Suzanne Gill reports on the issues surrounding industrial digitalization and finds out why it is vital to put in the groundwork now to ensure a smarter factory in the future.
Digitalization is becoming increasingly common in the industrial sector as automation vendors develop ways to make their offerings more intelligent. The potential benefits of this, in terms of increased efficiency and responsiveness in a production environment are already clear. However, there is still many questions to be answered and hurdles to be overcome before it become commonplace.
Thoughts differ around the globe, as Ivo Maltir, Vice President of Desoutter, explains: “The economic, political, and technological drivers for Industry 4.0 adoption vary considerably. In countries like Germany and the UK, Industry 4.0 is viewed as the route that will lead to the emergence of ‘smart industry,” where people, devices, objects, and systems combine to form dynamic, self-organizing networks of production – made possible by technological advances which constitute a reversal of conventional production process logic.
“In the US, the emphasis is more on the role of big data in effecting collaboration, and Industry 4.0 has become synonymous with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Meanwhile, in China digitalization is being championed as a means to transform outdated production methods.” The adoption of Industry 4.0 principles also varies between industries with the automotive industry taking the lead in the adoption of automation, data interchange, and advanced production technologies.
However, taking industry as a whole, common drivers for digitalization include the need to bring innovative products to market more quickly. Industry 4.0 offers the means to digitalize the product development life cycle. This, in turn, allows manufacturers to provide customers with accurate traceability, quality control, and cost-effective new products.
In addition to global and industry sector differences, the successful adoption of smart industry technologies is reliant on the human factor – our willingness to understand, embrace, and deliver change. According to Harvard Business Review’s from Data to Action report, the most difficult aspect for organizations to change on the route to smarter factories is their internal culture. Successful implementation of IIoT projects therefore requires strong leadership. The person at the top must set the example and be seen to fully embrace change, commit to it, and communicate it in a compelling way. “The philosophy of making fact-based decisions using quantitative manufacturing data will need to be coached into all levels of management, “ continues Maltir. “All levels of an organization need to understand how they will benefit from Industry 4.0. For example, the use of collaborative robots for unergonomic, complex, or repetitive tasks does not signal the rise of the machines and unemployment. It means that manual and automated processes within production can interact with each other in the most effective way. It means protecting operatives from genuine health issues associated with repetitive tasks.
In addition, real-time production monitoring renders many manual interventions unnecessary; freeing up time for personnel to undertake added value, more profitable work. “
When it comes to the integration of digital components as part of an IIoT project, the use of a large variety of heterogeneous data models and communication protocols does pose a challenge. With Node-RED, IBM has developed an open source software tool suitable for the design and integration of modern IoT architectures. It permits digital components to be ‘wired’ by creating workflows in the visual editor, reducing the programming effort involved in developing integration processes. Node-RED is based on the Node.js programming language, which is popular in IoT projects thanks to the 250,000+ available packages and the active open source community.
“When HARTING’s MICA (Modular Industry Computing Architecture) industry-standard computer platform is combined with Node-RED and the available application packages, new opportunities arise for the flexible and efficient development of integration solutions for data acquisition and pre-processing of sensor and control data in back-end systems and in the Cloud,” said Gavin Stoppel, Product Manager at HARTING.
MICA’s modular hardware and flexible open source Linux-based software containers – which contain all the necessary libraries and drivers for each application – render package dependencies and incompatibilities a thing of the past.”
As more devices and systems become connected, in line with IIoT goals, security becomes more of a concern. In order to be able to embrace these changing framework conditions, Phoenix Contact has developed the PLCNext Technology future-proofed control platform for is latest generation of controllers.
PLCnext provides an integrated connection path for PLCnext controllers to Proficloud, an open and scalable IoT platform which features cloud services and data analysis in addition to intelligent communication and a networked control technology. The platform provides a high level of data security at all times.
Controllers cannot be accessed without the appropriate authentication. When commissioning a device that has not yet been used, the user must first specify, via the web interface, which users may operate the controller, and with which rights. To do this, the user logs in using the unique password printed on the PLC, and specifies the users, according to the RBAC procedure (Role-Based Access Control). In larger systems, in which several controllers are installed, or where various users work with controller, the network administrator utilizes the LDAP protocol (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) so the distributed controllers receive their login information from a central server via an equally secure network protocol.
The entire access security system is based on the integrated TPM (Trusted Platform Module) a chip integrated into the controller which adds fundamental safety functions to the device. This ‘safe’ is assigned with a unique certificate during production of the PLC. This ensures that only firmware components signed by Phoenix Contact, as well as the bootloader, can be started. It rules out manipulation by third-parties because they are not able to sign the manipulated software components, meaning that these components will not run.
Machine building considerations
Benny Magrafta, Head of R&D Software Department at Unitronics, warns that, unless machine builders and systems integrators embrace IIoT technologies their future business may be jeopardy. “The PLC is the brain of Operational Technology (OT) which automates the machine or process and it is the perfect bridge between OT and IT,” he said. Magrafta advises that machine builders and systems integrators look for the following PLC capabilities to ensure they are future-proofing their products and systems offerings:
- Webserver functionality, to enable management and operators to remotely access the machines HMI application and its data via any browser.
- Tools to intelligently collect and analyze production/process data. SNMP, to allow the PLC to be managed as an IT asset.
- Multi-level security – to limit access of data and application to authorized personnel.
- MQTT (ISO/IEC PRF 20922 a publish – subscribe-based messaging protocol) which enables data to be collected with a minimum of ‘handshake’ overhead.
“Even if there is no current requirement to support IIoT or Industry 4.0 today, there will be tomorrow, so it is important to choose future-proofed control solutions,” concludes Magrafta.
For many, the ‘smart factory’ is still some way from becoming a reality. However, it is important that everyone start investing in smart-enabling technologies today to ensure that the plants of the future are able to remain competitive, by becoming more flexible and able to achieve long-term improvements in production efficiency.
Written by: Suzanne Gill for Control Engineering Europe.