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:
– 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.
– 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.
The process control automation (Distributed Control Systems or DCS) market was ripe for consolidation. A few companies began to grow, most were candidates for acquisition. No company had a more voracious acquisition appetite than ABB. Part of its genius was the development of the 800xA platform designed as a way of bringing the newly formed empire together. It is now announced by ARC Advisory Group that ABB is the market leader for the 22nd consecutive year with about a 20% share of a $14 billion dollar market.
During 2020 ABB saw growth across key regions, despite the impact of the pandemic on the DCS market across industry. Energy transition and sustainability, as well as an upturn in DCS segments across the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology markets were key growth drivers for ABB.
The DCS market analysis and forecast report by ARC Advisory Group has been published annually for the past 40 years, with ABB consistently in the lead for more than half that time.
“ABB leads the field in DCS thanks to its domain knowledge in multiple industries, extensive service network, a continued investment in developing technology, loyal customers and digital solutions that meet rapidly changing customer requirements,” said Bernhard Eschermann, Chief Technology Officer, ABB Process Automation. “Much of our development is focused on advancing technology such as modular automation, select I/O and secure Edge integrated solutions which address new process and business challenges while protecting investments. We believe these type of solutions to be some of the catalysts needed for the successful implementation of industrial IoT and agile navigation within Industry 4.0.”
The recent launch of the latest version of ABB Ability System 800xA represents an evolution for automated control and plant operations of tomorrow. It is a process control system, an electrical control system and a safety system and a collaboration enabler, allowing further improvement of engineering efficiency, operator performance and asset utilization. In addition, ABB Ability Symphony Plus, is an industry leading DCS in the power, water and waste water markets and ABB’s Freelance offering is a DCS tailor-made for hybrid markets.
ARC’s report also highlights ABB Ability, ABB’s unified, cross-industry portfolio of digital solutions, which includes more than 170 Industrial Internet solutions and an Industrial Internet technology platform and cloud infrastructure. Drawing on insights across over 20 industries and more than 40 years of experience in digital technology, ABB Ability helps customers to develop new processes and advance existing ones by providing insights and optimizing planning and controls for real-time operations. These insights can then be fed into control systems like ABB Ability System 800xA and ABB Ability Symphony Plus to improve key performance metrics of plants and assets. With an installed base of 35,000 DCS systems across more than 100 countries ABB is a trusted leader in creating digital solutions for customers in the industrial space.
The first business trip involving airplane and car in 18 months took me to Houston in November to Automation Fair, the Rockwell Automation user conference and trade show. They offered five press conferences via remote conferencing. I felt the urge to visit with people in person. Several thousand visitors wandered the show floor along with me. And I sat in the press conferences in person with a couple of editors from Control, a couple of analysts from ARC Advisory Group, an editor I didn’t know for one session, and an editor from Automation World for one other session. It felt good to be back, but this was hardly like old times. I was not rushed from appointment to appointment—I had no appointments.
The content was not like old times. No motor control or programmable controllers, although I did look up a PLC product person on the show floor to dive into a couple of things. The press conferences were somewhat IT oriented with cybersecurity and cloud, workforce issues around culture and diversity, and sustainability. Following are summaries of the press conferences and of three news items released at the show.
Cybersecurity Steps Needed for 2022
No discussion of industrial technology can begin without considering cybersecurity. Angela Rapko (Regional Vice President, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation), Shoshana Wodzisz (Manager, Product Security, Rockwell Automation), and Theodore Haschke (Manager, Business Development, Functional Safety & Cybersecurity, TUV Rheinland) talked standards with us. High-profile cyber and ransomware attacks rocked the manufacturing industry in 2021 and raised government attention to the need for stronger oversight to protect businesses worldwide. Global cybersecurity standards have been established based on guidance from industry leaders for both the IT and OT level, but adoption still wanes. We’ll share how businesses can utilize standards to improve security in 2022, and why OT can’t be left behind when updating best practices.
Leveraging Culture and DEI as a Competitive Advantage
Bobby Griffin (Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Rockwell Automation) and Becky House (Senior Vice President & Chief People & Legal Officer, Rockwell Automation) discussed how many companies have put a more intentional focus on company culture and DEI – but how do you know you’re having the right impact? Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core principles at Rockwell. This has a KPI associated and manager’s compensation is tied to it. Among other things, check out the senior leadership page on the Rockwell website. There are women on it. And a couple of other faces that are not old white men. There is a refreshing mix of ages, genders, ethnicities.
