IIoT Embedded Industrial Automation Systems
We are witnessing a preview of the central role that IIoT will play in industrial automation systems of the future, says Rajabahadur V Arcot.
Rajabahadur V. Arcot
To ensure reliable, effective, efficient, and safe operation of their plant and equipment.
Industrial automation systems gather production floor data, generate actionable information, and control outputs that help manufacturing companies to ensure reliable, effective, efficient, and safe operation of their plant and equipment. These systems generate plant floor information, which the manufacturing companies leverage to maximise productivity and reduce operational and maintenance costs and plant downtime through energy and asset management, and such others. These systems also generate plant performance information, such as energy consumption, plant efficiency and other key performance indicators (KPI).
Evolution of automation systems and industry
The first era of instrumentation and control comprised of simple site or local mounted gauges and meters. This was followed by the era of pneumatic and electronic instruments that work in conjunction with transmitters, which send pneumatic or electrical signals to transmit the sensed data to the control room; 3-15 psi and 4-20 mA emerged as standard pneumatic and electrical signals for transmission. With industrial plants becoming bigger in size and more complex, the need arose for more real-time measurements and the use of central control room housing panel-mounted pneumatic and electronic instruments. The central room became the nerve centre from where all plant-operations including electrical control of plant’s startup and shutdown were performed. New range of online transmitters, such as radar devices for level measurement and vortex and Coriolis for flow appeared in the market. The evolution of the digital technology spurred instrumentation and control companies to introduce computer-based control systems. The entry of powerful microprocessors and the rapid convergence of information and communication technologies further spurred the development of programmable logic controllers (PLC), distributed control systems (DCS), operator stations/human machine interfaces (HMI), supervisory and data acquisition systems (SCADA), and safety instrumented systems (SIS). The next logical step was the introduction of digital communication protocols, such as HART, Modbus, Profibus, Foundation Fieldbus, etc., to send data from field devices to control room automation systems and the evolution of smart transmitters. The emergence of digital technology based systems can be viewed as the third industrial automation era.
Just as the automation technology has evolved, so too has industrialisation progressed over time. Industrialisation which began with the emergence of machines powered by water and steam was followed by mass production assembly lines and electrification. The third era of industrialisation is the extensive use of automation, computers, and electronics in manufacturing.
Role of IIoT in the Industry 4.0 era
Driven by technological developments and customers’ growing needs, the evolution of the manufacturing industry, industrial automation systems, and business process/enterprise solutions will continue. Those following the industry development trends are predicting the dawn of the fourth industrial era, Industry 4.0, and increasing role for Industrial Internet, an acronym that includes emerging technology enablers or technology tools, such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), edge, fog, and cloud computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomous robots, and others in automation systems.
The key drivers contributing to the industrial transformation are the need for manufacturing companies to gain agility so that they can be more responsive to customers, become more resource and energy efficient, agile, and overcome challenges relating looming demographic changes and shortage of skilled workers, and such others.
Industry 4.0 era requirements include that a manufacturing firm’s production be closely tied to demand and that production and business processes be tightly coupled and real-time and autonomously driven so that the firm becomes a connected enterprise. This will be achieved by embedding electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity in machines, equipment, materials, products, and all entities so that they all become cyber-physical systems (CPS) or IIoT. They will be able to connect, interact and exchange data and be monitored and controlled by computer algorithms.
