A small group of companies proposed a marketing initiative promoting OPC UA over a new Ethernet standard called Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) in 2017 at Hannover Messe. I was privileged to sit in a meeting to listen to the proposal and subsequently wrote a white paper about it. I believe this is revolutionary technology for the information part of manufacturing technology.
Meanwhile, Rockwell Automation is beginning to regularly surprise me. They first went out of their twice to talk about truly adopting OPC UA and introduced a module for its control platform using it. The company has a long standing reputation for getting involved in standards it doesn’t directly control for the purpose of delaying adoption. But this seemed like a genuine adoption of interoperability recognizing that customers are demanding freely flowing information from a variety of sources.Just to add to my surprise was an announcement I heard about at Hannover that Rockwell Automation has joined that group of OPC UA over TSN companies, now dubbed the “Shapers”. This group is rapidly moving toward critical mass with rumors swirling about companies not (yet) a part of it.
The press release (I haven’t yet had an interview) states Rockwell Automation is joining industry leaders ABB, Belden, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, KUKA, National Instruments, Parker Hannifin, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Schneider Electric, TTTech and WAGO (collectively known as Shapers) to create a communication solution for real-time and sensor-to-cloud applications in industrial operations.
The solution will be based on the OPC UA protocol, which allows easy and secure sharing of information across different vendor technologies and the time-sensitive networking (TSN) suite of standards, which helps improve latency and robustness in converged industrial networks.
“Connecting technologies across an industrial organization while maintaining multivendor interoperability requires a harmonized, interoperable solution that uses consistent information models, communication and application behavior (together known as application profiles),” said Paul Brooks, business development manager, Rockwell Automation.
“That’s what this group of automation leaders are combining their expertise to create. Our solution will give manufacturing and industrial organizations best-of-breed I/O device control, motion and safety application profiles,” said Sebastian Sachse, B&R Industrial Automation.
To ensure the emerging OPC UA TSN solution supports interoperability of different vendor technologies on the same network, the companies are engaging with industry consortia such as Avnu, IEEE, IIC, LNI 4.0 and OPC Foundation. The companies are also planning an announcement in the coming months on how to achieve unified application profiles, which is the last hurdle to device harmonization. They aim to provide one-stop-shop certification of the overall solution up to the device-profile level.
The companies have already published whitepapers on OPC UA TSN technology, such as an IIC whitepaper on converged traffic types. They have also made significant contributions to the recently released PubSub extension of OPC UA, and plan to set up a collaboration between the IIC and LNI testbeds.
This potentially holds great promise for end user companies and systems integrators. We can only hope it progresses.
Ever wonder about the need for the elusive IT/OT convergence? Rockwell Automation announces Factory Talk Network Manager software for its Stratix line of managed (Ethernet) switches. Rockwell OEMs switches from Cisco built to its specifications. Cisco builds good equipment, but it is famous in the networking world for somewhat, shall we say, complex management software.
Control engineers and plant-floor technicians who have growing Ethernet networks to connect all this Internet of Things stuff need something that is closer to their language.
By the way, I still have plenty of catching up to do with things I learned both at Hannover (where I spent many hours with Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and the following week at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. I’m finally home and getting organized.
This new management software enables engineers and technicians to monitor the health of their Allen-Bradley Stratix managed switches, troubleshoot switch issues, and quickly configure new managed switches all from one easy-to-use software interface.
“Many plant-floor personnel struggle to piece together information about managed switches and devices from different sources,” said Lorenzo Majewski, product manager, Rockwell Automation. “With the FactoryTalk Network Manager software, they can access this information in one collective spot. In addition, real-time alarms and events from network switches can help them conduct faster, more precise troubleshooting.”
FactoryTalk Network Manager software automatically discovers assets, their associated IP addresses, and creates a topology of these connected devices. The software’s intuitive interface offers grouping of equipment along with dashboard information, so users can organize devices into specific areas or analyze them individually.
The software also uses user-created configuration templates to get new switches up and running faster and more efficiently. These templates can be shared across an organization, or with OEMs and system integrators to further ease network deployments, commissions and maintenance efforts.
The FactoryTalk Network Manager software provides role-based access control with auditing capabilities to help track user-specific activities and changes. The software supports multiple protocols, including Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), Modbus, BACnet and PROFINET. Access to the web-based platform is available via a personal computer in a control room or a mobile device on the plant floor.
Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) defines the future of networking. Most of the specifications have been agreed upon by the IEEE 802 committee, only a few remain to be completed. I have written a White Paper describing OPC UA over TSN for information communication. This corroborates the idea that information is where the new momentum lies within manufacturing and production technologies.
One topic of concern to many regards whether or not TSN will supplant current fieldbus technologies. Indeed, on the surface it appears that TSN can perform most, if not all, of those functions.
Therefore, it behooves the fieldbus groups to figure out how to work with this new technology in order to add value for users.
The EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) has taken the initiative and supplemented EtherCAT with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) technologies, expanding the field of possible EtherCAT applications to include heterogeneous network environments. With the help of TSN, industrial controls can contact a number of different EtherCAT segments in real-time through Ethernet networks.
In doing so, no changes to the EtherCAT slave devices are required: the EtherCAT Device Protocol, including all high performance characteristics, is fully preserved. Also expanded by TSN is the EtherCAT Automation Protocol (EAP) for communication between controls, which will result in even more deterministic performance on this level.
The ETG has specified the technology expansion in the form of a profile, which highlights the fact that no changes to the TSN standards are needed. This approach also considerably simplifies the adaptation to the final versions of the TSN technologies, because specification in the IEEE is not yet fully complete.
