George Walker, managing director Novotek, explains how the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing field service. As more companies move to a predictive model of equipment maintenance, they are looking for ways to use connected devices to improve field service.

Before internet-connected devices were the norm, it was common for facilities managers and in-house maintenance staff to spend time on the phone with suppliers booking in a suitable time for repairs to be carried out. It might have taken hours, if not days, for an engineer to come out to the site — leading to potential downtime in the interim.

When the technician came to the site, they may have found that they didn’t have the right tools, the right parts, or even the specific knowledge to carry out the service needed. This would mean the same technician would have to go back, or a second technician would need to come out to complete the service.

Although this model has been the norm for many years, it is no longer feasible in a modern environment. Factors such as first-time fix rates, mean time to repair and overall efficiency are driving businesses to closely monitor resource allocation and the time spent on maintenance.

Field service management has traditionally been responsible for activities such as locating fleet vehicles, scheduling maintenance work-orders and dispatching personnel. However, the advent of the IoT means that much of this model is shifting to real-time, predictive maintenance and those companies that adapt their businesses will benefit the most from the resulting competitive advantage.

The number of connected IoT devices is set to surge in the next few years, going from 27 billion in 2017 to an estimated 125 billion in 2030, according to analysis firm IHS Markit. Sensors can not only help engineers to remotely diagnose problems in many instances, they can also help to remotely repair or prevent further damage to equipment.

However, hardware sensors are just the start. Better software will help businesses to truly realise the potential of IoT in field service management. Modern field servicing software needs to go beyond the basics and offer better wider integration with the company’s inventory, billing and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

This is why we’ve partnered with the leading vendor in the industry to help our customers achieve better results. Novotek is the sole distributor of GE’s ServiceMax field servicing software in Britain and Ireland. ServiceMax creates solutions for the people who install, maintain and repair machines across dozens of industries, as the leading provider of complete end-to-end mobile and cloud-based technology.

The results speak for themselves. In a recent survey of ServiceMax customers in March 2018, technicians and engineers were 19 per cent more productive, service costs went down by 9 per cent and service revenue increased by 10 per cent. In addition to this, customers saw contract renewals increase by 11 per cent, mean time-to-repair decrease 13 per cent and equipment uptime improve by 9 per cent — leading to customers being 11 per cent more satisfied. Overall, compliance incidents dropped by 13 per cent.

By sending the right technician to the right job, at the right time, you avoid situations where some technicians are overloaded, while others have white space in their schedules. Using an app that works across devices, technicians can request jobs from anywhere. Each service level agreement (SLA) is easily managed and field service reports are easily produced.

What was science fiction a mere five years ago is now reality. A machine on a customer site can send an alert to the service team warning them of an imminent failure and potential downtime. Technicians can then be proactively dispatched to site with the right parts to carry out urgent repairs and mitigate costly downtime.

IoT has already drastically changed other sectors of the industrial landscape and is now making waves in the field service management sector. Whether you’re a utility business, a healthcare provider or even a telecoms business, it’s about time you looked at how IoT will change field servicing for you.

@Novotek #PAuto #IIoT @StoneJunctionPR


Helping provide reliable flood protection in Switzerland.

11/04/2018

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common throughout the world, making flooding a growing threat. Flood defence measures have traditionally been based on mechanical equipment, but innovative automation technology can now be used to provide greater protection for people and the local environment. AWA – the Office for Water and Waste in the Swiss canton of Berne – is using this latest technology to regulate water levels at the region’s Brienzersee, Thuner and Bielersee lakes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Water level regulation must protect people from flooding and prevent damage – ideally in an economically justifiable way,” said Dr Bernhard Wehren, head of maritime regulation at AWA. “Some of our important control operations are particularly time-critical, but until recently, we relied on dataloggers that only sent the different measurements we require every few hours or so. Now, thanks to the new state-of-the-art technology we have implemented, this happens in real time. It is therefore very important that the data communications technology supports this by reliably meeting all the challenges and requirements of our unique mission-critical communications infrastructure.”

Modernising facilities
To help provide the most reliable flood protection, AWA decided to modernise its water regulation facilities for the lakes, encompassing four historic locks, the large Port of Bruggweir and accompanying hydropower plant, and a flood relief tunnel. Due to the increasing demand for the availability of more data, AWA also decided to upgrade all the measurement stations with state-of-the-art technology. The measurement stations play a crucial role in regulating water levels in the lakes.