Why Cloud? Why Now? Three Factors Driving Adoption of SAAS-Based Solutions
I could understand the discussion of cybersecurity, which can be expected given the several-year-old vision of Rockwell regarding the Connected Enterprise. The discussion of computing in the cloud would never have happened with a straight face even three years ago. Maybe two. Let us consider two very recent acquisitions of cloud-based companies—Plex and Fiix. Brian Shepherd (Senior Vice President, Software & Control, Rockwell Automation), James Novak (Chief Executive Officer, Fiix), and Bill Berutti (Chief Executive Officer, Plex) joined us for a discussion of the companies, products, and benefits of cloud. Yet another sign of a rapidly changing Rockwell Automation.
Using Data to Drive Productivity and Sustainability
Rockwell Automation has had sustainability goals and solutions for many years. This topic remains a key focus for the corporation. Tom O’Reilly (Vice President, Sustainability, Rockwell Automation) and Arvind Rao (Director, Product Management & Head of Industry Solutions, Rockwell Automation) met with us to discuss how “customers and investors are demanding that we do business in ways that are more productive and more sustainable.” Operational data and analytics can reduce waste, improve quality, and reduce energy, all while driving increased productivity and delivering results against sustainability initiatives.
Three Strategies for Creating an Agile and Flexible Workforce
Rachael Conrad (Vice President & General Manager, Customer Support & Maintenance, Rockwell Automation) and Sherman Joshua (Director, Workforce & Competency, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation) revealed Rockwell’s on key strategies for creating an agile and flexible workforce post pandemic and how manufacturers can leverage their workforce as their greatest asset.
New Initiatives to Bolster Cybersecurity Offering for Customers
Rockwell Automation, Inc. announced new investments to enhance its information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) cybersecurity offering. These initiatives include strategic partnerships with Dragos, Inc. and CrowdStrike, as well as the establishment of a new Cybersecurity Operations Center in Israel.
Rockwell and Dragos, a global leader in cybersecurity for industrial control systems (ICS)/OT environments, have announced a partnership that combines Rockwell’s global industry, application, and ICS domain expertise with Dragos’s world-class technology, professional services, and threat intelligence services. The partnership will focus on incident response services and threat intelligence.
Rockwell and CrowdStrike, a leader in cloud-delivered endpoint and workload protection, have formed a partnership to deliver end-to-end cybersecurity and network service solutions to customers. The partnership will examine initiatives for CrowdStrike’s cloud-native, AI-powered Falcon platform with Rockwell’s global deployment, network architecture, support, OT, and managed services capabilities to deliver differentiated solutions that address customer cybersecurity pain points.
Rockwell Automation Expands Supply Chain Services with Acquisition of AVATA
Rockwell Automation, Inc. has acquired AVATA, a leading services provider for supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, and enterprise performance management solutions. AVATA has significant domain expertise in enterprise applications and is a leading consultant and systems integrator for Oracle cloud software applications.
By significantly improving end-to-end supply chain visibility and management, AVATA, together with Kalypso, Rockwell’s industrial digital transformation services business, will help further unlock the value of information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence that Rockwell can deliver to customers. AVATA will be integrated into Kalypso, which is a part of Rockwell’s Lifecycle Services business.
AVATA supports Rockwell’s recent cloud-native investments, building on its open architecture to extend the digital thread and enable powerful integrations with other leading technologies, now including Plex and Oracle Cloud.
Rockwell Automation and Battery Pioneer Cadenza Innovation to Explore Driving Energy Storage and Advance Sustainability
Rockwell Automation has begun collaborating with Cadenza Innovation, the award-winning provider of safe, low cost, and energy-dense Lithium-ion-based storage solutions, to define a strategic relationship including a shared goal of building the industry’s highest performance battery cell production lines.
During 2022 the companies intend to collaborate to develop a customer cloud portal to manage deployed distributed energy resources, an end-to-end battery manufacturing execution system (MES), and equipment automation to support the expansion of Cadenza Innovation’s battery manufacturing in the US and abroad.
Rockwell Automation and Cadenza Innovation intend to create a full digital thread that feeds information from business systems to the factory floor and subsequently out to the field-deployed energy storage systems to ‘close the loop’ by feeding data from the field back into Cadenza Innovation’s connected operations. This, in turn, will ensure peak performance of customer systems.