The basic needs of the connected enterprise are access to more data, tools to efficiently analyse them and extract actionable information that can trigger autonomous responses, and that all decisions be based on real-time holistic information. These requirements spur manufacturing companies to demand that automation systems and enterprise solutions have capabilities to exchange information horizontally and vertically. While the manufacturing companies need these systems and solutions to work collaboratively so that they can exchange information freely, the fact is that the existing industrial automation systems and business process automation solutions were essentially built to operate in standalone mode; the need for seamless exchange data or information with other systems was not part of the initial design criteria. In a plant, it is not uncommon to come across these systems and solutions sourced from different vendors over a period of time and hence they are most likely of varying vintages built on proprietary hardware and software. It is only to be appreciated that manufacturing companies while striving to become future ready, would not adopt scrap and replace approach. Therefore they need industrial automation systems that are open standards-based, modular, interoperable, expandable, reusable, portable, scalable, and intrinsically cyber-secure
IIoT is the overarching technology that is expected to play ever increasing role in data gathering and analysis, generation of actionable information, and achieving information transparency. In reality, these technology enablers are the outcome of the convergence of information and communication technologies that has contributed to the development of the internet and the growth of the processing capabilities and memory capacities of microprocessors, their availability at affordable prices, their miniaturisation and robustness, and their readiness for practical applications in industries. These technology tools will shape the future of manufacturing and automation industry.
Suppliers’ positioning strategies
Technology companies such as Apple, Alphabet, and IBM, which are the strong proponents of IIoT; automation market leaders such as ABB, Siemens, and Honeywell; and manufacturing firms, are responding to the impending changes in ways that are dictated by what they foresee as the impact of IIoT trends on their businesses. Technology companies, with strong competencies in enabling technologies and seeing tremendous new business and monetisation opportunities, are making large investments and establishing centres of excellence to develop and demonstrate their capabilities in leveraging these technologies. Their business model is to offer platform-as-a-service; examples are Azure (Microsoft), Watson (IBM), Amazon Web Service (Amazon), and DeepMind (Alphabet). Some of them are building partnership agreements with leading automation suppliers.
On the other hand automation market leaders are largely taking the path of joint working with technology companies so that their complimentary competencies in their respective domains can be marshalled to build the rest of the capabilities required to architect IIoT-embedded automation systems. ABB has entered into an agreement with IBM and Microsoft that envisages the companies to collaborate to jointly develop and sell new products. GE has announced that it will operate its software and services including Predix Application Platform in Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure public cloud data centres. Similar decision has been taken by Emerson to work with Microsoft to expand its Industrial IoT applications by integrating Microsoft IoT offerings, including cloud-based Azure IoT Suite and smart device-driven Windows 10 IoT.
While traditional automation suppliers are taking the path of joint working, some companies such as Inductive Automation, Kepware, Opto 22, and Hilscher have innovatively positioned themselves along with others in the industrial automation systems market and proactively creating opportunities for systems engineers to architect modular and interoperable industrial control systems on their own. Their offerings include among others edge gateways, edge communication nodes, and control systems that are cyber secure. Inductive Automation’s Ignition is an integrated HMI, SCADA, and MES Software Platform that is web-based, open, modular, and scalable. The company sells the software by the server; one license gives users unlimited number of tags, clients and connections. Since the release of Ignition, the company has been keeping the industry abuzz regularly with new product releases. The company’s Ignition Edge is designed for embedding power in OEM devices at the edge of the network. Recently, the company launched Ignition Onboard Program. Under this program, device manufacturers embed Ignition and Ignition Edge software in the devices they manufacture.
Kepware’s flagship offering, KEPServerEX, is a connectivity platform that allows users to connect, manage, monitor, and control diverse automation devices and software applications. It acts as a single source for industrial data and leverages OPC and communication protocols, such as SNMP, ODBC, and web services.
Opto 22 recently introduced groov EPIC (edge programmable industrial controller) system that combines I/O, control, data processing and visualisation into one at the edge-of-network industrial system. While companies such as Inductive Automation and Opto 22 are focusing on leveraging internet and web based industrial control system architecture, Hilscher offers gateways for transferring and converting data between two identical or two different industrial automation networks, IIoT communication interface cards, and such others. Bedrock Automation is pursuing the path of building from ground up control systems that are cyber secure. Ensuring security of such open standards-based architectures is critical and Bedrock has chosen to address the security concerns for industrial systems. The company’s automation platform called Open Secure Automation, OSA, is designed for this purpose. These companies, in pursuit of new business opportunities in areas that are adjacent to their present markets, such as industrial automation software, devices, interface modules, automation components are treading a new path. Companies that take this path have opportunities to emerge as excellent value chain partners to industrial automation systems engineering companies.
