Easier machine connectivity, communications add value
Easier machine connectivity, communications, and visualization were among industrial automation trends at International Manufacturing Technology Show 2018 (produced by AMT) and the co-located Hannover Messe USA. Machine tool original equipment manufacturers, automation suppliers to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), system integrators, and end users are working together in many areas to make these happen.
Results could include greater interoperability for devices, systems, and machines. Interoperability (automation plug-and-play nirvana) often has been pursued, but remains out of reach. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connectivity efforts from different organizations and companies are helping.
Industrial Internet Consortium
"Manufacturing innovations such as predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence and advanced security are only a few of the ways that intelligent manufacturing solutions are changing the IIoT," said Dr. Richard Soley, Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) executive director. IIC included IMTS in its roadshow of traveling conferences to discuss testbeds and interconnectivity.
Digital transformation closes the loop in new areas, as tools help manufacturers see, decide, and act with greater agility, explained Melissa King Ruths, vice president, Plantweb solutions and services, Emerson Automation Solutions. With more than 37,000 wirelessHART networks, Ruths said, it’s advantageous to add analytics and services in a scalable way to enable applications such as corrosion prevention, steam traps, and pump monitoring. Once a return on investment (ROI) is seen, the network is in place to scale up from there.
Christoph Berlin, principal group program manager, Azure Industrial IoT, Microsoft Corp., suggested manufacturing could advance continuously with more regular updates to plant-floor systems. When applications are cloud-based, Berlin said, those updates and advantages can be realized closer to real time, compared to less frequent on-premise upgrades.
Even so, interoperability remains an issue. Calvin Smith, director and head of IoT partner engineering, Wipro Digital, said, at last count, 35 standards bodies are attempting to address the IIoT space. While the IIC isn’t a standards body, it does work on standards and has testbeds for proving viability, said Sari Germanos, portfolio and product marketing at B&R. IIC has a shapers group working on time-sensitive networking (TSN), including a publish-subscribe update using OPC.
Germanos said it is possible to navigate and use standards bodies to improve, citing progress in several industries. Automation companies, he noted, used to design their own boards and real-time operating systems. He said less customization and more value-add is the focus now.
Cybersecurity is becoming more ingrained in everything. Radhika Chaturvedi, global cybersecurity business development: energy, power and technologies at UL LLC, said many companies have gotten used to the idea that safety is everyone’s job, all day, every day. Rightly so, security and cybersecurity are gaining that level of awareness, she said.
Another organization working on cooperation among organizations and connectivity is OPC Foundation. OPC Foundation has developed standards; OPC Unified Architecture is IEC 62541, which integrates interoperability, data modeling, and security. OPC, founded in 1995, developed OPC UA in 2004 and now is working on IoT interoperability, according to Tom Burke, president and executive director, OPC Foundation.
The specification is free; the code developed with open-source stacks in ANSI, C/C++, C#, .NET, and Java. It works with any software platform and it can be used in small controllers to massive cloud-based implementation. Security is baked in, it’s vendor-independent, and widely used across industries. Even without being a member, companies that develop products using OPC UA may register the products for free on the site.
Companion information models have been developed with cooperation from other industry organizations.
One unified network?
OPC technology history and future indicates future architecture integration with IEEE TSN and 5G. Burke said the IIoT needs interoperability. "We want all controllers to talk together, even if they cannot exchange programs, we want the information integration problem to be solved."
Reducing system integration costs and vendor interoperability is part of the effort as 55 companies collaborate in a working group to develop OPC UA as a hard real-time deterministic Ethernet with TSN. (See photo online.)
TSN, like its predecessors, has the ability to be customized into non-interoperable pieces, but cooperation to create one version seems like a way to learn from prior incompatible confusion and spend time and resources on resolving other challenges.
Dashboards proliferated widely on the IMTS and Hannover Messe USA show floors, extending behind human-machine interface (HMI) views to incorporate looks across a fleet of machines; some with capabilities to display machines from other vendors (since most facilities contain machines from multiple vendors).
Industrial cloud-based systems also expand and proliferate as vendors seek to connect with and create applications in multiple platforms.
How many cloud platforms and dashboards are needed for an adequate view, and can the data be aggregated into higher-level systems and acted upon appropriately among connected pieces? Levels of application capability vary. The consensus seemed to be don’t wait for universality; use something now for greater visibility into and operation of critical assets. Companies waiting to see who would win the fieldbus wars will fall behind companies that picked something and started achieving value.
Think again if you consider greater interoperability out of reach. Those involved in the latest efforts encourage requests for proposal (RFP) to require (not just recommend) adherence to these and other standards to get OEMs and their automation vendors to collaborate and strive toward greater interoperability. Shouldn’t differentiation derive from performance? Can we compare performance if we cannot see over the walls created from platforms that cannot interoperate?
Unachieved automation interoperability Prior efforts at industrial interoperability include:
- Interoperable fieldbus: It split into a seven-part, non-interoperable, standard, which became known as fieldbus wars.
- Ethernet: Following the model set by fieldbus, it split into non-interoperable industrial Ethernet protocols supported by competing vendors.
- Programming language standard for controllers: In a five-language standard, even programs written in one of the languages cannot be transferred easily from one vendor’s controller to another vendor’s controller.
Did you see?
TSN: Evolution, next steps for industrial systems – Technology Update: IEEE Time Sensitive Networking evolves standard Ethernet to enable deterministic networking that supports coexistence of critical and non-critical forms of traffic. Experts provide TSN updates and explanations.
How much control goes to the cloud? – Cloud computing is gaining ground as industrial plants become more efficient, but it’s important to recognize where computing is needed and where it should be taking place.
Case study: IIoT effectiveness on the plant floor – Create and collect machine and sensor data to augment overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and determine machine efficiency.
See other coverage from IMTS 2018 and Hannover Messe USA, below.