A fervent issue for discussion in German automation circles, especially for those who wish to displace Siemens from its leading position, is software-based control. An early leader in this technology is Beckhoff Automation. This press release made public this week gives some of the technology historical foundation. Yes, it’s commercial. But, yes, it’s interesting to see where we’ve been in order to speculate on where we’re heading.
The TwinCAT automation software suite from Beckhoff has reached its 25th anniversary in the market. Ubiquitous in automation today, TwinCAT has served as a powerful resource for engineers since 1996 – a quarter of a century. In addition, the underlying PC-based control technology from Beckhoff has been going strong since 1986, marking 35 years in the industry. TwinCAT, short for The Windows Control and Automation Technology, provides numerous benefits from its robust software functionality. The advantages of TwinCAT stem from its modular expandability extending to support for innovations such as integrated machine vision and artificial intelligence.
Since the 1996 introduction of the first software generation, TwinCAT 2, this product is still available and maintained, which is proof of its continuity and compatibility with current systems. Windows served as the operating system and the PLC programming was adapted to meet the requirements of the IEC 61131-3 standard. This introduced the ability to implement an industrial control system on a “regular” PC with a standard operating system.
Another milestone was the decision to align the TwinCAT programming environment with the world’s predominant IT programming environment. Microsoft Visual Studio is used for all major IT software developments, and Beckhoff also used this tool to develop TwinCAT 2 software. So why not develop PLC software applications with Visual Studio as well? The subsequent TwinCAT 3 software generation was introduced in 2010 and delivered to customers from 2011 on – which makes for another 10-year anniversary and another track record of success in the field.
The integration of the TwinCAT automation tools into Visual Studio established a completely new type of engineering environment. With the availability to use additional programming standards such as C/C++ and MATLAB/Simulink, further possibilities emerged for more efficient code generation for machines and systems. This has also gained widespread acceptance in the automation industry.
In addition to programming, TwinCAT offers an I/O configuration interface for a wide variety of fieldbus systems – first and foremost EtherCAT as well as more than 30 other communication protocols. Motion control applications from simple PTP movements to sophisticated CNC and robot kinematics are just as much part of the ongoing evolution as safety functions, image processing for machine vision and machine learning. With the advent of Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it quickly became clear that the cloud, long established in IT, would also become a major factor in the automation market. To provide this functionality for customers, Beckhoff launched hardware and software solutions for IoT and cloud connectivity in 2015, followed by data analytics tools in 2018.
Looks like this is the next evolution of vision sensing. Vision is one of the key sensors touted by IIoT marketers. Eyeonic Vision Sensor said to be poised to accelerate next-generation machine vision in mobility, robotics, security, and other markets.
From its press release: SiLC Technologies Inc. (SiLC) has launched its powerful, compact vision sensor delivering coherent vision and chip-scale integration to the broader market. The Eyeonic Vision Sensor takes LiDAR to a new level of performance by providing accurate instantaneous depth, velocity, and dual-polarization intensity information while enabling immunity to multi-user and environmental interference. These features will enable robotic vehicles and machines to have the necessary data to perceive and classify their environment and help them predict future dynamics using low-latency, low-compute power and rule-based algorithms.
Harvesting the additional information that is carried by photons, Eyeonic is the foundation for the next generation of machine vision. The Eyeonic Vision Sensor is a first-of-its-kind FMCW LiDAR transceiver. At the nexus of the Eyeonic Vision Sensor is SiLC’s silicon photonic chip which integrates LiDAR functionality into a single, tiny chip. Representing decades of silicon photonics innovation, this chip is the only readily-integratable solution for manufacturers building the next generation of autonomous vehicles, security solutions and industrial robots.
Keenly driven by the technology challenges of commercializing silicon photonics, SiLC’s integration platform brings together high-performance components into a single silicon chip through mature semiconductor fabrication processes, offering a low-cost, compact, and low-power solution.
The ability to manufacture commercial-grade coherent LiDAR solutions has become a pacing factor for market growth – a situation that SiLC is remedying. SiLC intends to make this technology available to all system integrators and end-users, starting with enabling early access to strategic partners in autonomy, security and industrial applications. Offered in two configurations, fiber and fiberless, Eyeonic addresses the current roadblocks facing industries that rely upon vision sensors to embrace burgeoning market opportunities.