When developing a plan to modernise the equipment, great attention was paid to both operational safety and system redundancy. There was a need to address the obsolete electrical engineering at Port of Brugg. This would include the conversion of all existing drives and the renewal of the energy supply, a large part of the cabling and the control and monitoring elements for the five weirs. Regulation and control technology also needed attention. Not only was there a need for redundancy in the event of a device failure or a line interruption, but also in case of communication disruptions, such as interruptions to the internet connection.

BKW Energie AG was appointed as the technical service provider and after a thorough review of suitable data communications technology companies, they chose Westermo to provide its robust networking solutions for the project.

Fast communication performance
“Crucial to the selection of Westermo was that their products met our high standards and requirements for the project. This included fast communication performance, multiple routing ports per device, high MTBF periods, extended temperature ranges and very low power consumption,” said Rénald Marmet, project engineer at BKW Energie. “Another factor was the operation and parameterisation of the networking hardware via the WeOS operating system. Also, the extremely efficient and time-saving update capability provided by the WeConfig network management software, which enables the central configuration and management of all Westermo devices.”

The main control network incorporates the AWA control centre in the capital, Berne,and further control centres at the water locks, Thun and Interlaken, each with one SCADA server and redundant controller. The control centres connect to 29 substations (measuring points). Eight SCADA clients access these servers. There is also a SCADA server located in the hydropower plant, providing BKW employees with access. The hydropower plant part is monitored by the BKW control centre in Mühleberg.

Westermo networking technology allows all data to be transferred in real-time between the participating sites. Should an emergency arise, this enables those responsible to take the appropriate measures immediately to ensure the best possible protection against flooding. Also, maintenance and software updates for all the installed Westermo networking devices can be performed easily and quickly with just a few mouse clicks.

In total, Westermo provided thirty of its RFIR-227 Industrial Routing Switches, twenty-seven VDSL Routers, twenty-fiveMRD-4554G Mobile Routers, thirty-five Lynx 210-F2G Managed Ethernet Switches with Routing Capability, thirty-six L110-F2G Industrial Layer -2 Ethernet Switches, and over eighty 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps SFP fibre optic transceivers via multimode and single-mode fibre for distances up to 80km.

Greater network redundancy
The three control centres all have two firewall routers connecting them to the internet providers and enabling them to receive or set up the IPsec and OpenVPN tunnels. There are also two redundant Siemens Simatic S7-400controllers installed in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and a WinCC SCADA server connected to the local network. The AWA SCADA station has the same design, but without the control functionality.

BKW took care not only to create network redundancy, but also to set up redundant routes to the internet providers. The VDSL routers use the service provider Swisscom, and the MRD-455 4G mobile radio routers are equipped with SIM-cards from Sunrise. The heart of the main network – the three control centres and the AWA control centre- are linked by IPsec-VPN Tunnels and Generic Routing Encapsulation(GRE) and form the automation backbone via Open Shortest Path First(OSPF) technology.

The result of this is that even should there be simultaneous connection failure to an internet provider in one location and the other provider at another station, or the total failure of one provider, communication between all centres, the connected remote stations and the remote access by BKW or AWA is still possible.

For increased safety, the external zones are segmented further. The service technicians can connect to the control centres through an OpenVPN tunnel and have access to all measuring stations on the network.

There are two different types of measuring stations. The high availability station consists of two completely separate networks. Each PLC is installed ‘behind’ a Westermo Lynx 210 device, which acts as a firewall and establishes the connection to the control centre via an OpenVPN tunnel. The redundant internet access is provided either via a VDSL router, which is connected to Swisscom, or a MRD-455 with Sunrise as the provider. A ‘standard’ station has only one PLC with a Lynx 210 acting as a firewall router and building the VPN tunnels in parallel via the two internet routers.

Security requirements
As well as network redundancy, security was also part of the requirements to guarantee high communication availability. The network implemented by BKW and Westermo provides the necessary security in accordance with recommendations found in the BDEW whitepaper and IEC-62443 standard. The outstations not only form their own zone, but other areas are also segmented where necessary. The network for the SCADA servers in the control centres is also decoupled from the backbone using two VRRP routers.

