Webcast on getting started with IIoT offers extra answers

The webcast, “Leave my Things Alone: Getting Started with IIoT,” sponsored by PTC, shows how IIoT software can troubleshoot machine and connectivity issues in real-time, minimize unplanned downtime, increase efficiency and flexibility, and leverage new IIoT technologies. Extra answers from a live question and answer session are provided below.

By Aron Semle June 15, 2017

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) offers challenges and opportunities to control engineers, as explained in an archived June 13 webcast, "Leave my Things Alone: Getting Started with IIoT," sponsored by PTC. The webcast explains how IIoT can improve real-time visibility into OPC server status, provide instant notifications and alerts of device connectivity errors, and prepare the organization for predicative analytics, business system integration, and augmented reality technologies for the factory floor.

Aron Semle, senior manager, solutions management at PTC, discussed benefits and demonstrated ThingWorx IIoT platform software in the webcast. Below, he answers some questions that the 1-hour webcast didn’t have time to address. He explained how the software can help troubleshoot machine and connectivity issues in real-time, minimize unplanned downtime, increase efficiency and flexibility, and better position users to leverage new IIoT technologies.

Q: Are we adding to IT and business confusion by implying that IIoT is a way to access control systems from the internet?

Semle: That’s a fair statement. What we don’t want IT and business people to think is that IIoT is about "going around" existing systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resources (HR), and others. This also sets off fears about security. IIoT is really a way to improve operations and make the business more efficient, partially by making it really easy to connect and share data among different systems. So I would sell it internally as a way for the business to get better and more real-time data from operations, versus connecting controls systems to the internet, which may not be part of your solution.

Q: How is my data secured?

Semle: If you’re looking at moving data off premises and to the cloud, you need to consider a few things. First, use protocols that are encrypted, such as HTTPS, MQTT with TLS, OPC UA, etc. These technologies use X509 certificates to encrypt communication. You can read more about these protocols here. These will protect data in transit. Next, make sure your cloud storage is secure. Look critically at your cloud provider. Make sure they run security audits, and the attack surface of the cloud machine is minimal (no open ports). ThingWorx uses secure communications, is security audited, and it enables secure connections to cloud platforms.

Q: For OEE, will availability, quality, and usability be derived automatically by the system or through manual entries?

Semle: The out-of-the-box apps gather this data from OPC, and in the near future from historians and test systems as well. You can easily extend the app using ThingWorx to allow for manual data entry. This is very common among customers, and we’ll likely extend the starter apps in the near future to support this out-of-the-box.

Q: Can we achieve read/write control using IIoT in place of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software? If yes, what will be the response time difference between SCADA and IIoT? Would it suitable to use IIoT for such read/write control?

Semle: IIoT can do read or write. Most applications you see today are read-only, but the technology supports sending commands as well. The response time is more dependent on the infrastructure than anything else. If you have a bad internet connect (or none) it will be slow. Looking at the technology and protocol though, the two are very similar. One thing you should pay close attention to for remote sites (ex. oil & gas) is bandwidth usage. Some IIoT protocols (ex. AMQP) will use a lot more bandwidth than common SCADA protocols (ex. Modbus), but do provide extra layers of security and reliability. So it depends on your situation.

Q: How much data can be stored, and are there any charges to use this cloud technology?

Semle: In the webcast, the trends I showed in the software demo will store one week of data per tag by default. You can extend this. There is a cost per-instance of the software, whether it’s hosted on premises or in the cloud. However, there is a free version where you can use just the out-of-the-box apps with no customization.

Q: As I understand it, tools like IBM Watson require people to curate data to train models. Does the PTC solution require something similar?

Semle: No, and we are putting a lot of effort in to make this possible. Our tools build the model for you. The only thing you need to do is train it with data. This requires you to turn it on, and when anomalies are detected you tell ThingWorx if it’s a real anomaly or not. Once the model is trained, you’re good to go. We’re not 100% there yet, but we’re getting close, and this is our goal.

Q: For someone who is about to attend college, what should they study if they want to get involved with IIoT?

Semle: In manufacturing, study programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and controls, IT and security, and machine learning. If you have these core skills and domain knowledge, you’ll learn the rest, and have no issue finding a great job. One of the big issues right now is the lack of IT/OT knowledge. People with IT backgrounds understand security, big data, and machine learning, but they don’t know how to apply it to industrial processes. People in OT understand the process, but not the IT side. Having both skill sets is a huge advantage, and people with these today are having a ton of fun!

Q: How can someone begin? Should we should first connect the machines on Ethernet and use SCADA software or what?

Semle: Yes, start with connectivity. Connect your machines with PLCs or wireless sensors. Basically, get them Ethernet enabled. At that point you can start using the apps. PTC has connectivity solutions and can help you with this. Hirotec is an example of a customer that’s done this. You can also take a look at the PTC Manufacturing Journey that was created based on what we see customers doing.

Q: Which PTC ThingWorx app addresses the product engineering development/Inquiry to Order (ITO)/Order to Remittance (OTR)/Shipping/Installation/Service integration? Can the software cover the entire digital thread for the product life cycle?

Semle: None just yet, but this is covered by the ThingWorx platform. The platform includes engineering design and service use cases. We are in the process of creating starter apps for these as well. If you haven’t seen Jim Heppelmann’s LiveWorx 2017 Keynote, I’d encourage you to check it out. It’s an example of how PTC helps companies accomplish the digital thread. Don’t miss the laser light show either!

Q: Can I have a private cloud space?

Semle: Yes! This is called hybrid cloud and many customers are doing this today.

The June 13 webcast, "Leave my Things Alone: Getting Started with IIoT," sponsored by PTC, will be archived for viewing for one year at www.controleng.com/webcasts.

Edited by Mark T. Hoske, webcast moderator and content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE extra

See related Control Engineering coverage linked below.