Interoperability best practices, integration, automation, controls

Standardization frameworks encourage more automation interoperability. Interoperability is trying to move from one or a few automation ecosystems into a wider world. See four levels of cybersecurity.

By Mark T. Hoske March 9, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Universal automation can help create a resilient, sustainable future.
  • Four levels of cybersecurity reduce risk.
  • Open automation is software centric.

Through mergers, acquisitions and pilot programs, organizations have been exposed to multiple control systems and various automation vendors’ products, and greater automation interoperability across vendors is becoming possible with more attention to standards. Interoperability efforts are widening automation buy and specify opportunities.

With manufacturing production and supply chain disruption from the pandemic, manufacturers are seeking greater agility on the way to global economic recovery. Technology enables greater sustainability and stronger resiliency in the event of future disruptions.

Universal automation creates a resilient, sustainable future

Nathalie Marcotte, president process automation, Schneider Electric, said at an ARC Advisory Group workshop, “A Resilient and Sustainable Future,” companies cannot have smart operations with a single vendor model, explaining open automation is required for efficient and resilient operations to protect the planet.

At the Feb. 9 online event for technology end users and media, Marcotte described a more collaborative and universal automation future, with plug-and-produce automation software components that solve specific challenges, such as in a software app store. The IEC 61499 standard creates an interoperable and portable layer across vendors’ event-driven function blocks in distributed industrial process, measurement and control systems. It enables easier distribution of applications across multiple devices and systems. End users will demand IEC 61499 interoperability from automation vendors, Marcotte said.

Such interoperability creates universal automation so application code will work across vendors’ automation systems. Code written only using the IEC 61131-3 standard for automation programming for one vendor may not work with another vendor’s software or hardware, a source of frustration for end users, system integrators, and some automation vendors that want automation users to more easily integrate devices and systems from many suppliers.

Universal automation creates savings

Lisa Johnston, chief sustainability officer and chief marketing officer (CMO), Aveva (Schneider Electric sold its software business to Aveva and owns a majority share), said use of digital solutions can cut carbon up to 15% and suggested the next 10 years needs to be a decade of action.

Henkel, a consumer goods company, is using 16% less energy year over year (YOY) and has installed approximately 3,500 sensors per site saving a total of 8 million Euro per year. Increased digitalization creates real-time visibilities on production lines with better tracking of energy and materials.

Elias Panasuik, senior program director, EcoStruxure power and process, Schneider Electric, described other savings in capital costs and operating efficiency over a facility’s lifecycle.

Application of open digital automation, Panasuik said, can save up to 20% in operational expenditures and up to 30% in capital expenditures, reduce downtime 20%, add up to 3 percentage points in profitability and reduce carbon emissions 7 to 12%, among other benefits. Designing automation from the start of a project helps build-in these advantages and removes automation from the critical path (the crunch time) before startup, he added.

Four levels of cybersecurity

Increased cybersecurity threats mean that cybersecurity should be addressed on multiple levels, according to Jay Abdallah, cybersecurity services, Schneider Electric, such as:

  1. Cybersecurity for the operation lifecycle with consulting, integration and managed security services
  2. Technology partnerships helping situational awareness, compliance, change management and big data security
  3. System deployment with secure deliver of project and services for products or systems
  4. Cybersecurity by design for products, solutions and software.

With COVID-19 operating protocols in place that allow more and wider remote access, Abdallah suggested those augmenting cybersecurity should consider:

  • Vendor-agnostic capabilities
  • Ability to understand and apply information technology (IT) cybersecurity solutions within operational technology (OT) contexts and perspectives
  • Flexible security solutions to maximize value and efficiency
  • Customized controls based on customers’ requirements
  • Deep understanding of OT priorities and concerns.

Integrating cybersecurity into an operational lifecycle, Abdallah said, means considering cybersecurity in design and implementation (defense in depth, secure architecture, asset management, security assurance level, system hardening and solution integration); cybersecurity monitoring (firewall security, device management, threat management, device security and OT and security information and event management [SIEM]); cybersecurity maintenance (system upgrades security patches, incident response); cybersecurity training (security awareness, security engineer, security administrator and advanced expert); and cybersecurity consulting (policy and procedure, asset inventory, gap analysis, risk and threat and compliance).

Speed helps. Nidal Ghizawi, managing R&D director, Schneider Electric, after another ARC Forum presentation, noted that everyone is trying to figure out how to play in an open world, especially compared to competitors. “Those who figure out faster will have an advantage.”

Open automation software, collaboration

In a Feb. 8 announcement at ARC Forum, Schneider Electric made three announcements related to open automation.

  1. Schneider Electric advanced plug-and-produce industrial automation withEcoStruxureAutomation Expert v21.0, accelerated release schedule to every six months for what it calls the world’s first software-centric industrial automation system, and intensified its call for wider support for IEC 611499 to create a universal automation layer.
  2. Schneider Electric called for stronger collaboration in industries of the future by renewing commitment to transforming the industrial sector through open, sustainable technology; urgingadoption of universal automation and software to drive sustainability, efficiency, and health and safety across industry; and points to industrial businesses as key to global economic recovery.
  3. A Schneider Electric and Wood partnership aims to accelerate open automation by giving operators unprecedented operational agility and step-change improvements with interoperable universal automation, separating control algorithms from runtime hardware to advance industrial digitalization, and collaborate with highly efficient and innovative engineers proficient in IEC 61499 technology.

In the Schneider Electric press conference, Kaishi Zhang, EcoStruxure automation expert/product management director, and John Conway, vice president business transformation next-gen automation, discussed how future industries will require a fundamental technology change, stronger collaboration, and an industrywide commitment to sustainable eco-efficiency.

Software-centric automation: A quantum leap

Conway said tools can empower all to make the most of energy resources, using digitalization to advance sustainability and shift energy use to more decarbonized sources. Software-centric universal automation is the next quantum leap in industrial automation. High efficiency automation systems and industrial operations are needed. Plug and produce universal automation can learn from IT world about openness.

He called the IEC 61499 standard for interoperable and portable automation code an Industry 4.0 enabler and said as people understand its benefits, customers will demand it from automation suppliers.

Zhang said the software supporting the standard, such as Schneider Electric ecoStruxure Automation Expert v21.0, will help push users toward 100% energy efficiency and operational effectiveness with future-proof software centric automation. Zhang expects new releases every 3 to 6 months based on customer requests in advanced manufacturing and process industries.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Universal automation software, interoperability


Think Again about open process automation updates, in this issue.


Schneider Electric explains more about industries of the future at 

Also see a Schneider Electric YouTube tutorial video on IEC 61499 for industrial automation. 

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.