The flood defence system now has one of the most modern data communication systems in Switzerland. Explaining why this is so important to AWA, Dr Bernhard Wehren said: “Protection against flooding must be guaranteed at all times. Depending on the meteorological or hydrological situation, the availability of the required measured values is critical. Because access to the measuring stations in the extensive regions of the canton is generally very time-consuming, network device failures and communication interruption must be kept to a minimum. It is therefore extremely important that all components of our communication systems meet the highest standards, offer extreme reliability and can be upgraded to meet new requirements.”

“We were able to simplify processes, make them secure, redundant and transparent for the engineering department via VPN connections. This contributes significantly to the simple, safe and efficient maintenance of the system,” Rénald Marmet said. “Thanks to the extensive cooperation with Westermo network engineers, we were able to create the ideal solution that meets all requirements and was delivered on time. Westermo’s reliable networking technologies have given AWA and BKW the opportunity to build individual data communication solutions for critical industrial applications, while providing scalable, future-proof applications. The solution also offers all involved a high degree of investment security.”

#Switzerland. @Westermo @bkw #Environment #PAuto

Cybersecurity pitfalls!

09/03/2017

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation discusses three cyber security pitfalls that industry should prepare for – the weaponisation of everyday devices, older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock and vulnerabilities in industrial control systems.

IBM X-Force® Research
2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index

In 2016, IBM reported that manufacturing was the second most cyber-attacked industry. With new strains of ransomware and other vulnerabilities created every week, what should manufacturers look out for in new year?

‘Weaponisation’ of everyday devices
The advantages of accessing data from smart devices include condition monitoring, predictive analytics and predictive maintenance, all of which can save manufacturers money.

However, recent attacks proved that these connected devices can quickly become weapons, programmed to attack the heart of any business and shut down facilities. In a recent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, everyday devices were used to bring down some of the most visited websites in the world, including Twitter, Reddit and AirBNB.

Such incidents raise a clear alarm signal that manufacturers should run their production line on a separate, highly secure network. For manufacturers that use connected devices, cyber security is even more important, so they should conduct regular cyber security audits and ensure security protocols are in place and up-to-date.

Don’t forget the oldies
According to the 2016 Manufacturing Report, manufacturers are more susceptible to older attacks, such as Heartbleed and Shellshock. These are serious vulnerabilities found in the OpenSSL cryptographic that allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications and steal data directly from users.

Industrial computer systems generally aren’t updated or replaced as often as consumer technology, which means that some still have the original OpenSSL software installed. A fixed version of the programme has since been released, meaning that manufacturers can avoid this type of attack by simply updating their system.

Keeping industrial control
Manufacturers understand the need to protect their networks and corporate systems from attacks, but their industrial control systems also pose a risk. If an attacker deploys ransomware to lock down manufacturing computers, it could cause long periods of downtime, loss of production and scrap of products that are being made when the attack happens.

This is particularly true in the era of Industry 4.0, where devices are connected and processes are automated. One of the most effective means of safeguarding automated production systems is cell protection. This form of defence is especially effective against man-in-the-middle attacks, whereby the attacker has the ability to monitor, alter and inject messages in a communications system.

In its report, IBM also stated that cyber security awareness in the manufacturing industry is lower than other sectors. The truth is that any company can be the target of a cyber attack. The only way to avoid a cyber security breach is by planning ahead and preparing for the unexpected.

#PAuto @StoneJunctionPR @IBMSecurity

Communication analysis: Industrial Ethernet & Wireless v Fieldbus.

06/03/2017

Industrial Ethernet and Wireless growth is accelerated by the increasing need for industrial devices to get connected and the Industrial Internet of Things. This is the main finding of HMS Industrial Networks’ annual study of the industrial network market. Industrial Ethernet now accounts for 46% of the market (38 last year). Wireless technologies are also coming on strong, now at 6% (4) market share. Combined, industrial Ethernet and Wireless now account for 52% of the market, while fieldbuses are at 48%.