The ETG has supported the development of TSN from the very beginning through active participation in the IEEE committee, and is coordinating the specifications through a liaison with the IEEE 802.1 Working Group. This ensures that the ETG will also be able to access the IEEE 802.1 specifications that have not yet been adopted. Therefore, the technology can be introduced almost at the same time as TSN.
EtherCAT uses the TSN streams with any data rates for real-time communication above EtherCAT device segments. In the segment itself nothing is changed – the unique performance of the EtherCAT protocol built upon processing on the fly, highly precise synchronization, flexible topology selection, excellent diagnostic capabilities and simplicity through fully automated addressing of devices are all fully preserved. Similarly, the thousands of different EtherCAT devices available worldwide do not need to be modified at all. The stream adaptation feature that connects the EtherCAT segment to the heterogeneous TSN network can be placed either in the last TSN switch or in the first EtherCAT slave device.
Dr. Guido Beckmann, Chairman of the ETG Technical Committee classifies the new specification as such: “The incorporation of TSN standards will significantly improve the real-time characteristics of generic Ethernet. With our technology expansion we make use of TSN in an ideal way, and exactly where TSN can offer significant advantages – in the factory networks. As one frame is sufficient for EtherCAT to communicate with a whole segment, and thus with the entire fieldbus network, EtherCAT is virtually predestined for integration with TSN networks. We achieve this without turning our technology inside out. EtherCAT together with TSN offers the ‘best of both worlds’. Therefore, this prepares EtherCAT for the future perfectly.”
Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Remember several years ago when Amazon started selling space and time on its servers? And people thought they were crazy. Is this a business?
Well, as the old vaudeville comedian and TV pioneer Jimmy Durante used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”
We have lots of “–as-a-service” things going on over the past 15 years or so. Software, Application, Platform. Here Rockwell Automation leverages its partnerships with Cisco, Panduit, and Microsoft (who has its own Infrastructure-as-a-Service) to offer an extension to its longtime strategy of using Ethernet as a networking backbone to its Connected Enterprise vision.
Designing, deploying and maintaining this infrastructure can be complex and time consuming for many companies, and is often too costly for their capital budgets. Rockwell Automation has introduced its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering to address these challenges.
Rockwell’s IaaS reduces the burden of network deployments by combining pre-engineered network solutions, on-site configuration and 24/7 remote monitoring into a single five-year contract. The result is simplified ordering and commissioning upfront, and can help improve network reliability long term. The service can also ease budgetary strains by shifting networking costs from a capital expense to an operating expense.
All aspects of IaaS are aligned to the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) reference architectures developed by Rockwell Automation and Cisco. Leveraging best-in-class technologies and architectures, companies can optimize their network infrastructure’s performance, efficiency and uptime, as well as address security risks.
“Companies of all sizes are eager to digitally transform their operations in a Connected Enterprise, but many are limited in their ability to connect their infrastructure,” said Sherman Joshua, connected services portfolio manager, Rockwell Automation. “Often, a combination of time, talent and budgetary constraints hold them back. IaaS helps relieve these pressures by combining turnkey networking solutions with our highest level of support.”
IaaS is offered with two Rockwell Automation pre-engineered network solutions, including the Industrial Data Center (IDC) and the Industrial Network Distribution Solution (INDS). These solutions are designed for industrial use and incorporate industry-leading technologies from Rockwell Automation Strategic Alliance partners Cisco, Panduit and Microsoft.
The IDC provides all the hardware and software needed to transition to a virtualized environment, and is designed to deliver high availability and fault tolerance. The INDS is a network distribution package that helps end users achieve secure, high-capacity connectivity between the control room and throughout the plant floor.
Under an IaaS contract, Rockwell Automation will size, assemble and test the infrastructure, including configuration and on-site deployment at the customer’s facility. Contracts include 24/7 remote monitoring of critical system parameters to help prevent outages and failures, as well as proactive system maintenance and checks to improve reliability. Support response is guaranteed within 10 minutes, but actual response times average three minutes.
Siemens Automation held its annual Users Conference the end of June at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida. Digitalization comprised the underlying theme, however connectivity technologies highlighted the important announcements and discussions.
MindSphere holds the top place as the most important Siemens technology at this time. Users and Siemens professionals highlighted two use cases at the conference both centering on condition monitoring / predictive maintenance.
The other connectivity announcement concerned PCS 7, the Siemens DCS. The company unveiled new I/O featuring Profinet connectivity. The new, denser I/O includes a user-configurable product, as well as traditional digital and analog modules. Ethernet connectivity featuring Profinet held center stage in the press announcement.
Siemens introduced MindSphere to me at Hannover 2016. Its evolution has been swift. Now dubbed an Internet of Things platform, it includes a set of APIs and libraries. It includes an “App Store” open to 3rd party developers in addition to Siemens apps. If you are a developer, just register and app and pay a royalty based on data or connections.
MindSphere placed in context is similar to what I’ve seen from Cisco, Dell EMC, GE, Microsoft, and SAP. I’m sure there are more and that we’ll see more in the future. Dell EMC’s platform is open source. MIMOSA, an industry standards organization provides a similar platform called the OIIE based on standards containing no proprietary components.
All of these platforms are important for maintenance and reliability professionals, as well as for plant management, engineering, and operations because of the increased data and visibility into operations and assets. This will result in improved planning, more efficient operations, and increased percentage of uptime.
Components of the platform include:
• MindSphere Apps – Siemens and 3rd party ; data analytics
• MindSphere Sphere – Azure, SAP, AWS, etc.
• MindSphere Connect – open standards, right now OPC UA, gateway, integrated with S7, build your own connectivity