Add Real-time Networks to the Smallest PC-based Devices

Compute platforms are achieving incredible power in very small form factors. I’ve been contemplating where we could go with industrial applications built on Raspberry Pi. Then I saw this note from Hilscher. This is the world where that company plays. Here is a complete industrial communications application on the new M.2 format for PCI Express that adds real-time communications to PC-based systems.

In just a few minutes, you can connect PC-based devices, such IPCs, HMIs and robotics, to Real-Time Ethernet and Fieldbus networks. The comprehensive package has all necessary hardware and software components, including protocol stacks, device drivers and network connectors. The M.2 card can be simply installed in new and existing devices to connect with industrial automation networks on the fly.

PCI Express M.2, briefly named M.2, is smaller than the Mini PCI Express format and was designed for very thin computing platforms like notebooks and tablets. Since its introduction, automation manufacturers of PC-based systems, such as Industrial PCs, vision systems, robotics, and human machine interfaces (HMIs), have integrated M.2 sockets into their devices for one simple reason. The tiny M.2 format allows many add-in functions to be included into their systems in very tight spaces. Now, with this Hilscher offering, M.2 cards can provide real-time automation network connectivity.

M.2 formats come in various widths, lengths, and socket keys. For this first M.2 card release, Hilscher is using the A+E key socket arrangement, as that is the PCI Express specification’s generic form factor for connectivity add-ins, such as WiFi and Bluetooth. The M.2 2230 Key A+E card, with Hilscher product name CIFX M223090AE, is part of Hilscher’s cifX family of PC Cards. cifX PC Cards are intended for easy integration of a network interface and fast time-to-market of the manufacturers’ products and features.

At the heart of the M.2 2230 card is Hilscher’s netX 90 multiprotocol communication chip. M.2 card users can choose among loadable firmware for PROFINET IO-Device, EtherNet/IP Adapter, EtherCAT Slave and OpenModbus/TCP. Available in Q4 2020 is firmware for CC-Link IE Field Basic and Ethernet POWERLINK Slave. The appropriate network connector is included with delivery. There are adapters available from third-party vendors for other key formats, if required by the application. Additional firmware options, more card and key formats, and OPC UA and MQTT functionality will be released in the future.

Other benefits of the netX 90 ASIC include its small size, low power draw, reduced heat waste and extended temperature range. These features make CIFX M223090AE the smallest multiprotocol card in the market, at 22 mm X 30 mm, and allow it to operate in conditions from -20 deg C to +70 deg C. With its low power consumption, the M.2 2230 is ideal for energy saving applications.

Choosing the Hilscher M.2 card allows users to future-proof their designs. Hilscher continuously provides new firmware for Real-Time Ethernet, traditional Fieldbus and IIoT protocols. Besides a wide range of industrial protocols, Hilscher also provides device drivers for all major operating systems used in the industrial environment, including Windows, Linux, INtime, RTX, and QNX, as well as a C Toolkit for custom device drivers.

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Inductive Automation has selected the recipients of its Ignition Firebrand Awards for 2019. The announcements were made at the Ignition Community Conference (ICC), which took place September 17-19. I get to see the poster displays and chat with the companies at ICC. I love the technology developers, but it’s fascinating to talk with people who actually use the products.

[Disclaimer: Inductive Automation is a long-time and much appreciated sponsor of The Manufacturing Connection. If you are a supplier, you, too, could be a sponsor. Contact me for more details. You would benefit from great visibility.]

The Ignition Firebrand Awards recognize system integrators and industrial organizations that use the Ignition software platform to create innovative new projects. Ignition by Inductive Automation is an industrial application platform with tools for the rapid development of solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition is used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries.

“The award-winning projects this year were really impressive,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Many of them featured Ignition 8 and the new Ignition Perspective Module, both of which were released just six months ago. We were really impressed with how quickly people were able to create great projects with the new capabilities.”

