Many engineers are looking for better ways to move data with fewer programming hours and headaches. Whereas OPC solved many problems leading to interoperability and data exchange, it also brings with it a higher overhead and programming load. For those searching for a something lighter, and also open source, along comes Sparkplug.
Cirrus Link authored the Sparkplug specification and provided it to the Eclipse Foundation, and several other companies support the group as founding members including Chevron, Canary Labs, HiveMQ, Inductive Automation, and ORing. Now additional companies are developing their products using Sparkplug for interoperability.
I recently received a paper authored by Arlen Nipper, president and CTO of Cirrus Link “Sparkplug: Open Source Technology to Bridge the OT-IT Gap”. He begins:
One of the primary pain points in Industrial IoT (IIoT) is disparate systems with both modern and legacy assets. Companies in any industry ranging from oil and gas to manufacturing can hardly imagine a world where they can choose any vendor’s hardware, plug it into their network, and have the hardware 100 percent self-discovered by their SCADA system and every application in the enterprise. True vendor interoperability for both data producers and data consumers is the vision, and new open-source technology may be the answer.
These days, everything relates back to digital transformation. Nipper write, Digital transformation requires devices in the field to be connected, with data made available that can speak the language of both OT and IT for improved business intelligence. In order for this type of digital transformation to be successful, data must be decoupled from a single application so it can flow to enterprise applications in a one-to-many approach.
From the first time I met Nipper, he has evangelized MQTT—a protocol he helped write—as an IT-friendly messaging protocol. It is lightweight. It is a publish-subscribe network protocol allowing for multiple data consumers.
MQTT is a messaging protocol. It does not describe the data traversing the wire (or air). While it provides an excellent engine for delivering IIoT data, MQTT doesn’t make the data interoperable across the enterprise. Thus, a new open source standard has been created and the IIoT industry should understand its importance for bridging the gap from OT to IT.
Nipper explains the next step:
The Internet expanded rapidly thanks to two open technologies – first HTTP, a data exchange protocol, and then HTML, which was used to define the data sent by HTTP. Both were needed. MQTT has needed its “HTML” for years in order for IIoT to explode in growth and adoption. In order to solve this problem of OT-IT interoperability, the Eclipse Sparkplug working group was launched in February 2020 to bring device communications standardization to IIoT.
The Eclipse Foundation states, “The Sparkplug Working Group was established to ‘improve the interoperability and scalability of IIoT solutions, and provide an overall framework for supporting Industry 4.0 for oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, smart cities, and other related industries.’ ”
Sparkplug is an open source software specification that provides MQTT clients with a framework to integrate data. The specification articulates three goals:
1. Define an MQTT Topic Namespace optimized for IIoT.
2. Define MQTT State Management to take advantage of continuous session awareness.
3. Define the MQTT Payload.
Sparkplug adds features including birth certificate and death certificate (session awareness) to help with contextualization of data.
Sparkplug makes this process fast, secure, and open standard so anyone can make use of the framework for MQTT interoperability. Many device manufacturers are supporting Sparkplug, which means it is built in natively on the device on the OT floor.
With Sparkplug, machine learning and artificial intelligence applications can utilize the same standard interface for data without having to know and understand the entire OT environment. They can subscribe to the OT data, and use it immediately for IT functions.
I had an opportunity to talk with Ben Stewart, VP Product Strategy for Plex Systems, the other day to get my first deep dive for years. I talked with the company occasionally, but it was primarily an ERP developer with a robust MES incorporated. Much has happened lately.
What has set Plex apart for years is its SaaS, multi-tenant cloud offering. While competitors have only recently found a way to move from the license-based, client-server model to some form of cloud offering using browser-based connectivity with HTML 5 to offer visualization through tablets and smart phones.
Plex has made several moves within the past year to bolster its presence and offering and along the way garnered a Gartner recognition. First, Plex has made its MES available without its ERP so that users of other ERP solutions can add Plex SaaS MES. The second news is the Gartner recognition. And the third news item discusses Plex entering the IoT space through acquisition giving it a robust and comprehensive solution to its customers.
Plex Manufacturing Execution Suite (Plex MES)—a flexible cloud-based suite.
Plex Systems manufacturing operations capabilities are now available as a best-of-breed shop floor-specific offering called the Plex Manufacturing Execution Suite (Plex MES). This cloud-based suite is comprised of packages that satisfy the spectrum of smart manufacturing needs from MES to manufacturing operations management (MOM).
“Plex allowed us to quickly standardize our systems and processes across eight facilities globally, helping the company record production and quality checks in real-time,” said Jennifer McIntosh, ERP Manager of Gill Industries, a world-class supplier of advanced mechanisms and welded assemblies. “With the entire company now working from a single system of record, we are able to leverage MES capabilities to continuously improve our quality standards and optimize processes while reallocating our staff to focus on value-added business activities instead of system and server maintenance.”
