Fifteen Years of iPhone

Remember 10-12 years ago when some worriers considered all the bad things that could happen if workers took their iPhones and other smart mobile devices into the plant? I wrote articles at Automation World about all this mobile connectivity. Companies figured out how to connect them to the HMI of machines and processes. Engineers complained to me at conferences that I was responsible for their loss of free time even on vacation because bosses expected them to be always on.

But the benefits have been tremendous. Maybe managers had to learn how to allow people to be off the grid at times, but there would have been no way to negotiate these Covid times without them. My first smart device was a Palm Pilot. I lusted for a Newton, but I just couldn’t rationalize it. With the Palm, I synced my ACT CRM, loaded documents, and took notes. When I was calling on a large engine manufacturing plant or other large facilities, I didn’t have to take a big notebook, briefcase, and lots of paper. That was mid-90s.

One of my favorite tech writers, Om Malik, blogged a retrospective of his writing on the iPhone. He wrote for Wired and Red Herring and then started the Web-based news site GigaOm. Now he blogs on his own.

I brought the Palm (later generations) with me when beginning my editorial career at Control Engineering in 1998. Once again, I could call on a company and only take that along.

Gary’s Device Collection 1995-Present

The photo shows a couple of my Palm devices then several, but not all, of my early phones. Then a couple of iPods, which were way cool. A couple of early HTC Android phones, and then five of my iPhones including my model 12 at the bottom right.

These devices have been essential to my improved productivity and effectiveness. They’ve also been a time-waster, but you can’t have everything.

Thank you to Steve Jobs and Apple for the development and evolution of the iPhone.

Standardization Advances From OPC Foundation

OPC Foundation held a virtual SPS press conference combined with annual general meeting last month. The most profound news comes from the group working on Field Level Communications. That seemed to be a bit of a political football when the idea was broached several years ago. It now has momentum. A couple of other items of interest relate to work with other associations. OPCF will take ownership of the MDIS Sub-Sea Standard. Meanwhile, John Dyck continues to be busy building relationships as CESMII and OPCF have launched a UA Cloud Library.

OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications Initiative reaches significant milestone and celebrates premiere

Three years after its launch, the OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative has completed the second release candidate of the OPC UA FX (Field eXchange) specifications and has started the review and release process for them.  In addition, a multi-vendor demo with controllers and network infrastructure components of 20 companies – among them the world’s largest automation suppliers – has been realized to showcase the cross-vendor interoperability of automation components for the most diverse use cases in Factory and Process Automation.

The release candidate of the Field Level Communications Initiative consists of four specification parts (Parts 80-83) and focuses on communication between automation components to exchange process data and configuration data using OPC UA Client/Server and PubSub extensions in combination with peer-to-peer connections and basic diagnostics:

  • Part 80 (OPC 10000-80) provides an overview and introduces the basic concepts of using OPC UA for field level communications.
  • Part 81 (OPC 10000-81) specifies the base information model and the communication concepts to meet the various use cases and requirements of Factory and Process Automation. 
  • Part 82 (OPC 10000-82) describes networking services, such as topology discovery and time synchronization.
  • Part 83 (OPC 10000-83) describes the data structures for sharing information required for Offline Engineering using descriptors and descriptor packages.

Peter Lutz, Director Field Level Communications of the OPC Foundation says: “We are happy about the progress that our working groups have made over the last months, despite COVID-19 and the associated restrictions. The completion of the second release candidate and an impressive multi-vendor live demo is a major achievement because the specifications are now mature so that the member review process could be started.”

Since the start of the Field Level Communications Initiative in November 2018 more than 320 experts from over 65 OPC Foundation member companies have contributed to generate the technical concepts and elaborate the specification contents for extending the OPC UA framework for field level communications, including Determinism, Motion, Instruments and Functional Safety.

