Podcast 227 Open and Interoperable

Podcast 227 Open and Interoperable

Imagine laying railroad tracks west from the US east coast and meeting up with a crew laying railroad tracks from the west coast only to discover that the width between the rails was different. Standards make a huge difference.

Open standards, open APIs, and open source all enable interoperability and all make life better for users. My discussions over the past couple of years indicates that US engineers are falling behind in the encouragement and use of these technologies. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope the new generation of engineers pick up these ways of working and move American manufacturing forward. And the rest of the world, too.

IIC Busy on IoT Front Publishes Standards Guide and Launches Patterns Initiative

Two news items from The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) came my way recently regarding work on IoT. One announced the the publication of the Global Industry Standards for Industrial IoT whitepaper. The other announced launch of an IoT Patterns Initiative.

The whitepaper offers industry guidance in the development, adoption, and use of IIoT standards. The whitepaper outlines a vision and strategy to enable interoperability and system compatibility across the entire IIoT ecosystem.

“The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a rapidly expanding world of connected objects. As IIoT systems proliferate, organizations consume large amounts of data through machine learning algorithms and share it between partners, customers, and others,” said Erin Bournival, Co-Chair, IIC Standards Task Group and Distinguished Engineer, Dell Technologies. “Integration and interoperability are critical in IIoT environments. That’s not easy to achieve in complex IIoT environments, so standards play a critical role.”

The whitepaper lists categories of standards and the organizations that produce them. It provides business cases for adopting standards as well as strategies for participating in standards development. “Users and vendors cannot engineer a custom interface every time components or systems need to interact,” said Erich Clauer, Co-chair IIC Standards Task Group, and VP Industry Standards & Open Source, SAP. “Standards are the lingua franca for interoperability and can make the explosion of interfaces manageable. For suppliers, standards can reduce or eliminate costs.”

“Operational Technology (OT) can no longer deploy isolated islands of automation,” said Claude Baudoin, Principal Consultant, cébé IT & Knowledge Management, and one of the authors of the whitepaper. “Information Technology (IT) and OT must work together to achieve digital transformation. IIoT environments are connected to enterprise systems through the internet, and must adhere to IT communication, security and data norms.”

What is more, customers require standards compliance to avoid vendor lock-in. Standards compliance creates a competitive environment in which failure to support standards — international, regional, industry- or function-specific — becomes a competitive disadvantage. Regulatory agencies require standards adherence to make their monitoring and auditing work feasible. Standards also make employee skills portable across divisions and companies.

“Organizations must define a standards strategy and execute it,” said Sven Toothman, Lead Project Editor and Industry Standards & Open-Source Architect, SAP SE. “IIoT stakeholders could adopt and implement standards as they emerge, but this limited engagement exposes an organization to surprises. By participating in standards development, organizations can anticipate the emergence of new standards. That involves a commitment and extends to processes, product design, and budget.”

IIC members who wrote the Global Industry Standards for Industrial IoT whitepaper and a list of members who contributed to it can be found here on the IIC website.

IOT PATTERNS INITIATIVE

The IIC also announced the IIC IoT Patterns Initiative to crowdsource, review, revise, and publish a library of high-quality and well-reasoned IoT patterns for use and reuse across industries.

A pattern describes a recurring design or architectural problem in a specific context and offers an established scheme for its solution. IoT patterns include architectural designs to represent essential cohesive components and their assembly; and design patterns that illustrate solutions to specific problems. 

“Patterns capture and condense teachings from developer and system architect experiences that others can use to tackle new problems,” said François Ozog, Director Edge & Fog Computing Group, Linaro, and Co-chair, IIC Patterns Task Group. “The IIC is also developing application notes to describe how to use patterns effectively in various contexts and to help identify the best patterns for solutions.” 

Use-cases describe various perspectives of a system based on user roles by defining user requirements and identifying essential functionalities. “Many patterns are technical,” said Daniel Burkhardt, doctoral student, Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institut, and Co-chair, IIC Patterns Task Group. “But by focusing on end-user concerns and requirements, developers and system architects will use patterns effectively, and solution designs will improve.”

