Three Tips from Moxa on Getting IIoT Networks Ready for the Future

If you’ve been around automation for the past 20 years, you’ve no doubt experienced how the job changed from isolated control connected to I/O to one or more field buses to one or more variety of Ethernet. We’ve now experienced the Internet of Things explosion (at least in hype). That latter is mostly Ethernet-based using IP (Internet Protocol). 

If you’ve not been careful, you could be working with a mess of networks right now. I received this document of networking tips from networking infrastructure supplier Moxa. I thought it useful to pass along.

Tip One: Achieve Greater Integration with Unified Infrastructure

Over the years, various devices using different protocols have been deployed on industrial networks to provide diverse services. Under these circumstances, network integration usually costs more than expected or becomes more difficult to achieve. Manufacturers can either choose the status quo, that is, maintain their pre-existing isolated automation networks with numerous purpose-built protocols of the past, or seek solutions to deterministic services and that can integrate these “islands of automation” into one unified network.

If the goal is to be ready for future demands, the choice is obviously the latter. The rule of thumb is to take potential industrial protocols into consideration and ensure you can redesign networks in case any new demands arise in the market. One approach is Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), a set of new standards introduced by the IEEE 802.1 TSN Task Group as an advanced toolbox. With TSN, you can build open, unified networks with standard Ethernet technologies that reserve flexibility for the future.

Tip Two: Enable Anywhere Access with Hassle-free Cloud Services

Cloud-based remote access offers many benefits to IIoT customers, such as reducing the travel time and expenses of sending maintenance engineers to multiple remote sites. Furthermore, cloud-based secure remote access can offer flexible and scalable connections to meet dynamic, fast-changing requirements. However, operational technology (OT) engineers may find it cumbersome to set up and maintain their own cloud servers for new services and applications. Indeed, there is considerable effort associated with setting up new infrastructure, even in the cloud. Fortunately, OEMs and machine builders can now deliver secure cloud-based services and remote access to their customers, therefore eliminating the need to maintain in-house cloud servers.

One key issue that definitely demands scrutiny is the cloud server license scheme. Often, upfront costs may seem low for limited server hosts. Yet these apparent cost savings on server hosts may actually make a project uneconomical due to a limited scale of connections. Second, you may also need to consider central management capabilities in order to flexibly expand remote connections as your needs change. With this said, carefully weigh the costs and benefits of incorporating secure remote access to industrial networks. Always select solutions that minimize hassles and will help deliver more value to customers.

Tip Three: Use Management Software for Better Visibility of Network Status

When complexity increases due to greater connectivity on industrial networks, it can become very difficult to identify the root cause of problems and maintain sufficient network visibility. Control engineers often have to revert to trial and error to get the system back to normal, which is time-consuming and troublesome.

In order to facilitate and manage growing industrial networks, network operators need integrated network management software to make informed decisions throughout network deployment, maintenance, and diagnostics. In addition, as systems continue to grow, it is important that you pay attention to a number of network integration concerns. First, only managing industrial networks in local control centers may not be feasible three or five years from now, especially when existing systems need to be integrated with new ones. It is therefore important to use network management software with integration interfaces, such as OPC DA tags for SCADA system integration or RESTful APIs for external web services. Furthermore, an interface to facilitate third-party software integration is also a key criterion for ensuring future flexibility.

OPC, MQTT, IoT, Edge, Power Future Manufacturing Technology

There was a time when I would take information from OPC Foundation and chat with the MQTT people and then return the favor. It was much like being in the midst of a religious war.

My response was (is) that the market will decide. Individual engineers will choose the solution that best fits their needs at the time. If both technologies have sufficient benefit to enough engineers to form a market, then both will survive. I think there is room in the market for both, since they sort of do the same thing, but actually each provides unique benefits.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while since I’ve had so many other things to digest. The impetus came from a couple of directions—OPC Foundation President Stefan Hoppe’s editorial in the June newsletter and from Stacey Higginbotham’s IoT Newsletter recently that discussed edge.

Hoppe wrote, “Still to this day people only think of OPC UA merely as a secure protocol to move information. It is so much more than that. It is a modeling language in cloud applications and digital twins. It is capable of file transport (since 2009). Most people know that OPC UA started as an initiative in the OT world and expanded from the PLC control plane to SCADA and later to MES and ERP. More and more people are realizing that OPC UA via MQTT is the bridge between OT and IT and is able to push information directly into Microsoft and AWS cloud dashboards without the need for an adapter.”