The OPC Foundation Takes Ownership of the MDIS Sub-Sea Standard 

The OPC Foundation (OPCF) announced that it consolidated and took over the MCS-DCS Interface Standardisation (MDIS) specification ownership.  Effective immediately, as with all OPCF Companion Specifications, MDIS is freely available for adoption by all interested parties at no additional cost. The OPCF MDIS working group, co-chaired by Markus Koenig from SubSea, Tim Fortin from Honeywell, and Paul Hunkar from DS Interoperability, now oversees the ongoing maintenance and expansion of the standard. Original MDIS network group members will continue working in the OPCF working group. The OPC Foundation invites all members interested in helping shape the future of the MDIS specification to join the MDIS working group.

MDIS was formed with a vision to optimize and standardize communications between subsea Master Control Stations (MCSs) and topside Distributed Control Systems (DCSs). A standardized MCS-DCS interface simplifies the implementation of data communications and increases data quality.

The OPC Foundation and CESMII launches the UA Cloud Library

The OPC Foundation announced the launch of the globally available UA Cloud Library co-developed with the Clean Energy and Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII). With its multi-cloud architecture, the UA Cloud Library saw contributions from all major cloud vendors leveraging open interfaces and is available for sharing, finding, and collaborating on OPC UA Information Models. Today, the UA Cloud Library already contains over 65 OPC UA Information Models created by individual companies as well as international standards organizations like AutoID, DEXPI, MDIS, MTConnect, and over 30 VDMA working groups as part of their OPC UA Companion Specification work.

While shop floor (OT) components routinely discover and use data structures and services of other OPC UA components, direct access to such semantic information has not been readily available to cloud-based applications due to security considerations. The UA Cloud Library eliminates this gap by providing IT and cloud-based applications access to semantic information directly from the cloud instead of manually getting it from the OT systems

“The UA Cloud Library is the missing link that makes OPC UA information models available in the cloud on a global scale without requiring a connection to physical machines,” said Erich Barnstedt, Chief Architect Standards & Consortia, Microsoft Corporation, and chair of the UA Cloud Library working group. “It enables OPC UA Information Models – used as blueprints for industrial digital twins – to be looked up and matched against time-series machine telemetry data provided by cloud-based analytics software, which is a common requirement in Industrial IoT projects.”

“It was an honor to partner with the OPC Foundation in this strategic initiative,” said John Dyck, CEO of CESMII. “The UA Cloud Library is truly an important step on the journey to Smart Manufacturing Interoperability and will pave the way for dramatic simplification and cost savings for manufacturing systems!”

Stefan Hoppe, President and Executive Director of the OPC Foundation, said, “The value of what the OPC Foundation and CESMII joint working group created cannot be overstated because it equips us with the mechanism needed to facilitate access to all known OPC UA information models via an open, global, single-source of truth.” Mr. Hoppe continued, “Beyond the value the UA Cloud Library brings to applications, it will help with global OPC UA information model coordination and harmonization efforts by making it easy to search and cross-reference the latest OPC UA companion specifications in real-time. Finally, the UA Cloud Library will serve a crucial infrastructure role in Smart Manufacturing initiatives that depend on interoperability.”

ExxonMobil Announces Open Process Automation Field Trial

I wrote a piece yesterday about software defined control with a new German company called Software Defined Automation. I mentioned the Open Process Automation Forum in the piece. I have followed the developments of OPAF since its inception. It has made a lot of progress pushing the industry to accept a decoupling of software and hardware for control and automation. This effort is not unlike that undertaken years ago in the IT industry.

This effort was initiated within ExxonMobil, who remains a leader in the effort. You can check my latest updates here and here.

I recently ran across this piece by Harry Forbes, an ARC Advisory Group analyst, where he interviews some people from ExxonMobil.

At the November 2021 NAMUR General Assembly, ExxonMobil announced that they have internally approved progressing a field trial of an Open Process Automation system. The project will be engineered and started up during 2022-23. Previously, ExxonMobil has shared this decision only with the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), a forum of the Open Group that is developing the related standards and compliance processes. The NAMUR event was the first time ExxonMobil had shared this decision at an industry event.