Fieldbus vs. industrial Ethernet and wireless
HMS’s estimation for 2017 based on number of new installed nodes in 2016 within Factory Automation. The estimation is based on several market studies and HMS’s own sales statistics

HMS Industrial Networks now presents their annual analysis of the industrial network market, which focuses on new installed nodes within factory automation globally. As an independent supplier of products and services for industrial communication and the Internet of Things, HMS has a substantial insight into the industrial network market. Here are some of the trends they see within industrial communication in 2017.

network-shares-according-to-hms-2017-jpg_ico500
Industrial Internet of Things is boosting Industrial Ethernet growth
According to HMS, industrial Ethernet is growing faster than previous years, with a growth rate of 22%. Industrial Ethernet now makes up for 46% of the global market compared to 38% last year. EtherNet/IP and PROFINET are tied at first place, with PROFINET dominating in Central Europe, and EtherNet/IP leading in North America. Runners-up globally are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.

Anders Hanson

Anders Hanson

“We definitely see an accelerated transition towards various industrial Ethernet networks when it comes to new installed nodes,” says Anders Hansson, Marketing Director at HMS. “The transition to industrial Ethernet is driven by the need for high performance, integration between factory installations and IT-systems, as well as the Industrial Internet of Things in general.”

Wireless is redefining the networking picture
Wireless technologies are growing quickly by 32% and now accounts for 6% of the total market. Within Wireless, WLAN is the most popular technology, followed by Bluetooth. “Wireless is increasingly being used by machine builders to realize innovative automation architectures and new solutions for connectivity and control, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions via tablets or smartphones,” says Anders Hansson.

Fieldbus is still growing, but the growth is slowing down
Fieldbuses are still the most widely used type of networks with 48% of the market. Fieldbuses are still growing as many users ask for the traditional simplicity and reliability offered by fieldbuses, but the growth rate is slowing down, currently at around 4% compared to 7% last year. The dominant fieldbus is PROFIBUS with 14% of the total world market, followed by Modbus-RTU and CC-Link, both at 6%.

Regional facts
In Europe and the Middle East, PROFIBUS is still the leading network while PROFINET has the fastest growth rate. Runners up are EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP and Ethernet POWERLINK.
The US market is dominated by the CIP networks where EtherNet/IP has overtaken DeviceNet in terms of market shares.
In Asia, a fragmented network market is very visible. No network stands out as truly market-leading, but PROFIBUS, PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, Modbus and CC-Link are widely used. EtherCAT continues to establish itself as a significant network, and CC-Link IE Field is also gaining traction.

More and more devices are getting connected
“The presented figures represent our consolidated view, taking into account insights from colleagues in the industry, our own sales statistics and overall perception of the market,” says Anders Hansson. “It is interesting to see that industrial Ethernet and Wireless combined now account for more than half of the market at 52%, compared to fieldbuses at 48%. The success of a series of industrial Ethernet networks and the addition of growing Wireless technologies confirms that the network market remains fragmented, as users continue to ask for connectivity to a variety of fieldbus, industrial Ethernet and wireless networks. All in all, industrial devices are getting increasingly connected, boosted by trends such as Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. From our point of view, we are well-suited to grow with these trends, since HMS is all about ‘Connecting Devices.’”

 @HMSAnybus #PAuto #IoT

Systems integration for Industrie 4.0.

22/11/2016
The latest trends and challenges in systems integration.

Our world is getting smaller every day. Never before have remote locations been more accessible thanks to communications technology, smartphones and the internet. Connected devices have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including the most traditional industry sectors. Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager of Boulting Technology, discusses the challenges connectivity poses for industry, particularly with regard to systems integration and the water industry.

boulting_industrie_4-0One question industry has been unsuccessful in answering refers to the number of connected devices that exist in the world at the moment. Gartner says that by 2020, the Internet of Things will have grown to more than 26 billion units. According to Cisco, there will be 10 billion mobile-ready devices by 2018, including machine to machine – thus exceeding the world population.

The Industrial Internet of Things

Only fifteen years ago, an industrial plant operated on three separate levels. You had the plant processes or operational technology (OT), the IT layer and in between stood the grey area of middleware – connecting management systems to the shop floor. The problem in most enterprises was that the commercial and production systems were entirely separate, often as a deliberate policy. Trying to connect them was difficult not only because of the divergence in the technology, but also the limited collaboration between different parts of the organisation. For these reasons successful implementation of middleware was rare.