These Ignition Firebrand Award winners demonstrated the power and flexibility of Ignition:

  • Brock Solutions worked with the Dublin Airport in Ireland to replace the baggage handling system in Terminal 2. The new system has 100,000 tags and is the largest Ignition-controlled airport baggage handling system in the world.
  • Corso Systems & SCS Engineers partnered on a pilot project for the landfill gas system of San Bernardino County, California. The pilot was so successful, it will be expanded to 27 other county sites. It provides a scalable platform with strong mobile capabilities from Ignition 8 and Ignition Perspective, plus 3D imaging from drone video and virtual reality applications.
  • ESM Australia developed a scalable asset management system to monitor performance and meet service requirements for a client with systems deployed all over Australia. The solution leveraged Ignition 8, Ignition Perspective, MQTT, and legacy FTP-enabled gateways in the field.
  • H2O Innovation & Automation Station partnered to create a SCADA system for the first membrane bioreactor wastewater treatment plant in Arkansas. The new system for the City of Decatur shares real-time data with neighboring water agencies as well as the mayor.
  • Industrial Networking Solutions created a new oil & gas SCADA system in just six months for 37 sites at ARB Midstream. The solution included hardware upgrades, a new control room, and a diverse collection of technologies with cloud-hosted SCADA, MQTT, Ignition Edge, and SD-WAN.
  • MTech Engineering developed an advanced real-time monitoring and control system for the largest data center campus in Italy. The project for Aruba S.p.A. had to work with huge amounts of data — and was done at a much lower cost than was possible with any other SCADA solution.
  • NLS Engineering created a single, powerful operations and management platform for more than 30 solar-power sites for Ecoplexus, a leader in renewable energy systems. The solution provided deep data acquisition, included more than 100,000 tags, and led to the creation of a platform that can be offered to other clients.
  • Streamline Innovations used Ignition, Ignition Edge, Ignition Perspective, and MQTT, to facilitate the automation of natural gas treating units that convert extremely toxic hydrogen sulfide into fertilizer-grade sulfur. The solution increased uptime, reduced costs, and provided access to much more data than Streamline had seen previously.
Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication White Paper

Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication White Paper

Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication white paper

Working consortia of companies and individuals researching a technology provide great guidance for users of the technology—usually in the form of white papers. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has been especially prolific lately. This means many companies and individuals see the importance of donating time and expertise to the cause.

The IIC has announced the IIC Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication white paper. The paper serves as an introductory guide on industrial networking for IIoT system designers and network engineers, and offers practical solutions based on key usage scenarios.

“Industrial networking is the foundation of IIoT,” said David Zhe Lou, Chief Researcher, Huawei Technologies. “There are many choices of networking technologies depending on the application, the industrial network, deployment situation and conditions, but there is no universal or preferred industrial networking solution.”

Industrial networking infrastructure and technologies reside at the IP layer and below, and enable industrial assets, such as machines, sites and environments, to connect to the business professionals supporting applications across a wide range of industry sectors. Industrial networking technologies provide the foundation for applications that enable manufacturing productivity and profitability.

“IIoT applications have different needs depending on the industrial application and therefore demand robust, flexible and secure networks,” said Cliff Whitehead, Business Development Manager, Rockwell Automation. “This white paper will help IIoT system designers and network engineers understand the tradeoffs they can consider when designing an industrial network architecture that will be a strong foundation for current and future IIoT scenarios.”

Industrial networking is different from networking for the enterprise or networking for consumers. For example, IIoT system designers and network engineers need to make decisions about using wired or wireless communications. They have to figure out how to support mobility applications such as vehicles, equipment, robots and workers. They must also consider the lifecycle of deployments, physical conditions, such as those found in mining and agriculture, and technical requirements, which can vary from relaxed to highly demanding.

“Networking technologies range from industry-specific to universal, such as the emerging 5G, which meets diverse industrial needs,” continued Jan Höller, Research Fellow at Ericsson. “Industrial developers need guidance when devising solutions to select the right networking technologies, and this white paper is the first step to providing the missing methods and tools.”

The Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication white paper sets the stage for the Industrial Internet Network Framework (IINF), which will complement the Industrial Internet Connectivity Framework (IICF) by detailing requirements and best available technologies for the lower three layers of the industrial internet communication stack.

The full IIC Industrial Networking Enabling IIoT Communication white paper and a list of IIC members who contributed can be found on the IIC website:

The Industrial Internet Consortium is a program of the Object Management Group (OMG).

Does ProfiNet Have a Future–Industrial Networking

Does ProfiNet Have a Future–Industrial Networking

In this new world of the Industrial Internet of Things, is ProfiNet still relevant as an industrial network (fieldbus)? Is there a future for ProfiNet?

These were the questions I had heading into Phoenix and the 22nd annual meeting of PI North America. And I received answers.

Karsten Schneider, director of Profibus International, gave the technology update keynote and raised several interesting points.