In discussing with ARC, ExxonMobil emphasized that the O-PAS standard (Rev 2.1) was sufficiently close even if the standard does not address all of the objectives articulated for an Open Process Automation system.

ARC: Explain how the ExxonMobil OPA Proof-of-Concept, OPA prototype, and OPA Test Bed fitted in with this ExxonMobil qualification process.

ExxonMobil: The Proof-of-Concept work demonstrated the art of the possible as well as began the process of understanding the important requirements for products fulfilling the roles in the OPA Architecture. The Prototype project continued to push the usage of the open, standards-based technologies and further refined the feature requirements and implementation methods along with testing industrial product usage in these new ways. The Test Bed serves as a return to more basic R&D in the beginning, progressing to qualification of candidate technologies and products in preparation for the Field Trial project in the later stages.

The Prototype system was capable of being operated and beneficial to the Operators running a pilot unit and supportable (in the short term) by our R&D partners in that project yet was not a complete solution for a system that would be fielded for years of service. The Test Bed completes the supportable technology set and provides confidence that the system can be successful in the Field Trial, as this requires components and integration that meet the ExxonMobil quality and performance requirements for an automation system.

Software Defined Control Architecture

A couple of years ago, I was amazed to discover a conversation in Germany regarding PC-based control versus “old, proprietary PLCs”. Seeing that the conversation was in Germany, I assumed the “old” one to be Siemens and the new one was relative to CODESYS and companies such as Wago and perhaps Beckhoff. Then I just saw a conversation on LinkedIn where an American magazine evidently re-ran an old programmable automation controller (PAC) versus programmable logic controller (PLC). In both cases, the “old” PLC vendor rendered much of the argument moot by adopting PC-based technologies into their products.

The Open Process Automation Forum opened a new branch to the argument with the push for Software Defined Control Architecture. This is interesting. OPAF has progressed through definitions and standards—more on that in my next post. For this post, I’m reporting some news from, well, Germany, about an advance by a new company called Software Defined Automation. I wonder where this will lead us. It will be interesting. I have yet to see anything push Siemens and Rockwell off their thrones on the factory side or Emerson/Honeywell/Yokogawa/ABB on the process side. But, you never know. 

Munich-Based Software Defined Automation (SDA) and VMware Implement Real-Time Virtual Programmable Logic Controllers (vPLCs)

The execution of deterministic real-time control on virtualized edge servers in combination with a comprehensive vPLC management interface in the cloud is aimed to be a unique solution, enabling customers to improve productivity, utilization, and security while at the same time gain independence from vendor-specific hardware and silicon.

The SDA solution will help improve industrial automation with the full virtualization of PLC controls on the VMware Edge Compute Stack that supports virtual machines (VM) and containers running on conventional IT servers at the edge. The real-time control on a VM will commission, monitor and manage vPLC instances on servers located in factories. The virtual real-time controllers, which will be installed and managed by SDA at the edge, have already been shown to achieve deterministic control cycle times of <10ms.

Many recent innovations developed by the IT industry have not been adopted in the area of PLCs. Traditional PLC implementations in hardware are costly and lack scalability. Since the emergence of the standard IEC 61131-3 in the 1980s, PLC technology has advanced very gradually. Current trends improve the PLC’s memory and processing power while shrinking their size. Yet, the technology still relies on on-site monitored and individually programmed PLCs that must be taken out of operation in order to change the code – leading to operational downtime and reliability risks. This common practice is due to the lack of alternative technologies and tools that could reduce the software limitations of PLCs and free them from the need to being manually managed on-site by automation engineers.

Virtual machines and containers transform hardware systems into software systems, in which all elements run on local off-the-shelf IT infrastructure. The VMware Edge Compute Stack in combination with SDA’s vPLC management and monitoring services will enable improved security, reliability and resilience while allowing for intelligent and deterministic real-time responsiveness.

The vPLC solution aims to bring the benefits of cloud systems to the shopfloor, increase resilience and security, while preserving real-time capabilities.