Case studies – System engineered industrial automation systems
Architecting solutions with embedded Industrial Internet will require significant amount of efforts as their design, engineering, and maintenance demand multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary competencies and expertise. It requires people with skills in process knowledge, knowledge about industrial automation systems and enterprise solutions, project management, and problem solving capabilities. Above all, multi-domain knowledge and familiarity with industry practices are critical for realising value from industrial internet technology.
End users who believe that with more plant floor information and information transparency they can enhance operational performance and have access to competent system engineering resources are already architecting automation systems by using edge gateways, interface modules, communication nodes, protocol convertors, human machine interfaces, and appropriate application software, that are available from various suppliers, such as Inductive Automation, Kepware, Opto 22, Hilscher, and others and integrating them with the existing automation systems. The following case studies illustrate how industrial internet of things is making inroads into industrial automation systems architecture.
A major oil and gas exploratory and production company with over 1800 well sites all across North America uses Ignition, the web-based SCADA system software by Inductive Automation for monitoring around 120,000 IO points from the flow computers on each field. A web-based solution was desired in order to connect the approximately 300 employees, both the field and corporate level, who needed access to real-time data daily. Ignition’s cross-platform, web-based architecture allows, on one hand easy collection and storage of historical data to a central server and, on the other, secures access from the server, using the OPC-UA protocols.
Texas based Pantera Energy Company which operates over 1,300 oil wells, wanting to automate jobs that are traditionally manually performed and provide mobile accessibility to geographically distributed sites, was looking for a SCADA system which is interoperable, scalable, and capable of supporting efficient and effective remote monitoring across many sites and devices. It selected Ignition SCADA solution from Inductive Automation and the KEPServerEX communications platform from Kepware. While Ignition encompasses all the major software layers such as HMI, SCADA, and MES into a single, cross-platform solution, Kepware’s KEPServerEX leverages OPC and IT-centric interfaces such as SNMP and ODBC, to communicate with industrial devices and applications using a library of more than 150 protocols and act as a single source for industrial data.
According to Opto 22’s application brief “Integrator brings 30-year-old wind turbines into the 21st Century,” SCADA Solutions, a provider of SCADA communications, automation, and integration services has installed Opto 22-based system at wind farms. With Opto 22’s SNAP PAC industrial controllers supervising individual IO controllers on each turbine, a wireless mesh radio network for communications, and Opto 22’s groov View operator interface for mobile devices, SCADA Solutions has integrated a system to remotely monitor and automatically manage wind farm electrical power generation output down to the individual turbine. Opto 22’s software application suite offers a variety of interfaces and protocols and has the ability to push data to the cloud, while groov View allows access live turbine data and control those turbines from a smartphone or other mobile device.
Hilscher’s whitepaper “Edge Gateways: How IIoT can benefit users today and tomorrow”, rightly highlights that “initially, IIoT implementations will be associated with plant upgrades and step improvements. They will use familiar techniques and co-exist with current equipment and systems. They will add value…” It goes on to state that a good understanding of the Information technologies and operational technologies is important for implementing IIoT based systems. netIOT Edge, Hilscher’s flagship product, can be used to pull data from PLC/DCS into its local memory and the data can be used locally or streamed to the cloud.
We are witnessing a preview of the central role that IIoT will play in industrial automation systems of the future. The case studies provide a clear indication of the automation industry trends.
Rajabahadur V. Arcot
He is Independent Industry Analyst/Columnist and Automation Consultant with extensive experience in writing industry and technology trend articles, market research reports, case studies, white papers, and automation and manufacturing IT insights. He may be reached by email: email@example.com