From Data to Data Sources

Stacey Higginbotham writing in Stacey on IoT Bringing AI to the farthest edge requires new computing.

Stacey writes about IoT generally. Most of her topics are commercial/consumer and chips (her reporting background). She does follow the IoT trail into manufacturing at times. In this newsletter she broaches into something I’ve been expounding for a long time, that is, how edge devices have become smarter with better communications. Then the IT world came up with the term Edge, which is, of course everything manufacturing.

We’re in the midst of a computing shift that’s turning the back-and-forth between cloud and edge computing on its head. This new form of computing has been creeping to the forefront for the last few years, driven by digital transformations and complicated connected devices such as cars.

But the more recent hype around AI is providing the richest examples of this shift. And it will ultimately require new forms of computing in more places, changing both how we think about the edge and the types of computing we do there. In short, the rise of AI everywhere will lead to new forms of computing specialized for different aspects of the edge. I’m calling this concept the complex edge.

As part of this shift in computing, we have to become more nuanced about what we mean when we talk about the edge. I like to think of it as a continuum moving from the most compute and power-constrained devices such as sensors to the most powerful servers that happen to be located on premise in a factory. In the middle are devices such as tablets, smartphones, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and gateways that might handle incoming data from PLCs or sensors.

Moreover, each of these devices along the continuum might run their own AI models and require their own specialized type of computing to compare the data coming into those models. For example, I’ve written about the need for sensors to get smarter and process more information directly.

Smart sensors turn to analog compute

Cameras or image sensors are popular examples of such devices. This vision sensor from Useful Sensors, which can do person detection on a $10 device, runs a simple algorithm that looks for people and counts them. At a higher level, which requires more processing power, sensors from Sony or chips from CEVA are able to detect specific movements, faces, or other options.

A few weeks ago at the Sensors Converge event, a company called Polyn Technology showed off a version of a chip designed to take raw data and quickly convert it into an insight. To quickly process analog signals from the environment (such as vibrations or sound), the Polyn chip uses analog processing to process the signal and then sends the “insight” to another computer for more processing.

We not only have cameras shooting pictures for QA purposes, but also they are streaming video for applications from industrial engineering to surveillance to predictive maintenance. This is a vast amount of data. 

We have tools, but we will need more. Chips with built in communication and analytics are a start.

Beckhoff Celebrates 20 Years of EtherCAT

I remember my introduction to industrial “fieldbus” technology that came even before I became an editor with Control Engineering. That was in the 90s. Another indication of the maturity of the automation and control market lies in this announcement from the EtherCat Technology Group.

I love press releases. The writers are not bashful about proclaiming their virtues. I’m sure there are a couple of others who would contest some of the proclamations. But, this network did bring Ethernet early on and works well with motion control more so than some others.

Beckhoff Automation, a pioneer in automation solutions, proudly commemorates the 20th anniversary of EtherCAT, the groundbreaking industrial Ethernet ystem that transformed the world of industrial networking. Since its introduction at Hannover Messe in 2003, EtherCAT has emerged as the leader in speed, flexibility and openness, solidifying its position in the global market through its reliability and continuous technical advancements. Today, EtherCAT remains an open IEC standard and empowers companies across industries to leverage its key technological advantages.

EtherCAT combines the standard Ethernet protocol with the reliability, performance and stability required for industrial communication, delivering significant advantages:

  • Fast communication and nanosecond synchronization via distributed clocks
  • Reduce CPU loads by up to 30%
  • Flexible topology: tree, star, drop, line, circle, etc. – or any combination of these is possible
  • Automatic addressing of nodes 
  • Comprehensive and highly localized diagnostics
  • Noise immunity and high bandwidth
  • Integrated safety
  • No switches are necessary, masters only need an Ethernet port, and sub-devices can use a variety of ESC chips – all of which keep expenses near or less than legacy fieldbus costs.

A Step Forward for Modular Manufacturing Control

While I see companies that are predominantly American rushing to capture open technology initiatives and make them as proprietary as possible, here is another predominantly German initiative pushing for using standards to move manufacturing technology forward.

This news came to me indirectly from the PI (Profibus and Profinet standards organization). Check it out. Do you find this potentially useful?

What is MTP?

By now, we all know OPC UA is really good at supporting the use-cases for not only horizontal integration like machine to machine, but also vertical integration like device to cloud. Now, most recently, OPC UA is being applied to those industries considered to be process control or hybrid industries with factory automation. 

PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI) is leading the way with a technology called Module Type Package (MTP). For its runtime, MTP applies OPC UA information models to create standardized, non-proprietary, application level descriptions for process automation equipment. OPC UA Client/Server technology is used for communication. Offline engineering utilizes the AutomationML markup language. 

Rather than have every single I/O point controlled by one large distributed control system (DCS), MTP seeks to modularize the process into more manageable pieces. The point is to construct a plant with modular equipment to ease integration and allow for better flexibility should changes be required. With the help of a Process Orchestration Layer (POL), MTP-enabled equipment can “Plug & Operate” reducing the amount of time to commission a process or make changes to that process… pretty cutting-edge stuff.

The POL is the superordinate software into which an MTP file is imported. When an MTP file is imported into the POL, offline service engineering (orchestration) is performed along with communication configuration (OPC UA).  Note: if recipe/batch engineering is applicable, MTP utilizes the ISA 88 standard here. The next step is an Orchestration Test (“Plug”) and then to begin (“Operate”). It is truly “Plug & Operate”.

Why should you care?

MTP files describe Equipment Assemblies. These are individual automated units providing the functionality to realize a step in a process. They have their own mechanical equipment, sensors, actuators, and controller. A great example would be skid integration. Here, an end-user can quickly integrate skids into their plant DCS to reduce engineering effort. The MTP file describing the skid is employed to shorten the time-to-market. According to ZVEI the benefits from first pilot projects can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduce time to market 50%
  • Reduce engineering effort 70%
  • Increase flexibility 80%

M&M Software Releases fdtCONTAINER and Developer Tools Supporting FDT 3.0 

FDT Group’s latest significant release seems to be gaining traction. This release from M&M Software offers a migration path for users and vendors supporting modern intelligent device management and monitoring initiatives.

M&M Software released fdtCONTAINER version 4.8, a point-to-point device configuration tool supporting the latest FDT 3.0 specification to meet user demands for modern intelligent device management and monitoring initiatives. This release also includes updated developer tools which simplify the migration to FDT 3 systems and smart device DTMs for the vendor community.

Smart manufacturing initiatives drive end users and suppliers of industrial automation systems and devices to seek modern and comprehensive device management solutions that use interoperable, efficient, and sustainable plug and play engineering tools. FDT, an IEC 62453 embedded software standard, normalizes device data and communication between any host and device. The standard rooted in the host and device environment provides users a single tool for intelligent device management, operation, diagnosis, and maintenance. The latest FDT 3.0 specification enables a FDT Unified Environment (FDT UE) for IT/OT data-driven operations via authenticated OPC UA, FDT UE and mobile clients.

M&M Software’s FDT UE-ready product line includes:

  • OEM fdtCONTAINER application 4.8 – Free point-to-point device management and configuration tool supporting all DTM generations for users.
  • fdtCONTAINER component 4.0 (aka. FDT UE – Desktop Common Component) – The official component for integrating the FDT 3.0 interface and DTM runtime into an engineering application for system vendors with branded customizations and other value-add features.
  • dtmMANAGER development suite 4.0 – The comprehensive FDT 3.0 DTM development suite provides a simplified environment for device vendors to develop DTM’s allowing vendors to focus on the value-add device model features.

Qualcomm Adds New IoT Solutions

Qualcomm’s product development department has been busy extending the chip-maker’s presence in the smart device market. This news release announces what they term to be next-generation IoT devices. The new devices are Qualcomm QCS8550, Qualcomm QCM8550, Qualcomm® QCS4490 and Qualcomm® QCM4490 Processors.

  • The new Qualcomm QCS8550 and Q/CM8550 Processors combine maximum compute power, extreme edge AI processing, Wi-Fi 7 connectivity, and vivid graphics and video to enable and quickly deploy performance-heavy IoT applications, such as autonomous mobile robots and industrial drones.
  • The Qualcomm QCS4490 and QCM4490 Processors deliver key advanced features such as premium connectivity and next-gen processing to industrial handheld and computing devices. The solutions are equipped with both 5G and Wi-Fi 6E for multi-gigabit speeds, extended range, and low latency, and powerful, efficient processing to handle complex computing tasks. The Qualcomm QCS4490 and QCM4490 Processors are designed with planned support for Android releases through version 18, meaning they can be used in industrial designs through 2030, providing flexibility and longevity for maximizing development time and cost savings.

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