Fiberless vision sensors have long been sought after as they enable the lowest cost in a compact configuration. The fiber pigtailed Eyeonic allows for design flexibility by supporting configurations where the FMCW LiDAR transceiver and scanning unit are at different locations.
To facilitate customer development efforts, SiLC offers reference designs and a range of key components needed to develop a full solution. Examples of fully configured systems, based on the Eyeonic platform, will be made available as prototypes to enable rapid evaluation by customers and end users.
One of the more difficult things I do concerns filtering press releases to figure out which are hype and which have some enduring relevance. The first one I received about the Log4J exploit seemed over the top. However, this one appears to have legs. Best practices tell us to take action and be concerned. Following are a number of statements from security leaders. Take note of these.
This from my host platform, Cloudflare, “Last Friday we sent you an email about a zero-day exploit affecting the popular Apache Log4j utility (CVE-2021-44228). We advised you that Cloudflare had immediately updated our WAF to help protect you against this vulnerability. We also recommended that all organizations that use Log4j immediately update to the newest version to mitigate exploit attacks. The latest version can be found at the Log4j download page.”
Glen Pendley, Deputy CTO at Tenable, “Log4Shell, a critical vulnerability in Apache Log4j, shines a bright light on the risky practice of relying on open-source code libraries to build enterprise-scale applications. Many organizations around the world rely on open-source libraries as a key element in their ability to bring applications to market quickly. Yet, these libraries often stop short of a security-first approach. This dependence on what is effectively a wild, wild west of code libraries will continue to leave organizations vulnerable until time and resources are invested to make them more secure.”
And from Paul Laudanski, Head of Threat Intelligence at Tessian, “The log4j vulnerability has created endless golden opportunities for bad actors – and they know it and are getting creative. What they’re trying to do now is build an arsenal of tools that they can use across the globe for theft and service disruption, especially ahead of the holiday season. DDoS attacks in particular are a top concern, as exploitation could allow bad actors to download, install and then fully control an army of botnets. DDoS operators can then focus on attacks that bring down critical infrastructure – ranging from utilities to power grid – and especially retailers ahead of the holiday season, a time when people are notoriously distracted, tired and more prone to making security mistakes. Couple that with an increase in moratoriums, when no code is released into production, so emergency patches would require a break of that moratorium.
Meanwhile, there’s also the concern that the original CVE will end up generating subsequent CVEs, potentially exponentially multiplying its impact, similarly to the follow-on bugs we saw after SolarWinds. Luckily, log4j only has one in 2021 so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other related flaws are found soon. However, it’s worth noting one silver lining: white hats are working tirelessly to train folks on how to identify the vulnerability, so most teams will now be properly educated and informed on the growing threat.”
From the blog of Nozomi Networks, “At the end of last week (Friday, December 10), the cybersecurity world became aware of a new zero-day vulnerability in the Apache Log4j logging utility that has been allowing easy-to-exploit remote code execution (RCE). Coupled with the popularity of this tool, multiple companies and commercial applications have become affected by it. It received a codename Log4Shell. In addition to promptly deploying several protection mechanisms for our customers, Nozomi Networks set up a honeypot to monitor the situation and became aware of all potential global scans and exploitation attempts.”
“Apache quickly categorized the vulnerability as critical due to the simplicity of the attack and the number of susceptible platforms and systems. All an attacker has to do is send a malicious string that would be logged by the server. Minecraft users were exploiting servers using the chat function, and Twitter users could trigger the exploit by changing their display names, as could iPhone users by changing their phone name. In this post, we provide some technical details related to how malware authors immediately started taking advantage of this vulnerability.”
Further from Amit Yoran, Chairman and CEO, Tenable, “Just as we warned, Log4Shell is unleashing holy hell on businesses everywhere. And the worst is yet to come if organizations don’t take immediate action.
Researchers are already observing ransomware activities as cybercriminals begin utilizing Log4Shell in their playbooks. Let me be clear, these ransomware activities are not going to go away – they will only increase like wildfire thanks in part to this new, perfect payload in the form of Log4Shell. Organizations need to take swift and decisive action as Log4Shell can and will completely undermine your security program.
No vendor’s product is a silver bullet to solve this problem. Eliminating the threat posed by Log4Shell requires hard work and time to understand this vulnerability and how it will morph and evolve over time to bypass protective measures.”