Fast forward to today’s smart factory floor that uses the almost ubiquitous Ethernet to make communications as smooth as possible. Supporting the new generation of networking technologies is an increased flow of data, collected and analysed in real-time. However, data is only useful when you can decipher and display it. The next step to industry nirvana is using relevant data for better decisions and predictive analysis, in which the system itself can detect issues and recommend solutions.

Smart manufacturing is based on a common, secure network infrastructure that allows a dialogue – or even better, convergence – between operational and information technology.

The trend goes beyond the factory floor and expands to big processes like national utilities, water treatment and distribution, energy and smart grids, everything in an effort to drive better decision making, improve asset utilisation and increase process performance and productivity.

In fact, some water and energy companies are using the same approach to perform self-analysis on energy efficiency, potential weak points and the integration of legacy systems with new technologies. In a highly regulated and driven sector like utilities, maximising assets and being able to make predictions are worth a king’s ransom.

System integration challenges
System integration in this connected industry landscape comes with its challenges, so companies need to keep up to speed and get creative with technology. Keeping existing systems up to date and working properly is one of the main challenges of industry and big processes alike.

Finally, ensuring your system is secure from cyber threats and attacks is a new challenge fit for Industry 4.0. Connecting a system or equipment to a network is all fine and dandy, but it also brings vulnerabilities that weren’t there before.

Systems integrators relish a challenge and they’re very good at adapting to new technologies. For this reason, some systems integrators have started working closely with industrial automation, IT and security experts to help overcome the challenges posed by Industrie 4.0.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about companies in utilities, manufacturing or transportation, the signs are showing that companies want to get more from their existing assets and are retrofitting systems more than ever.

Of course, retrofitting isn’t always easy. In many cases, upgrading a system without shutting it down is like trying to change the brakes on a speeding bus – impossible. However, unlike the bus scenario, there is usually a solution. All you have to do is find it.

Flexibility is essential for good systems integrators. Being familiar with a wide range of systems and working with different manufacturers is the best way to maximise industry knowledge and expertise, while also keeping up to date with the latest technologies. At Boulting Technology, we partner up with market leaders like Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Mitsubishi, Schneider, ABB and others, to design and supply tailor-made systems integration solutions for a diverse range of industries, processes and platforms.

The world might be getting smaller and we might be more connected than ever before, but some things never change. Relevant experience, partnerships and the desire to innovate are as valuable as they have ever been in this connected new world of Industrie 4.0.

@BoultingTech #PAuto #IoT #Industrie4 @StoneJunctionPR

Automation industry veterans are IoT pioneers and didn’t know it!

28/12/2015
Keith Blodorn, Director of Program Management at ProSoft Technology advises what to consider when starting your industrial internet of things journey

Do you consider yourself an Internet of Things Engineer? You should! Think about what the Internet of Things really means. According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things “is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices…” As an automation industry veteran, that sounds really familiar. We have been connecting intelligent devices to control networks for decades. We’re pioneers!

Acoustic coupler!

Acoustic coupler!

So, then, what’s all the fuss about? Looking through automation-oriented magazines and websites, the Internet of Things seems to be all anyone talks about. In the industrial world people call it the “Industrial Internet of Things” or “Industry 4.0” or any number of other names. But fundamentally, what is so different between this new-fangled buzzword and connecting a motor overload relay to a plant communications network like we were doing twenty years ago?

On one hand, these are basically the same idea. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about intelligent devices like overloads, photo eyes, variable frequency drives, or PLCs providing data that we use to make our processes more efficient. IIoT is a name for a trend that has been going on in manufacturing and process control for years – remember “shop floor to top floor”? IIoT is about gathering more data from more intelligent things, and using powerful analytical tools to find and eliminate waste.

Remote Monitoring and Equipment Access
I know, we’ve been connecting to PLCs remotely for as long as most of us can remember! In the old days, remote access meant installing a serial modem connected to a dedicated phone line, so the machines we made remote access-capable were limited to the most critical operations.

What’s changed in the IIoT world is the proliferation of wireless connectivity, especially cellular networks and wireless LAN. By some estimates, 85 percent of the world’s population will be covered by high-speed cellular data networks by 2017. This has had several effects that change how we should approach remote access and equipment monitoring. First, it’s becoming feasible to gather a LOT more data from remote machines. Since 2008, the average cost per MB of cellular data has dropped 98 percent, from $0.46 per MB to just $0.01 per MB. Now, all that data that we used to deem not important enough to transmit can be made available from our remote sites.

