Enabling IIoT requires communication protocol translation

As implementations of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 frameworks commence, network communication protocol translations are needed; Hilscher is providing network gateways and other communications from the plant floor to the enterprise and cloud for manufacturing data analysis, as company executives explained to Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Oil & Gas Engineering publications recently.

By Mark T. Hoske March 6, 2016

Implementations of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 frameworks are progressing, and translations of major industrial network communication protocols enable the flow of data that becomes actionable information with analysis. Hilscher is among many companies providing network gateways and other communications from the plant floor to the enterprise and cloud for manufacturing data analysis. Company executives explained the necessity of efficient data translations to Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Oil & Gas Engineering publications on Feb. 2.

Hilscher representatives at the Hilscher North America facility in Lisle, Ill., said the company devices aim to make it easier for end users, device manufacturers, and machine builders to access the benefits of Industrial Internet-connected manufacturing. Enabling technologies include Hilscher’s recently introduced netIOT solutions for Industrial Cloud Communication, which extract data parallel with current control networks and deliver it to cloud-based analytical services without compromising existing systems or services. 

Cloud reality today

Armin Pühringer, Hilscher business development manager, said these products are designed to help make industrial cloud benefits a reality today. Hilscher North America CEO, Phil Marshall, also addressed the benefits of such connectivity, explaining how Hilscher, which began as a system integration firm in 1988, quickly moved into producing network communication devices. Now with 250 employees, Hilscher provides communications for all fieldbuses and industrial Ethernet protocols, he said.

"Hilscher netX network controller translates 22 protocols, transfers, and converts data. It can connect with everything," Marshall said.

Hilscher created its own chip nine years ago and will produce the eighth this year, Marshall said, in total offering 22 protocols and 33 communication stacks, including masters and slaves and common hardware and software interfaces. 

No network wars; connect as needed

The goal is to get machine builders, system integrators, and end users "Out of the network wars, and allow them to connect easily to as much as they need."

Products include netRapid, a control system on a chip with a 32-pin DLL socket and coprocessor. The netJack can be installed by the end user in a knockout slot.

With various combinations and mounting possibilities, 150 models are offered in IP20 and IP67 packaging, including nine PC cards with the same driver interface. The netHost has software-based programmable logic controller (PLC) masters for slotless systems, and netSCADA offers view and control capabilities with a web browser.

"These devices help IIoT get data off the wire. Products are vendor independent and legacy proof," Marshall noted. "You don’t have to retrofit the control system to get data to the cloud," he said, noting Hilscher can do that for existing and future PLCs, without touching or adding communications responsibilities to PLCs.

The new Hilscher netIOT line includes netIOT Interface Modules, netIOT Edge-Gateways, and netIOT Service. See additional product information linked at the bottom of the article. 

Continuous improvements

Pühringer said customers can:

  • Use existing infrastructure in plants
  • Deploy reference architectures from Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and Industrie 4.0, vetted for all implementations
  • Use cyber-physical systems as a virtual twin
  • Leverage standards and start again, in a cycle of continuous improvement.

The IIC Reference Architecture includes an edge tier with devices such as actuators, scanner, sensors, motors, controls; a platform tier; and connections to the enterprise and cloud. Field includes existing real-time infrastructure, Pühringer said, and the edge bridges information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), then connects to higher level systems. This is a valid model, laid out in great detail for all test beds, Pühringer said.

Industrie 4.0 uses a three-dimensional RAMI 4.0 model, where functional layers are in line with plant floor people, and physical objects enable IIoT functions.

Installations: Flatter, faster

Pilot installations underway are moving to dissolve hierarchical control architectures, Pühringer said, flattening structures and connecting the plant directly to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Cyber-physical systems are created as a virtual twin to each real system, and each physical object has an administration shell. A virtual representation of objects holds the model to simulate the process behavior.

The models can be put on existing wire in the plant without disturbing the PLC, using presently available protocols such as OPC UA (Unified Architecture), DDS, and MQTT, as well as TSN (Time Sensitive Network), an emerging Ethernet standard designed to bring one real-time Ethernet structure to the many-flavored protocol soup of today.

"We see OPC UA gaining momentum. MQTT is expanding quickly beyond its IBM origins," Pühringer said, as IIoT is bringing new standards for engineering and to cloud-based architectures, with vertical integration from sensor into the cloud.

Pühringer said he’s observed a change in recent months where companies are moving beyond prior concerns about safety, security, and privacy risks. IBM is working on a major pilot installation, expected to be announced at Hannover Messe, and Hilscher is supplying network protocol translators. A bottle-filling application was shown at SPS Drives in Nurnberg, Germany, fall 2015. 

Faster, smarter

The IoT seems likely to move along more quickly, with clear and well-thought-through roadmaps, improving overall equipment efficiency (OEE), as all companies seem eager to understand what they can do with data in the cloud, Pühringer suggested. "IoT is a game changer in our industrial business."

Protocols used for field to cloud communication at present are OPC UA and MQTT, and more will be offered, he said. In addition to cloud analytics, IIoT structures will provide access to devices in field via tablets and smartphones for better maintenance and diagnostics.

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

Key concepts

  • Hilscher is helping enable connectivity the IIoT requires.
  • Plant floor can connect to the enterprise and cloud for analytics.
  • IIoT and Industrie 4.0 test cases and demonstrations are underway. 

Consider this

IIoT can connect and derive value from islands of automation. 

ONLINE extra

Hilscher provides additional explanations about IIoT and Industrie 4.0.

Control Engineering offers webcasts and articles on IIoT and to related products below.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.