“Patterns enable industries to succeed through collaboration on best practices,” said Dr. Jason McC. Smith, OMG Vice President, and Technical Director. “IIC is leading the way in IoT by building a pattern repository that developers can use to solve new problems.”

IIoT developers and system architects can access the IIC IoT Patterns repository on the IIC Resource Hub. Developers can also join the IIC Community Forum to discuss patterns. Workshops to educate the IIoT developer community will follow. For more information about the IIC IoT Patterns Initiative, read our blog.

The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum Publishes the O-PAS Version 2.1 Preliminary Standard

After my first meeting with Don Bartusiak, then with ExxonMobil, at an ARC Forum, I thought this was an extremely ambitious idea thinking that an open, interoperable, relatively easily upgradable process automation system build upon industry standards was feasible. And the timeline was aggressive.

The Open Process Automation Forum, under the auspices of The Open Group, has persevered, grown, and has now released version 2.1 “into the wild” for comments from the broader process community before finishing and adopting early next year. So, please go to the Website and review. Your comments could be most helpful.

The marketing people sent a news release, but I realized there wasn’t a lot of “there” there, so I talked with Aneil Ali, Director of the OPAF since May a year ago to get a bit more detail. A key factor gleaned from our chat was that 105 members were involved in the development of this standard. Final release is slated for early 2022. 

I think the remarkable thing about 105 member companies is actually getting something done. All of us who have worked on this type of project know that there are companies (which I shall not name) who send engineers to join with the express purpose of asking lots of questions in order to delay the process or even (hopefully) entice everyone else to give up in despair. This committee worked through 22 recurring weekly meetings to bring this together. Remarkable.

And Ali does not expect the pace to slow.

To recap: Version 1.0 dealt with interoperability; Version 2.1 with information model; Version 3.0 (in process) will focus on application portability—system orchestration.

Some of the details of 2.1 include defining standard function blocks, addressing IEC61499, IEC61131, IEC62443 (security), and OPCUA. O-PAS is a “standard of standards”, an approach that greatly reduces detail work.

In addition to this standards development work, companies have been building ongoing prototype test beds and field trials which are underway proving this is more than mere paper. The Forum has also been conducting plug fests and developing certification testing partners and parameters.

The group has really come a long way.

From the press release:

The Open Group, the vendor-neutral technology consortium, has announced the publication of the O-PAS Version 2.1 Preliminary Standard. Developed by The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), this release represents a key milestone towards testing and field trials of the O-PAS Standard, enabling greater interoperability and portability in manufacturing control systems.

The O-PAS Standard defines a Reference Architecture and Information Model that will enable a distributed and heterogeneous ecosystem of industrial process automation resources to interoperate. The aim of the Standard is to stimulate innovation, lower system lifecycle costs, and provide end-users with more freedom when managing obsolescence within systems.

Created with the direct involvement of over 105 OPAF Member organizations, Version 2.1 progresses the overall Information Model of Version 2.0, while also adding new configuration portability capabilities.

“This latest advancement of the O-PAS Standard reflects the overall consensus of industry leaders: open, secure, and interoperable architectures are the irrefutable and inevitable future of industrial process automation systems,” commented Aneil Ali, Director of the Open Process Automation Forum. “The sense of urgency among product managers and sales teams to achieve this goal is therefore well-founded, with end-user test beds, prototypes, and field trials already up and running.”

Alongside Version 2.1, a certification program for the O-PAS Standard – due to launch in the first half of 2022 – is being developed against the various Profile-based requirements. As part of this work, test tools are currently being beta tested with suppliers.

“The updated version of the O-PAS Standard empowers end-users to look more closely at product roadmaps for O-PAS inclusion,” continued Ali.  “As suppliers work to adopt the Standard within these roadmaps, OPAF is open to as much industry collaboration and feedback as possible.”

Following a finalized Version 2.1 Standard, scheduled for publication in Q1 2022, OPAF will work towards Version 3.0, which will address system orchestration, application portability, and further detail the physical distributed control platform.

About The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum

The Open Process Automation Forum is an international forum of end-users, system integrators, suppliers, academia, and other standards organizations working together to develop a standards-based, open, secure, and interoperable process control architecture. Open Process Automation is a trademark of The Open Group.