More nodes of ProfiNet were sold in 2015 than were nodes of Profibus. This is the anticipated crossover point where Ethernet is becoming the dominant bus as well as network. Further, cooperation between PI and the Fieldcomm organization (combination of HART Communication Foundation and Fieldbus Foundation) has proceeded with agreement between FDI and EDDL. Further cooperation was obvious by the presence of a representative of the CLPA (CC-Link Partners Association). CLPA and PI have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a standard method of communicating from one bus to the other.

Remember the “fieldbus wars”? Well, “times change.”

Time Sensitive Networking

Many application areas beyond industrial seriously need higher speed, determinism, real-time in their networks. Think of the growth of video streaming in real time, for example. Therefore the IEEE has been working on a new standard–Time Sensitive Networking or TSN.The standard is being built on IEEE 802.1. Many tremendous benefits will follow.

Think on this tidbit. When adopted as a standard, it will likely be build into commercial Ethernet chips. With a large number of industries wanting this technology, the number of TSN-enabled commercially available Ethernet chips will be huge. With huge commercial market potential, the price will drop. TSN Ethernet chips will be readily available and affordable for industrial devices. This will also likely replace Profinet IRT in the future (but not for a few years).

Take note that this will be a generally available and used chipset. It will primarily be IT oriented, but used also by OT. Perhaps this is the technology that brings the two together?

Future Work

A wide-ranging panel discussion sparked the creative juices of the group. One topic became the future engineer. We’ve had mechanical engineers, control engineers, data (software) engineers. Panelists expect that in the not-very-distant future, engineers will be multi-disciplinary.

I’ve maintained for several years that control and automation engineers must become network engineers–at least to a certain level. It is becoming even more important that they know something about SQL, programming in languages such as C, C++, Java, Python, and in scripting languages. Depending upon what sort of industry within manufacturing/production they should also be familiar with mechatronics or processes, too.

Is there a future for ProfiNet? Yes, but it will look only slightly like the present.

Inductive Automation Announces Ignition Firebrand Awards

Time Sensitive Networking Alliance Adds Members

Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) becomes a critical component of companies’ Internet of Things technology strategy. In the past year, I’ve written about TSN and (mostly) AVnu Alliance, four times.

Engineering Software and Industrial Networking Trends

ODVA Enhances EtherNet/IP Industrial Networking Specifications

OPC Foundation Real-Time And Technology Partners

AVnu Alliance Launches Support for Industrial Ethernet Market

Today brings another AVnu  Alliance and Time Sensitive Networking press release. Two new members have joined. And one isn’t really a “joiner” company.

Two New Time Sensitive Networking Members

“Rockwell Automation and Kollmorgen, both leaders in industrial automation, bring valuable expertise to AVnu Alliance activities incorporating new standards such as Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) into a common networking foundation.”

Rockwell Automation isn’t really a “joiner company”. It’s alliances are usually smaller with only a few competitors. This one is interesting.

“We continue to evolve our industrial control and information solutions to help customers drive real-time productivity and innovation as they strive towards building a Connected Enterprise.” said Joe Kann, vice president, Global Business Development, Rockwell Automation. “By participating in the AVnu Alliance, we plan to share our industry knowledge and work together with other members towards further enhancing standard IP-based Ethernet for manufacturing.”

Kollmorgen manufactures high performance motion control solutions.

“Kollmorgen’s business as a provider of innovative high-speed motion solutions is driven by ever-evolving customer needs for high-performance, multi-device fieldbus options,” said Steve Crass, VP North America Industrial Automation and Aerospace & Defense at Kollmorgen. “Joining AVnu Alliance is a logical next step for our business and AVnu provides us with a forum that will support open systems architectures for many years to come.”

According to the Association, “The addition of these companies exemplifies the importance of the continued evolution of standard Ethernet through TSN. The experience with control networking that these companies possess will complement the existing efforts within the AVnu Alliance to define a common foundation for the Industrial Internet. This next step for standard Ethernet will enable complete convergence of standard IT traffic and the control system and will enable IoT for the industrial, automation and manufacturing sectors.”

“Rockwell Automation and Kollmorgen have both shown leadership in their respective fields over the years. The AVnu Alliance looks forward to their contributions and forward-thinking philosophies when it comes to automation and how it can improve a variety of industrial processes,” said Gary Stuebing, AVnu Alliance President. “They both bring a range of products and technologies that will complement and bolster our efforts with TSN in the industrial space.”