PC-based control drives global adoption of Industrie 4.0, IIoT concepts

PC-based control systems are at the front lines of automation technology and information technology convergence (AT/IT) as businesses find ways to funnel data into a useful, actionable form designed to empower decision makers as they look to stay competitive.


Integration with plant operations via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enables companies to achieve a superior degree of operational knowledge and facilitates cutting-edge methods to streamline and optimize processes. Courtesy: Beckhoff AutomationEveryone has been talking about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 for quite some time, but there are very good reasons it has stayed on our collective radar. The key themes behind the Smart Factory concept revolve around establishing high connectivity and managing the critical mass of data generated every day in manufacturing facilities around the world in order to gain valuable insight to optimize businesses and processes.

Regardless of methodology, the business needs that motivate companies to embrace big data and cloud-connected communication continue to grow unabated. This will be a subject of discussion for a long time to come. This is because there is a business case at the center of the constructive conversations about these subjects. Manufacturing operations produce vast amounts of data, and finding ways to funnel that data into a useful, actionable form becomes paramount to empower company decision makers with the information they need to stay competitive and innovative.

However, storing and conveying this data is just the tip of the digital iceberg. Heightened levels of integration with plant operations minutiae enable companies to achieve a superior degree of operational knowledge as well as facilitate cutting-edge methods to streamline and optimize processes. Concepts such as predictive maintenance, machine downtime reductions, and control solution optimization—minimizing cycle times or energy peaks—offer companies previously unseen clarity towards increased manufacturing efficiency and driving down production costs.

Though implementation of these concepts can be achieved in many different ways, PC-based control systems provide an efficient means to build this type of functionality by relying heavily on standards. In addition, PC-based control systems are at the front lines of automation technology and information technology convergence (AT/IT).

This convergence is occurring almost everywhere in the world of automation and controls, but it has been developing far longer, with the greatest level of integration in PC-based control. Cloud-connected industrial databases, object-oriented manufacturing processes, and control system notifications pushed to mobile devices are just a few of the exciting things on the horizon for forward thinking companies. 

Connectivity and big data

IIoT and Industrie 4.0 have a strong hand in connectivity, but the data derived through that connectivity are the valuables being mined. Seamless, cycle-synchronous data acquisition and storage are prerequisites for effective production/throughput analysis and correction of processing errors in machines. To this end, Internet of Things (IoT) software includes the ability to store all process-relevant data in a cycle-synchronous manner and in a standardized data format. This data can be stored either locally in the controller, in a cloud-based solution on a server in the company network, or in a public cloud, depending on the needs of the company. The platform provides a complete temporal image of the manufacturing process and the production data, offering an ideal information baseline, not only to assist in the event of an error, but also to enable comprehensive condition analysis of the machine, among other valuable functions.

The recorded process and production data can be analyzed online or offline, and machine cycles can be examined for minimum, maximum, and average values of the cycle times. Features such as online and offline condition analysis, predictive maintenance, pattern recognition, machine optimization, and long-term data archival are designed to help companies that seek complete business intelligence covering the finest details of their operation.

Another new feature deals with moving vital data from point to point, ensuring that authorized personnel can access this data, regardless of time or their location in the world. This feature supports standardized protocols for cloud communication such as MQTT, AMQP, and OPC-UA for smart device integration. The extension of conventional control tasks through applications such as big data, pattern recognition, or condition and power monitoring in the cloud, can result in major improvements to production throughput, equipment efficiency, and time-to-market with new products precisely tailored to rapidly changing demand.

Through the use of a PC-based control system and IIoT software, establishing a seamless connection between the IoT devices and the Internet of Services becomes a simple matter of configuration via the software graphical user interface (GUI). Corresponding services can be affordably hosted in public cloud systems or within private, local networks. Utilizing these platforms and services in combination with advanced PC-based control systems, which support native connections to these services, offers a solution that is quickly configured; process data can start being captured and analyzed.

The value of data in any manufacturing operation cannot be oversold, and the ability to mold that data into the means to streamline plant operations, reduce operational downtime, and cut costs has become today's gold standard for the modern enterprise. This is really what Industrie 4.0 and the IIoT discussions should be about. PC-based control is becoming the de facto system for companies seeking to create measurable and compelling business results off the rising tide of the Smart Factory.

Daymon Thompson is automation product specialist, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

Key Concepts

  • PC-based control systems are at the front lines of automation technology and information technology convergence (AT/IT).
  • PC-based control systems and IIoT software can establish a seamless connection between the Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
  • PC-based control is becoming the de facto system for companies seeking to benefit from the rising tide of the Smart Factory.

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What else can PC-based control do for Industry 4.0 and the IIoT?

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WILLIAM , CA, United States, 03/24/16 11:07 AM:

Data collection has become much more efficient and fast. As an engineer in a large chemical plant in the late 1970's, one essential task was producing the daily "production report", which was tedious and manual, using clipboard data, though we did have a mini-computer. Today, such reports are automatic and managers can get almost live status. Besides just "corporate snooping", this can be helpful in allocating resources, such as parts replacement (based on machine monitors) and adjusting plant flow.
In the past, one relied on employees, but their interests don't always align w/ the company's. Left on their own, they may over-stock expensive spare parts or schedule unneeded maintenance as "make work". At that chemical plant, the union guys weekly changed the same expensive pump seal. They opposed my investigating root cause and were buddies with the local seal salesman. Corporate seemed unaware.
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