About The Open Group

The Open Group is a global consortium that enables the achievement of business objectives through technology standards. Our diverse membership of more than 800 organizations includes customers, systems and solutions suppliers, tool vendors, integrators, academics, and consultants across multiple industries.

Software-centric Automation Hannover Messe Update from Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric has been publicizing an implementation of the decoupled control hardware and software envisioned by the Open Process Automation Forum using IEC 61499. https://themanufacturingconnection.com/2021/02/schneider-electric-updates-ecostruxure-automation-expert-forges-strategic-agreement-with-wood/ For example, a recent post from the blog.

At last week’s Hannover Messe, Schneider Electric used its press conference to tout some updates to its Ecostruxure Automation Expert.

The press release is included below for your information, plus a bonus press release regarding a new, smaller footprint UPS.

First, a couple of notes. I listened recently to some software developers discussing the benefits and drawbacks of version numbering their software. The traditional way is to begin with version 1.0  and then increment. Of course, no one (or few?) buy version 1.0 which is typically pretty buggy. An alternative is to version number by year thus avoiding the dreaded V 1.0. Automation Expert has just been released a couple of months ago as Version 21.0. The new release discussed below is version 21.1.

Someone, I know not whom, asked a pointed question during the press conference. Schneider points to its offering following the IEC standard. The questioner wanted to know if Automation Expert was just another proprietary software with some standards baked in. The question was not answered directly. The answer given dealt with decoupling hardware and software allowing each to be independently upgraded. Good question to keep in mind if other companies dive into this water. Or—perhaps there is room for an independent software developer to jump into the fray if and when.

Automation Expert V21.1 Release

Schneider Electric released version 21.1 of EcoStruxure Automation Expert, its software-centric universal automation system. Adoption of the new technology is proving immediately beneficial for consumer-packaged goods, pharmaceutical and logistics enterprises. 

“EcoStruxure Automation Expert v21.1 is an important milestone in our journey to help manufacturers achieve the step-change advancements possible with a digital-first approach to industrial automation,” said Fabrice Jadot, Senior Vice President, Next Generation Automation, Schneider Electric. “Today’s operations need to react quickly to fluctuating market and environmental dynamics and rapidly mitigate potential risks. By separating the hardware and software lifecycles, EcoStruxure Automation Expert enables automation applications to be built using asset-centric, portable, proven-in-use software components, independent of the underlying hardware infrastructure. This software-centric approach delivers unprecedented cost and performance gains and frees engineers to innovate by automating low-value work and eliminating task duplication across tools.”

GEA is one of the largest technology suppliers for food processing and a wide range of other industries. The company focuses on technologies, components, and sustainable solutions for sophisticated production processes in diverse end-user markets where time to market and agility is essential. EcoStruxure Automation Expert greatly simplifies the integration between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) creating new agility for GEA and its customers.

Master Systèmes, an industrial automation system integrator and Schneider Electric Master Alliance partner, is using EcoStruxure Automation Expert to increase the agility and flexibility of one of its cosmetic customer plants.

Schneider Electric is also implementing EcoStruxure Automation Expert in its own Smart Distribution Center in Shanghai, China to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Because the software is decoupled from the hardware, modifying the conveying line to adapt as flow requirements change is easier and more cost-effective. With EcoStruxure Automation Expert, identifying the root cause of failure and troubleshooting is four times faster. And with 45% less products on the error line, throughput is increased by 5.3%.

Among other advancements, EcoStruxure Automation Expert V21.1 includes: enhanced cybersecurity, diagnostics, discovery and commissioning features, and expanded libraries and language support.

In addition, improved integration with AVEVA System Platform ensures EcoStruxure Automation Expert customers can take advantage of AVEVA’s market leading software for supervisory, enterprise SCADA, MES, and IIoT applications with minimal engineering overhead. One study showed the EcoStruxure Automation Expert and AVEVA combination reduced engineering efforts by over 50%.

New 3-phase UPS

Schneider Electric announced the global launch of the Galaxy VL 200-500 kW (400V/480V) 3-phase uninterruptible power supply (UPS), the newest addition to the Galaxy family. Available worldwide, this highly efficient, compact UPS offers up to 99-percent efficiency in ECOnversion mode for a full return on investment within two years (model dependent) for medium and large data centers and commercial and industrial facilities. A live, virtual “hands-on” event for data center professionals and partners will take place May 4 to demonstrate Galaxy VL’s capabilities and features from Schneider Electric’s Innovation Executive Briefing Center.

