Making machine control open, secure
Adopting modern and flexible automation platforms helps OEMs and end users meet traditional production challenges while addressing newer concerns such as supply chain issues, labor shortages and cybersecurity.
- Learn more machine control systems are evolving and being integrated with modern programming languages and increased automation.
- Understand some of the challenges manufacturers and end users face with these control systems, which are vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks.
Machine control insights
- Supply chain challenges, mixed with skilled labor shortages and cybersecurity issues are challenges manufacturers face today, but modern machine and automation platforms are helping improve plant floor operations.
- An open machine control platform using common toolsets provides designers with the flexibility to select whatever devices are most available.
Traditional challenges facing original equipment manufacturer (OEM) machine builders, and the end users they serve, often involve maximizing production rates, quality and uptime. While these fundamental focuses remain relevant, there are other significant external issues increasingly impacting OEMs and their customers. Supply chain scarcity, skilled labor shortages and cybersecurity worries affect how OEMs are supplying their equipment, and what end users require (Figure 1).
In years past, the technology and functionality needed to tackle all these issues might only be available in flagship controllers, but today automation options have expanded. Modern automation options include high-performance compact controllers suitable for use with all types of machines, helping OEMs and end users handle problems effectively.
Modern and flexible automation platforms are making it possible to continue satisfying typical machine control needs, while providing new options for addressing the latest challenges in the current business environment, through application of recent innovations such as evolving Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities. Adopting these advancing technologies helps OEMs and end users meet these and other challenges while improving their partnerships.
Accommodating, overcoming supply chain constraints
Supply chain issues introduce challenges for design and machine operation. At design time, developers may find it difficult to source various components and intelligent devices. Once in production, component changes may be needed quickly as material sources vary and manufacturing demands are altered, otherwise production output can come to an ungraceful halt.
Designers are best positioned to integrate flexibility into their machine controls when they select an automation platform built upon open hardware, software and communications standards (Figure 2). This creates more open systems and allows component substitution if supply chain issues limit availability.
Devices equipped with gigabit Ethernet and integrated Ethernet switching.
Development environments offering IEC 61131 and more modern programming languages.
Native, pre-licensed, support for open-standards-based industrial protocols such as secure OPC UA, Profinet, Modbus TCP, IO-Link and DNP3.
An open platform with a scalable runtime configured using common toolsets provides designers with the flexibility to select whatever devices are most available to meet the need. After a machine is up and running, these features help designers make real-time changes to optimize operations, reduce risk and improve competitiveness.
Matching labor skillsets to controllers
While traditional IEC 61131 industrial programming languages remain relevant, there is a shift underway as the next generation of workers enters the engineering and maintenance workforce. New personnel are more likely to be comfortable with modern programming languages, such as C/C++ and Python. Advanced applications, such as data aggregation and analytics utilizing machine learning (ML) or artificial intelligence (AI), are best implemented with these languages.
Other contemporary programming methods include taking advantage of portable code libraries, which fosters reusable, extensible and maintainable coding practices. Tag-based programming, user-defined data types (UDT) and user-defined function blocks (UDFB), implemented with common automation toolsets and broad built-in function libraries, make for easy code standardization, rapid deployment, and reduced risk.
Automation systems built to withstand cyberattacks
As automation platforms become smarter and more connected with higher-level systems and the internet, cybersecurity concerns become paramount. To reduce the risk of cyberattacks and provide suitable protection, security must be natively built into every layer including:
Product supply chains (using tools for verifying products have not been tampered with, and traceability of components used in products)
Hardware boot systems
Core operating system services
Communications and networking.
One of the key features of modern automation platforms revolves around open connectivity. Open connectivity, however, can only be most effective when it is complemented by complete security-by-design.
Matching the pace of automation evolution
Traditional programmable logic controller (PLC) and programmable automation controller (PAC) controls are mature and remain essential, but new technologies continue to arise and change fundamental approaches to solving automation problems. Not all new technologies stand the test of time, though. OEMs and end users can struggle with how to best take advantage of what is available, without the perpetual worry of obsolescence.
The most reliable way to keep pace with this evolution is to work with a supplier offering a full portfolio of automation products, which includes PLCs and PACs, and extending to edge gateways, edge controllers and edge industrial PCs (Figure 3). How does a full portfolio allow OEMs to keep pace? Using coordinated control and computing software based on open communications to support the data standardization, analytics, protocol conversion, and connectivity initiatives required by OEMs and end users.
Using these components let designers deploy new machines and build bridges between traditional islands of automation. Adaptable connectivity applies in two significant ways. First, support for OPC UA and other Ethernet industrial protocols makes it easy for machines to communicate with each other and with supervisory systems. Second, for processing plants with larger plantwide distributed control systems (DCS), support for NAMUR open standard module type package (MTP) means that machines – whether automated by PLCs, PACs, or edge controllers – are integrated with the DCS. This is a common requirement for companies using machinery in hybrid and process industries.
OEM and end user cooperation
Open and secure automation helps OEM and end users individually, and in partnership with each other. It elevates OEMs from selling machines to delivering a valuable range of services. It also accelerates end user efforts to optimize and coordinate all their operations, while expanding their support options.
OEMs adopting modern machine control platforms can deliver advanced IIoT solutions to their customers, giving both parties the ability to monitor and support the equipment using real-time data and to apply analytics-based optimization. OEMs also gain the ability to provide tool-less fleetwide application deployment, updates, and standardized equipment tuning as well as secure remote firmware updates. Native communications authentication and encryption ensure these activities remain secure. Integrated intellectual property locks help OEMs deploy their most advanced developments.
End users benefit from gaining easy access to their valuable operational data, and the peace of mind derived from knowing their OEMs can keep their machines running at optimal efficiency via secure IIoT connectivity. Many users find their machines do not provide full functionality or value if they are installed as standalone islands, but it is often difficult to properly integrate many different makes and models. Modern machine control platforms, using open-standards-based communications and capabilities like MTP, empower end users to integrate many different machines and subsystems for more comprehensive operational views and insights.
Developing more capable machine control
For machine control, it is no longer enough to focus on the traditional challenges of production, quality, and uptime on a per-machine basis. OEMs and their end user customers are faced with additional external pressures related to supply chain disruptions, recruiting and retaining qualified personnel, and defending against cyberattacks.
By adopting modern automation platforms and technologies, which include high-performance compact controllers incorporating a wide range of native open connectivity support, contemporary programming capability and built-in security. This helps OEMs and end users can overcome these and other challenges. They also are empowered to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges by creating new working models for efficient plant-wide integration, implementation of ML and AI technologies and improved remote support.
Darrell Halterman is director of PACSystems controls products at Emerson’s machine automation solutions business. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: machine control, original equipment manufacturer
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