The solution is based on a hybrid architecture between a cloud system and an industrial workload on the edge. The hardware resources located at the edge will be efficiently used with VMware’s Edge Compute Stack, which manages the resources according to each vPLC’s needs. SDA is working on extending this technology stack with a management system for fully virtualized PLCs based on CodeSys technology to incorporate the industrial control layer as a software. The management system will simultaneously hold virtual PLC twins in the cloud.

The offering can then help to generate value for all sorts of industry processes controlled by PLCs. Software-based PLC implementations will end up being more flexible, simplifying the delivery logistics and reducing software commissioning time. The vPLC’s runtime at the edge can be updated over the cloud via the SDA management console. vPLCs will be handled as IT workloads and state-of-the-art IT best practices are applied to bolster automation IT security. Furthermore, the integrated monitoring service ensures that allowed vPLC response time thresholds are not exceeded. 

Dr. Josef Waltl, CEO and co-founder of SDA, stated, “Today’s technological advances in software and cloud computing allow management of real-time control systems in a pure software fashion. The SDA vPLC service is able to meet sub 10ms performance, required for the many of industrial applications currently controlled by conventional PLCs.” 

Muneyb Minhazuddin, vice president of edge computing, VMware, notes, “The pandemic has shown how vulnerable manufacturers still are at the edge despite having implemented latest industry 4.0 and cloud technologies. It’s the last mile that is still dependent on human intervention and vendor hardware, yet it is a vital part of production process controls that needs to be addressed. Together with SDA, VMware Edge Compute Stack will help manufacturers optimize PLCs in a time of semiconductor shortages, enabling resiliency, flexibility and effectivity at the very heart of their edge operations.”

StorCentric Announces Nexsan Unity Software For Data and Security

The types of products and services covered here keeps expanding with technology and application requirements change. It’s the new year prompting reflection on the past and the future. I just happened upon a LinkedIn conversation about an article in Automation World about PAC versus PLC. That seems so 20 years ago. Yet, the discussion in Germany involves PC-based control versus PLCs. Meanwhile, I’m looking at all the data technologies required for the efficient operation of a plant or factory. This news came involves the hot topics of data and security.

And I won’t be ignoring the Consumer Electronics Show starting today in Las Vegas. Several companies have pulled out of the live experience, but I’ve begun getting CES news. I never go to that show, but I’ve been to two and survived. We’ll see how that one works out. It’s amazing the technologies we’ll see at CES that will be industrial  before you know it.

StorCentric, provider of a comprehensive portfolio of secure data management solutions, today announced Nexsan Unity software version 7.0, which includes important enhancements to power enterprise-class security, compliance and ransomware protection. The new Unity software now supports Object (S3) protocol, and data-centric security features such as immutable snapshots and object locking. This release also offers up to a 40% performance increase over Nexsan Unity version 6.1.

This massive growth in data combined with significant changes in the way we work today and a rapid rise in cybercrime has driven increased demands and challenges for enterprise data center managers. The new Unity software enhancements are designed to address these issues and redefine how StorCentric channel partners and customers store, manage and protect data at scale.

Available in Nexsan Unity v7.0:

Protocol Support

– Object (S3) Protocol – Unity is now a true unified solution, supporting Block (iSCSI, FC), File (NFS, CIFS/SMB) and now Object (S3) protocols.

Security, Compliance and Ransomware Protection

– Immutable Snapshots – Unity now supports immutable volume and file system snapshots for data protection. This provides secure point-in-time copies of data for business continuity.

– Object Locking – Unity now supports object locking, enabling bucket or object-level protection for a specified retention period to create immutable copies of data. This allows enterprises to address compliance, regulatory and other data protection requirements.

– Data Integrity – Unity supports pool-scrubbing to detect and remediate bit rot to avoid data corruption.

Performance Improvements 

– Total Throughput has increased up to 13GB/s on the existing platforms. 

– Up to 50% increase in Unity to Assureon Ingest Rate – Significantly improves the efficiency of the Unbreakable Backup solution.