With data center floor space at a premium, the compact design of the Galaxy VL is half the size of the industry average at .8 m2. Its modular and scalable architecture enables data center professionals to scale power incrementally, from 200 kW to 500 kW with 50 kW power modules, providing flexibility to grow as their business demands.

With Galaxy VL, Schneider Electric introduces Live Swap, a pioneering feature which delivers a touch-safe design throughout the process of adding or replacing the power modules while the UPS is online and fully operational, offering enhanced business continuity and no unscheduled downtime. Additionally, Live Swap’s touch safe design offers increased protection for employees who no longer have to transfer the UPS to maintenance bypass or battery operation during the insertion or removal of the power modules.

Key Benefits of the new Galaxy VL:

  • Maximize space to enable future growth: Galaxy VL is the most compact in its class, 50-percent more compact than the industry average at.8 m2, freeing up valuable data center real estate and IT space. Additionally, Galaxy Lithium-ion Battery Cabinets deliver total space savings of up to 70 percent compared with VRLA battery solutions.1
  • Save money: Galaxy VL’s modular, scalable platform enables you to pay-as-you-grow, reducing CapEx investment, operating costs, energy consumption, and TCO. Scale power instantly in 50 kW increments from 200 to 500 kW with no extra footprint.
  • Reach sustainability goals: Up to 99-percent efficient in ECOnversion mode for a full return on investment within two years in energy savings (26,280 EUR annual electricity savings). A Schneider Electric Green Premium product, it includes the option for long-lasting Lithium-ion batteries.
  • Increased Reliability through EcoStruxure3By connecting Galaxy VL to EcoStruxure—Schneider Electric’s open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform—data center operators can benefit from EcoStruxure™ IT software and services. These EcoStruxure offerings enable customers to monitor, manage, and model their IT infrastructure and get service support 24/7 anywhere, anytime.

OPC Foundation Extends Work To Field Layer Specifications

Whatever happened to Time Sensitive Networking (TSN)? I had been pondering the relative disappearance of several technologies creating buzz in 2020—TSN, Arduino, Raspberry Pi. Then came buried within the OPC Foundation discussion with us at the 25th ARC Industry Forum this month word of TSN.

This appears to be the last of the updates I received at ARC this year. OPCF president Stefan Hoppe began with a photo of the unusual amount of snow around his house in Germany (as I was contemplating my yard in my new house in the Chicago suburbs with about 2 feet of snow blanketing the area. Meaning—none of us were in Florida this year).

I wrote last month about the Field Level Communications standard work. In this, 300 experts from 60 major companies published a Technical Paper and completed Initial Release Candidate. OPCF continues work on the networking side with this FLC specification along with work on the “Advanced Physical Layer”, which is a new Ethernet cabling standard. Hoppe stated the mission, “…in order to drive industrial interoperability from field to cloud (and vice versa) and to support IT/OT convergence.”

Work has also started on identifying and creating facets and profiles that define the mandatory feature sets for the various types of automation components which is essential to reach a high level of cross-vendor interoperability.

Hoppe continued, “Ethernet APL and TSN are important enablers, which allow OPC UA to further penetrate new application areas in process and factory automation. The OPC Foundation’s Field Level Communications Initiative bundles these activities and acts as a global center of gravity for a unified OPC UA-based industrial interoperability solution harmonized between the process industry and factory automation.”

Peter Lutz, Director of the FLC Initiative, said, “The initial release candidate, which was completed in November 2020, is a major achievement because it facilitates the long-awaited standardization of Controller-to-Controller (C2C) connectivity. The specifications are used not only to build prototypes, they are also used to create test specifications that will be converted to corresponding test cases for the OPC UA certification tool (CTT). Furthermore, it lays the foundation for specification enhancements, covering the Controller-to-Device (C2D) and Device-to-Device (D2D) use cases in the next step.”

