The Case for Seamless Connectivity
Published on : Tuesday 09-08-2022
Ramnath S Mani, Managing Director, Automation Excellence, elaborates on the need for seamless connectivity in manufacturing industries.
With the Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) convergence becoming an undisputable reality for the manufacturing industry to move towards Industry 4.0, it is necessary for seamless connectivity between them. As IT/OT convergence becomes the ‘new norm’, industrial enterprises need to find a way to work together. Both environments have differing practices, which can often translate into conflict and disparate approaches that create inefficiencies and open the organisation to greater security threats and risks. A large number of legacy systems with proprietary protocols and software, especially at the OT level, have in some ways forced the industry to go for intermediary products like Gateways and Edge systems to act as a bridge in connecting OT with IT. This has been a challenging task as a single plant can have a large number of devices with multiple protocols to be effectively connected to the IT system.
One of the classic solutions that has been generally deployed in the integration is to use an Edge or a Gateway capable of taking in inputs and information of various protocols, connect them to the devices and take the output to an Open Protocol Communication (OPC), which is a widely accepted industrial communication standard for the secure exchange of industrial automation data. That enables the exchange of data between multi-vendor devices and control applications without any proprietary restrictions. An OPC server reduces the load on data source devices as it enables communication with several applications, while having only one connection with the data source. An OPC server can communicate data continuously among PLCs on the shop floor, RTUs in the field, HMI stations, and software applications on PCs. Even when the hardware and software are from different vendors, OPC compliance makes continuous real-time communication possible. The OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is an extensible SOA framework designed to support a wide range of platforms, from embedded microcontrollers to cloud infrastructure. It provides security through encryption, authentication and auditing. It goes beyond OPC Classic by adding on-demand capabilities, the ability to discover servers and other systems on a network, and an address-space scheme meant to allow more complex data structures. On the other side the OPC UA is connected to the open structured IT systems including cloud, desk tops, laptops, tablets, mobile, for business information, data analysis, etc.
MQTT – a simple messaging protocol
Another approach recently has been the use of Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), a simple messaging protocol suitable for communication between IoT devices and integration between OT and IT. The MQTT is a lightweight and efficient message header which can optimise the network bandwidth allowing message delivery both from device to cloud and cloud to device. MQTT communication works as a ‘publish and subscribe’ system. Devices publish messages on a specific topic. All devices that are subscribed to that topic receive the message. Both ways of communication are possible. For the most efficient way of deploying MQTT, the conventional way of linking devices to applications has to be modified and Devices need to be delinked from Applications. The MQTT can then be positioned as a Broker which will enable a large number of Publishers and Subscribers to be connected to the system. The MQTT has an inherent Security blanket and can take care of loss of communication through buffering and a Death and Birth Certificates.
While there is a lot of work going on in integrating legacy OT systems with IT systems in the above manner, it is a matter of time before newer technologies will take over since all newer systems bought will not have the same legacy systems as of now. Lot of research and development is going on in digitalising the devices and products to transmit digital data in an open protocol. Industry 4.0 platforms are being developed in Open protocols that can seamlessly integrate OT and IT and connect to any number of digital devices as publishers and any number of IT receiving entities as Subscribers. Newer smart sensors would be able to collect the data from the source, such as a factory floor, and transmit it to an IoT platform which would then transfer that information to an analytics application or an enterprise resource planning software platform to be integrated into an organisation's unified system of business operations. This can enable plants to be completely digitised end to end on an open protocol. As more and more factories start embracing new digital technologies, connecting multiple factories of an enterprise will be easier and reliable.
In any multi vendor offerings for the manufacturing industry the success of the enterprise will necessarily come from standardisation. It is all the more important for the OT side to have standards as most vendors have traditionally worked on proprietary protocols. A deep knowledge of the Domain also plays a role in the standardisation. The Industrial Automation industry has relied on Automation standards from ISA. a global leader in industry-developed, consensus standards for more than six decades, serving as best-practice guidelines that direct proper system design, implementation, operation, and maintenance, and promote plant and operational reliability, safety, and security. ISA actively participates in the world's primary international standards system as sanctioned by the United Nations and operated by the Geneva-based International Electrotechnical Organisation (IEC) and International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). International Society of Automation (ISA) is the certification and standardisation body for automation and control. ISA develops automation standards for different industries and provides accreditation to automation professionals in their fields. ISA-95, the international standard for the integration of enterprise and control systems, consists of models and terminology. Its official name is “ANSI/ISA-95 Enterprise-Control System Integration” (known internationally as IEC/ISO 62264).ISA-95 advancements support the near real-time, process-centric, and event-driven integration between manufacturing operations management processes, improving the ability to automate these processes and respond to operational events in line with Industry 4.0.
The OPC Foundation is a global organisation in which users, vendors and consortia collaborate to create data transfer standards for multi-vendor, multi-platform, secure and reliable interoperability in Industrial Automation. To support this mission, the OPC Foundation Creates and maintains specifications, Ensures compliance with OPC specifications via certificate testing and Collaborates with industry-leading standards organisations.
The Eclipse Foundation
The MQTT is a part of The Eclipse Foundation which provides global community of individuals and organisations with a mature, scalable, and business-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation. The Eclipse Foundation provides four key services to the Eclipse community – IP Management, Ecosystem Development and Marketing, Development Process and IT Infrastructure. Being an independent not-for-profit corporation, the Foundation and the Eclipse governance model ensures no single entity is able to control the strategy, policies or operations of the Eclipse community, thus making it fully Open Protocol.
Compliance and Security is a major challenge for the Manufacturing industry as we embrace Open Source Protocols and Technology which has to be handled simultaneously. The International Society of Automation (ISA) had worked on defining security standards for several years and ISA99: Security for Industrial Automation and Control Systems was set up and later changed to ANSI/ISA-62443 series to align the ISA and ANSI document numbering with the corresponding IEC standards.
More and more work is going on defining Standards for both OT and IT to encompass other interconnected areas of Industry 4.0 or IIoT such as Cloud Systems, Big Data and Cybersecurity, Storage, etc. Efforts in embedding security features in devices and platforms are being explored and implemented, which would provide both local Security and Overall plant and Enterprise Security.
It is an exciting world at the moment for Industrial Automation and unless industry embraces the changes and development that comes with it, they would be left behind.
Ramnath S Mani is a Serial Entrepreneur and one of the pioneers in India in the field of Industrial Automation including Power Electronics, Variable Speed Drives, PLC, Distributed Controls, Scada, Information Systems and MES. He has been instrumental in introducing Automation in industry in India since early 1970s.
Played a pioneering role in bringing to India international Automation companies like CGEE Alsthom of France, Allen Bradley of USA (now Rockwell Automation), Stromberg of Finland (now part of ABB), Exide Electronics of USA and Control Techniques Emerson Industrial Automation of UK and USA., Inductive Automation of USA, among others. Having a deep domain knowledge on the application of Automation in the manufacturing sector like Paper, Steel, Cement, Sugar, Textiles, Rubber & Plastics, Automobile, Material Handling, etc., Mr Mani has considerable experience in implementing the transition of Industrial Automation from Analog to Digital Technology.