Data as the basis for industrial digitalization

Data and networking between machines will lead to new business models and services and industrial owner/operators of all sizes can participate.

By Jan Kiehne August 24, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Data Acquisition Insights 

  • Data, which plays a fundamental role in digitized automation, has had three main developments that have benefitted plants that are implementing and optimizing new technology. Access to comprehensive data, lower cost margins and better use of existing data are among the benefits of the information founded during the fourth industrial revolution. Developments in smart field devices is one way that the field has been able to greatly increase transparency and traceability, convenience and safety and reduced costs.
  • How we use data determines whether we are able to add value to it. Standardizing data adds value by helping provide diagnostics and process values. Increase in plant availability, even in cases where there is no maintenance staff onsite, is another benefit to acquiring data in the smartest way. Data is vital as it contributes to product quality, productivity and efficient maintenance strategies.

A comparison of plant owners’ top goals from 30 years ago to today would yield fairly constant results – productivity, cost efficiency and plant availability.

But new additions to these goals – made possible by new technology in the fourth industrial revolution – include flexibility, networking, transparency and support in using artificial intelligence.

This duality is clearly reflected in current recommendations, for example, from NAMUR, an interest group for automation technology in the process industry. The NE 175 NAMUR Open Architecture – NOA Concept, for example, describes how the data from smart field devices can be transferred to a monitoring and optimization domain without repercussions, while retaining the generally accepted advantages of traditional automation structures and enabling new use cases.

In addition, there are countless areas in the digitized automation world where data plays a fundamental role. Three general developments of this role – the “triple jump” of digitalization –include:

  1. The generation of increasingly comprehensive data in the field thanks to smart field devices.
  2. The transmission of data at ever-lower margin costs.
  3. The use of data in networked systems, both in the field (edge) and in the cloud, in such a way that they contribute to value creation.

Smart field devices

Intelligent field devices or actuators can process data digitally and can record (analogue) process values, but also generate additional vital data (e.g., service, quality and production-relevant information about themselves and their direct environment). By transmitting data such as the quality of echo signals in radar-based level measurements or the wear of valves, they create a significant plus in transparency and traceability.

It is difficult to understand why this data remains unused in many places in the field. Intelligent, often platform-based field devices are flexible in terms of the desired form of communication. For a cost-effective entry into the digitalization of automated plants, the widely used 4-20 mA devices without any communication can be replaced by those with an additional HART protocol.

Existing industry standards such as Profibus also provide easy access to vital data. However, digitalization will then receive an enormous boost with new standards such as Profinet or Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (Ethernet APL), as these will increase the transmission bandwidth many times over.

But there are other developments – devices now use wireless connections (including Bluetooth) for safe parameterization and monitoring from a distance. All that is needed for this is a commercially available mobile device (e.g. smartphones) and downloading a corresponding app.

What does this mean for field devices? If control buttons and large displays are eliminated, they can be manufactured much more cheaply. The device operator also gains increases in convenience and safety – maintenance technicians no longer have to work on the physical device itself but can conveniently connect to the device from a short distance away.

Data transmission

The second development phenomenon of digitalization that makes Industry 4.0 possible are reduced costs. Today, it is possible to transport and store data at marginal costs and in such a way that the main task of automation – safe plant operation – isn’t impaired.

However, one important aspect must be highlighted. More data does not automatically mean more knowledge. It is important to select the ‘right’ data as early as possible and, ideally, to actually transport only this data.

In addition, data today differs from instrument to instrument and from manufacturer to manufacturer. In order to be able to use them sensibly despite this, standardization is required, For example, on the basis of the NOA Information Model (NOA-IM) based on OPC UA or PA-DIM (Process Automation – Device Information Model), an object model in which all devices are to be mapped in the future.

Measuring points that are still isolated today can be accessed and networked securely and cost effectively with the help of connectivity elements with the cloud or an on premise solution.

The use of data

After generating data and making it available in a standardized way, we generate added value from it. Diagnostic data is provided in addition to process values. With the vital values of hundreds of devices, which do not have to be read individually on site, users can set up completely new strategies in maintenance and servicing.

Even in plants that do not have their own maintenance crews or operators on site, plant availability can be increased. This requires systems that aggregate and analyze this data and relate it to parameters, tools that provide algorithms, and visualize information in a user-specific way. Siemens can offer a growing number of apps for harnessing data, which are developed jointly with co-creation partners – the possibilities are manifold.

Process sensor technology and instrumentation play a central role in digitalization efforts. Data generated in the field by intelligent field devices, collected consistently by connectivity elements and passed on in a standardized manner, processed, visualized and integrated via apps in an IoT ecosystem, will become the new oil of the 21st century.

Processed and systematized appropriately, data contributes to greater productivity, improved product quality, higher plant availability and more efficient maintenance strategies. Agile development environments in which operators, users, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) specialists work together on solutions will open potential in the future and enable new business models.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website. Edited by Morgan Green, associate editor, CFE Media and Technology,

Author Bio: Jan Kiehne is product manager Digital Solutions and Tools at Siemens.