The initial release candidate (RC1), which focuses on Controller-to-Controller (C2C), consists of four parts (Parts 80-83) that specify how automation controllers exchange process data and configuration data using OPC UA Client/Server and PubSub extensions in combination with peer-to-peer connections and basic diagnostics.

These parts are extensions to the OPC UA framework and are labelled with OPC UA FX (Field eXchange):

  • Part 80 (OPC UA FX 10000-80) provides an overview and introduces the basic concepts of using OPC UA for Field eXchange.
  • Part 81 (OPC UA FX 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 UA FX 10000-82) describes networking services, such as topology discovery and time synchronization.
  • Part 83 (OPC UA FX 10000-83) describes the data structures for sharing information required for Offline Engineering using descriptors and descriptor packages.

In addition, a 40-page technical paper was published that explains the overall vision and the technical approach.

Since the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) and Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) are key technologies for the OPC Foundation’s strategy to bring OPC UA down to the field in discrete and process industries, different cooperation strategies have been established:

  • The OPC Foundation has joined the Advanced Physical Layer Project Group (APL) to support the development and promotion of the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) for Industrial Ethernet, suitable for use in demanding applications and hazardous locations in the process industry.
  • The OPC Foundation has established liaisons with IEC SC65C as well as IEEE 802.1 in order to support and align with the IEC/IEEE 60802 TSN Profile for Industrial Automation, which is essential in building converged industrial automation networks in which multiple IT and OT protocols share a common network infrastructure. 

Industrial Internet Consortium Launches IIoT RFP Toolkit

Free Step-by-step Wizard Creates RFP Content to Jumpstart IIoT Projects

Two problems consistently present themselves for open, collaborative, and even open-source projects to gain wide adoption. The specifications must be adopted as a corporate standard. The buying authorities, whether corporate or plant, must define the specification as part of the bid package.

Each of these is a hurdle. The first can be overcome by including as many end user corporations as feasible in the standards development process. The second can be a major roadblock, especially if the purchasing authority is decentralized and perhaps not technically aware and more apt to be influenced by the local specified supplier sales team.

Those influences make it imperative that the standards bodies make it as easy as possible to specify the standard as part of the bid package. I’ve seen failure upon failure because of this one roadblock. That makes this new toolkit from IIC that much more valuable.

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has released its IIC RFP Toolkit, a collection of best practices and online tools to help guide IIoT project managers and procurement managers and buyers through the process of procuring all the different components and resources required for a complete end-to-end IIoT solution.

“Digital Transformation (DX) projects require unique procurement skills to navigate the considerations needed when building an RFP. The procurement process for a typical IoT project is quite different from that of an enterprise software project,” said Dirk Slama, Director of the Co-innovation Hub at Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute.

“This IIC toolkit helps IIoT project managers and procurement managers/buyers through the process of procuring all the different components and resources required for a complete end-to-end IIoT solution. The RFP wizard helps users create and manage effective RFPs for IIoT solutions, helping to ensure that users of IIoT technology are using the right partners and getting the best possible IIoT solution for the most affordable price,” said Transforma Insights Founding Partner Jim Morrish.

The IIC RFP Toolkit is comprised of six modules, developed by the IIC member ecosystem of IIoT technology users, vendors, and consultants. These modules are:

  • Challenges, risks, and mitigation
  • Project planning
  • RFP creation
  • RFP wizard
  • RFP distribution and vendor selection
  • Expert advice and discussion

“As companies struggle to ensure they are successfully setting up their digital transformation projects it becomes more important to see what the rest of the market is doing and that’s exactly what we’ve provided with the IIC RFP Toolkit. Our ecosystem of members, from across the IIoT landscape, provide insights and lessons they learnt from their own projects and created the modules in the RFP Toolkit. The IIC ecosystem is unparalleled in its ability to crowdsource solutions and share best practices to solve IIoT and digital transformation challenges,” said IGnPower Executive Vice President Bassam Zarkout.

The IIC RFP Toolkit is accessible for free on the IIC Resource Hub, a central repository for the collective resources of the IIC community. Conversations about common challenges and crowd-sourced answers from IIC members can be found on the IIC Community Forum, the space for industry experts to exchange ideas, to discuss Industrial IoT (IIoT) problems in need of solutions and to network.