Plex MES is designed to seamlessly connect insights from the shop floor up to the top floor, enabling production to deliver relevant real-time, operational information to key roles throughout the organization and empowering everyone to make better business decisions.
Plex MES gives manufacturers access to key capabilities required for smart manufacturing, including:
Error-proofed control: Choreographed production processes are driven directly from the quality control plan to shorten cycle times and improve efficiency. A unique operator control panel is paperless and easy-to-use, allowing for increased productivity and fewer manual input errors. In-line quality control governs quality activities to ensure check sheet compliance, and real-time production reporting allows for real-time decisions.
- High-resolution visibility: The full production lifecycle—from raw materials through finished goods—is accessible from anywhere on any connected device. Operations are monitored in real-time, delivering manufacturing intelligence for more accurate decision-making. Compliance risk is mitigated through database-driven traceability information, while increased visibility to asset performance creates more opportunities for continuous improvement.
- Seamless connectivity: Flexible, configurable cloud MES is connected by design. It is easy to deploy and standardize enterprise-wide while connecting to enterprise systems like a corporate ERP. Edge connectivity to industrial automation ensures at-rate production recording to Plex MES in the cloud. The Plex MES solution is fully unified, reducing the risk of disruptions common with an MES comprised of multiple point-solutions.
“There is an underserved need among large organizations to tap into the invaluable data generated in plants around the world,” said Bill Berutti, CEO of Plex Systems. “Plex MES answers that need by consolidating our 20 years of manufacturing expertise into a highly targeted smart manufacturing solution that enables operational visibility, transparency, and accuracy, helping manufacturers standardize operations across multiple plants.”
Plex Systems announced that Gartner has recognized it as a Challenger in the 2019 Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems. For this report, Gartner evaluates vendors on their Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute. Plex is positioned furthest for Completeness of Vision in the Challengers quadrant and has improved its position on Ability to Execute compared to the previous year.
“We feel that recognition of Plex Systems as a Challenger is further validation of our ability to disrupt the MES market,” said Bill Berutti, CEO of Plex Systems. “Our manufacturing expertise is based on decades of helping customers exercise control over their shop floor operations while gaining access to invaluable data. Plex MES is flexible and scalable, answering a growing need among manufacturers to standardize their shop floors anywhere in the world.”
According to the 2019 Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems report, “The global MES market is a key pillar of smart factories and digital business for manufacturers. New technologies are starting to be leveraged, and disruptors are emerging. Supply chain technology leaders should use this research to select appropriate vendors and solutions.”
Plex delivers cloud MES and ERP to nearly 700 global process and discrete manufacturers. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution, manufacturers can easily implement, scale, and standardize operations with Plex across their plants throughout the enterprise.
Plex is also rated on Gartner Peer Insights, an online platform of ratings and reviews of IT software and services written and read by IT professionals and decision-makers. Verified, anonymous reviews provided by members of the Plex worldwide customer base include:
Plex Systems releases Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), a suite of solutions designed to solve business challenges generating from the shop floor.
Plex Systems released Plex Industrial IoT, which connects machines to the cloud, manages the resulting data streams, and contextualizes the information in real time. The first available offering will focus on asset performance management (APM), helping companies avoid manufacturing disruption caused by common problems like unplanned downtime, diminished machine performance, and substandard quality output.
Plex’s new solution enables manufacturers to implement and leverage connectivity in the era of Industry 4.0, breaking down siloes created by varying protocols and data types used by equipment and sensors by simplifying the connection to machines and the contextualization of data. Plex Industrial IoT grants access to the underlying machine intelligence, delivering to manufacturers timely and accurate insight in a single solution, eliminating operational surprises.
Plex Industrial IoT delivers:
- Continuous improvement through access to historical IIoT data: The first solution within the suite focuses on asset performance management (APM), starting with an understanding of current and historical activity. This real-time assessment empowers shift supervisors and plant managers with the data to understand behaviors, trends, and diagnose root cause of common challenges like machine failures, efficiency dips, or substandard quality output.
- Improved productivity with real-time asset dashboards: Plex Industrial IoT helps manufacturers monitor what is happening with any asset, in any facility, from any connected device with comprehensive pre-built dashboards. Customizable and real time, these dashboards deliver access to up-to-the-minute metrics and analytics. The information delivered by the dashboard enables manufacturing leaders to respond to live data immediately and accurately to improve operator performance or overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) mid-shift.