Second, as consumer demand has driven rapid development of Internet- based user interfaces, these same technologies are making remote access to industrial equipment, and especially to process data, more accessible for more people throughout the organization.

Finally, machine builders and control engineers responsible for widely dispersed global operations can build reliable connectivity into their systems without the need for custom infrastructure and integration at the end site. Cellular technology that works on networks worldwide allows these engineers to design their system around a standard remote connection, and reasonably expect that connection to work wherever the machine ends up. For mobile equipment, access is available just about anywhere the equipment goes.

Machine and Process Control
IIoT technology is not just about cellular connections to remote machines. We are seeing new networking approaches to the old requirements of connecting sensors, operator interfaces, controllers and ERP systems that take advantage of the networking technology of today’s Internet. Major automation vendors like Rockwell Automation® and Schneider Electric® have been offering industrial Ethernet connectivity for PLCs and related devices for more than a decade. Industrial Ethernet protocols like ODVA’s EtherNet/IP provide the kind of performance required for automation systems, while also enabling interoperability with the massive Internet Protocol-based network infrastructure found in virtually every organization.

In many industrial applications, moving equipment presents a major challenge for communication to the sensors, actuators, and controls on that equipment. Many products exist to try to solve this problem, from slip rings to flexible cable trays to festoons.

However, these hard-wired solutions add cost and complexity while increasing the maintenance requirements for the machine. Meanwhile, we roam around our offices and homes with continuous connection to the Internet – no festoons in sight! Today’s automation engineers are taking advantage of the Internet Protocol-based industrial technologies to design more reliable networks for moving equipment.

Asset Mobility
One area of automation where IIoT technology is creating new opportunities involves taking the network connection anywhere in the plant. Old systems offered only so many places to “plug in.” Operators had to run the machine from one place – the operator panel. Maintenance had to jot down measurements and observations to enter into the maintenance management system when they got back to the shop. Control engineers could only program PLCs by plugging into the PLC, or to the PLC’s physical network through a proprietary adapter.

In a world where I can set my home thermostat while walking through an airport, we don’t have to live like this! Automation systems are now benefiting from the same “network everywhere” mindset as our home and office environment.

Things to Consider

Keith Blodorn - the author

Keith Blodorn – the author

The Industrial Internet of Things opens up some interesting new possibilities for automation, so you should begin planning how you can get your system “IIoT Ready.” The good news is that you likely have many pieces in place already – intelligent field devices, industrial networks, perhaps even some Internet Protocol-based infrastructure. Here is some food for thought as you consider how your system can fit into this new world of connected machines.

• Network Migration – While many of your field devices are likely already on a network, it is probably not an Internet Protocol-based network. Not to worry! As you see the need to move device data up to higher-level systems, you won’t need to scrap that tried-and-true device network. Gateway devices and in-rack protocol interfaces in your controller allow you to easily connect those older networks to the IP-based applications that need that device data. Serving up data from smart devices adds value to your operation, but it doesn’t necessarily require changing everything that is already there.

• Cybersecurity – While the interoperability of the IIoT brings great benefits, it also opens up new risks that we need to address. In reality, many automation systems are already “connected,” so cybersecurity should already be on your mind. It is important to understand what equipment can be accessed by whom, what connections are necessary and not necessary, and how data that’s transmitted outside the boundaries of your organization’s network is protected.

• Start Small – Vendors everywhere have grand visions for what the IIoT can do for manufacturers. But remember, you don’t need to dive in head first to get benefits from IIoT. Look for applications in your industry that make sense, and give them a try. One of the best parts of the IIoT concept is its scalability – Internet-based applications can just as easily serve one deployment as one million. Pick an interesting application, and run a pilot in a small area. There’s no better way to learn about a new technology than by giving it a go.

• Get Help – Most importantly, work with vendors you can trust. When it comes to industrial networking, ProSoft Technology® has been helping engineers get different equipment all talking the same language for more than 25 years. We can help you navigate your IIoT course, from connecting older Modbus® and PROFIBUS® networks to enabling remote equipment connectivity via cellular networks. When you’re ready to start the next phase of your IIoT journey, we’re here to help make it happen!