- Minimized operational disruptions by predicting and preempting unplanned downtime: Data collected over time with Plex Industrial IoT, analyzed against historical trends and contextualized against MES and ERP data from the same facilities, will expose an unprecedented quality of shop floor to top floor insights. This reduces operational disruptions to help manufacturers better plan for the previously unanticipated.
This is Plex’s initial Industrial IoT offering following the acquisition of IIoT leader DATTUS in July 2018.
This is a story about Bill Johnson, vice president of operations for Madison, WI-based Madison-Kipp Corp. (MKC). The company makes precision machined aluminum die castings and subassemblies for the transportation, lawn & garden, and industrial markets. The company faced two objectives to enhance competitiveness—to bring down costs and raise efficiency.
“Technology is very important to us,” said Bill Johnson, vice president of operations for MKC. “We have to keep ahead of our competitors in many different areas. Using Ignition and taking real-time data from our processes helps us understand our data — which helps us make better decisions.”
Note: I very seldom write this type of story anymore. When we laid out the editorial direction for Automation World back in the day, I wanted stories about the intelligent application of automation with the people doing the work as the hero of the story. Typically, these stories come from the marketing department of supplier company. They write about what they know—the hero of the story is their product or service. Since these stories are so hard to come by, I decided not to pursue them for The Manufacturing Connection even though stories are more powerful than a bunch of bullet points.
Back to the story. Unfortunately there are no specific numbers about savings, but Johnson describes the “before” scene—that is, before they implemented Ignition by Inductive Automation, an industrial application platform with tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
“Some of the results we have are in the cost savings realm, and we’ve also seen improved efficiency,” said Johnson. “Before, engineers had to collect data on their own. This would take a long time. Now, we’re able to pull that data in and look at it and solve problems very quickly.”
“Using the built-in connectivity, the Ignition platform has filled a void for us between multiple manufacturers and platforms,” said Jay Sandvick, senior automation controls engineer at MKC. “It’s given us interoperability that we didn’t believe we could have. We now have accessibility to data streams we didn’t have before. And we have the ability to generate seamless reports from machines that were previously thought unconnectable.”
Dotti Jacob, industrial integration engineer at MKC, adds, “We are now allowed us to use different programming languages, and tie into all sorts of different systems, without being held back by proprietary issues.”
The platform’s interoperability has allowed MKC to streamline its systems. “Before Ignition, we were reliant on various software packages that were frankly a nightmare to maintain and pay for,” said Sandvick. “With Ignition, we have a single-point interface, a single cost, and it has more than exceeded our expectations in talking to various machines.”
Remote access has been greatly improved. “Before, if I was at a different facility and there were troubleshooting issues, I would have to travel there to help out,” said Jacob. “Now that we have Ignition, I can access the SCADA from anywhere and see in real time actual images of the different machines and what they’re doing, which is very helpful for troubleshooting. Having real-time data, we can access from anywhere allows us to see and address the issue a lot more quickly than we could in the past — which saves us time and money.”
You can use your software platform to allow customers visibility into the production of their orders. “Our customers really enjoy the ability to see real-time data on their products being produced,” said Scott Sargeant, vice president of sales for MKC. “It allows them to understand things without having to travel to our location — which of course saves them time and money. We’re talking about a paradigm shift in information sharing. It really gives our customers a window into the production environment. And our ability to provide this helps differentiate Madison-Kipp from other manufacturers.”
Sargeant adds, “Now our customers can see that data, can understand impactful events, downtime, and other important issues in production.”
Ignition allows users to import CAD drawings of the plant floor as the background for screens. The screens show real-time movement of robots, so operators always have an accurate view of what’s happening. “Before, we had to use these cookie-cutter images that were not very accurate to what was actually happening on the floor,” said Jacob. “Now we’re able to take a CAD drawing of the equipment, and it can move in real time with however the equipment’s moving, and that’s very helpful.”
Training is a key differentiator for technology suppliers. Jacob said Inductive University—the free online educational center with hundreds of videos allowing users to learn at their own pace has been an additional benefit. “When I started with Madison-Kipp, I’d never heard of Ignition,” said Jacob. “I was able to get up to speed very quickly because Inductive University has videos that teach you anything you need to know in order to be successful using the software.”
Suppliers of manufacturing software, some from surprising places, are putting sizable investments into products that will help customers reap the rewards of digitalization. Today, I’m looking at both ABB and Emerson Automation Solutions. Previously I checked out GE Digital and Rockwell Automation. Each has taken a slightly different course toward the goal, but notice the common thread of enhancing software products to help customers prosper.
ABB enhances manufacturing management technology
The new version of ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management will offer new features including:
- Enhanced user experience based on new HTML 5 web client;
- A new smart interactive dashboard application that provides greater visibility and collaboration;
- A new statistical process control (SPC) application, to determine if each process is in a state of control;
- A new Batch Compare application – for advanced batch analysis.
“ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management is a comprehensive, scalable and modular software suite that optimizes visibility, knowledge and control throughout the operations domain,” said Narasimham Parimi, Head of Digital Products – Product Management, Process Control Platform. “This release provides a range of rich new functionality and a new enhanced user experience that enables operations to become more productive and responsive.”
ABB Ability Manufacturing Operations Management is designed to simplify production management by enabling performance monitoring, downtime management, and maintenance support, as well as providing statistical production analysis tools. It provides solutions and tools to facilitate the collection, consolidation and distribution of production, quality and energy information via the plant’s web-based reports, trends, and graphs.
A new, self-service dashboard application promotes increased collaboration, providing visibility from shop floor to top floor and spanning IT and OT environments. It increases data connectivity to all apps and modules within the MOM suite, combining historic and manufacturing data and providing the user with improved customization capabilities. Dashboards can be shared amongst users, further promoting collaboration between teams. Trends and events are displayed together, which enables customers to identify issues and opportunities enabling informed and timely decisions.
The new common services platform features an HTML 5 web platform that runs across all suites ensuring customers have a seamless user experience, so that applications can be viewed on different devices right down to a 10-inch tablet.
Statistical data process control (SPC) is used in manufacturing to determine if each process is in a state of control. The new SPC application works across all the different apps and modules and helps the user to improve quality and production related performance.
In addition to the existing Batch View and Batch Investigate features, a comparison option has been added to the platform’s batch analysis applications, allowing different types of comparison.
Cyber security remains one of the key issues in the advancement of Industry 4.0, and the new features in MOM include enhanced security.
Emerson Expands Analytics Platform
Plantweb Insight platform adds two new Pervasive Sensing applications that manage wireless networks more efficiently with a singular interface to the enterprise.
Emerson has added two new IIoT solutions to its Plantweb Insight data analytics platform that will enable industrial facilities to transform the way they manage their enterprise-level wireless network infrastructure.
As digitalization and wireless technology adoption continue to rapidly expand in industrial facilities throughout the world, the need for greater visibility of network infrastructure performance is key. These new Plantweb Insight applications provide a quick-to-implement, scalable IIoT solution that helps customers advance their digital transformation strategies and achieve greater operational efficiencies.
The new Plantweb Insight Network Management application provides continuous, centralized monitoring of WirelessHART networks. This first-of-its-kind application provides a singular, consolidated view of the status of all wireless networks in a facility, with embedded expertise and guidance for advanced network management.
A key feature of the Plantweb Insight Network Management application is a configurable mesh network diagram, providing visualization of network design and connections along with device-specific information. It also provides an exportable record of syslog alerts, network details outlining conformance to network best practices and more.
While the new network management application provides a holistic look at wireless networks, the Plantweb Insight Power Module Management application drills down to the device level, allowing facilities to keep their wireless devices appropriately powered so they can continuously transmit key monitoring data. By aggregating power module statuses, users can evolve traditional maintenance planning and implement more efficient and cost-effective practices.
“We were able to infuse a decade of experience with wireless technology into these new offerings,” said Brian Joe, wireless product manager with Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. “Our customers will now be able to manage and improve hundreds of networks through a singular interface, realizing significant efficiencies in individual network and wireless device management and maintenance.”
These new applications further enhance the Plantweb Insight platform, a set of pre-built analytics primarily focusing on monitoring key asset health. Other applications in the platform include pressure relief valve monitoring, heat exchanger monitoring and steam trap monitoring.
Rockwell Automation through Blake Moret, chairman and CEO, invested $1 billion in PTC with Moret gaining a seat on the board. The public reason was really to get early information about ThinkWorx, the IIoT product.
The investment valued PTC, a company with $1 billion in sales, at approximately $17 billion. On the surface, we all pondered why.
Speeding up the time, I was able to spend a couple of hours with several people from PTC at last week’s Automation Fair event. This really opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of the ThingWorx offering. There is much technology and usefulness under the hood. This is powerful software.
Now, I understand. Beyond a relationship and most likely some preferential access to ThingWorx and other PTC technologies, I’m surmising that Rockwell Automation can also drop some visualization projects, cut development costs, and utilize the full value of the PTC software. That alone would be a good return on the investment.
Therefore, the most prominent branding at Automation Fair–Powered by PTC.
Revealing more of Rockwell’s piece-at-a-time partnering strategy, it is not using PTC’s CAD and PLM offerings for its digital twin development, but instead it is partnering with ANSYS.
Like I noted in my initial report on Automation Fair, partnering was the centerpiece of news from the event. Looks like it is also the centerpiece of product development. That is most likely financially prudent.