What does that “Ready for IIoT” tag really mean?

These days almost every smart industrial device that comes to the market is advertised as “ready for IIoT.” But what does it actually mean? Before we get too technical, we should look at what the objectives are for IIoT and why it is important to the industrial age of our time.

In a previous post, “The promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)“, we highlighted features such as Virtual IP address, to help address several things that plant maintenance and management would like to achieve. This blog touches those topics in a different perspective.

The concept of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Industry 4.0, applies to the future of industrial automation, and these concepts heavily rely on the interoperability of a wide variety of devices and systems that communicate large amounts of data. This data is important because IIoT promises superior efficiency of machines and personalized manufacturing. Personalized manufacturing – also known as micro batch production or lot size one – means connecting with the customers at an individual level rather than connecting to masses. If efficiency and customization in production are the end goals or prime objectives for IIoT, these questions must be answered: What type of data would be necessary? Where and how is that data obtainable? In other words, what are the capabilities or characteristics of the device or system that really qualify as being “ready for IIoT”? Does simply providing an Ethernet connection to the device or adding a webserver qualify the device for IIoT? The answer is NO!

In my opinion, the following 5 key characteristics/capabilities, depending of course on the end user’s objectives, would qualify for being “ready for IIoT” tag.

If an end-user of automation wants to run the plant efficiently, the device or system should be able to provide information regarding; (1) Condition Monitoring, and (2) Automatic Parameterization

  1. Condition Monitoring enables predictive maintenance and eliminates unplanned downtime. Is the PLC or automation controller the right place for determining predictive maintenance? Maybe not. The PLC should focus on making sure the system is running effectively. Adding more non-application related stuff to the PLC may disrupt what is truly important. In most cases you would need a different PC or server to do this pattern analysis throughout the plant. A system or device with the “ready for IIoT” tag should be able to collect and provide that information to a higher level controls system/server. An example would be a power supply with IO-Link. Through the IO-Link master it tells the system about the stress or ambient temperature and predicts its lifetime.
  2. Automatic configuration or parameterization of sensors and systems. This feature enables plug-n-play benefit so that replacing devices is easy and the system automatically configures the replaced device to reduce downtime.

As IT and Controls Engineering work closer together, there are other characteristics of the devices that become important.

  1. Configurability of sensors and production line beyond controller of the system: Automation controllers in use today have physical limits of memory and logic. Today manufacturers are running multiple batches of different products on the same line which means more change over and more downtime. If the devices could allow for quick line change configurations such as set point changes for your sensors, different pressures on fluids, different color detections for the parts or even the ability to provide you with detection of the physical format change, that would significantly reduce your changeover times. In a PLC or controller, you can only build logic for factors known today (for ex. the number of configurations), but in the near future there will be additional product configurations. To be truly ready for the IIoT, you need devices that can be configured (with proper authorizations) in multiple ways. A webserver might be one of the ways – but that also has its limitations. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) is widely used with several of the network management software tools in the IT world. OPC UA is another open communication protocol in industrial space. JSON is a protocol for cloud interface among many others. A device that can offer connectivity, via SNMP, OPC UA, JSON or other such open formats, to connect to other network software tools to gather information or configuration would solve several of these challenges without burdening the existing PLC or controller logic. In other words, these types of interfaces can connect your machine directly to an MRP or similar enterprise-level system which would make production floors much more efficient for quick changeovers.
  2. Capability for asset tracking, and quick troubleshooting: These features become important when there are hundreds of parameters changing and configurations evolving as your system becomes smarter and more efficient. To ensure right things are happening down the line, error-proofing your system becomes essential, and this involves additional information tracking. So the systems or solutions you choose should have these features.
  3. Scalability for the future: This characteristic can be interpreted in many different ways. But, in this blog it refers to adding features and functions as the need arises and building in capability to adapt to these changes is needed so that you are not starting from scratch again when the business needs to evolve again.

So, as we move into this new era of manufacturing, it is important to understand what the “ready for IIoT” tag on the device you are investing in means, and how it is helping you become more efficient or helping you connect to your customer one-on-one. Using IIoT to implement an ‘Enable and Scale’ plan would be the best way to meet the ever-evolving needs for the plant floor.

To learn more about IIoT and Industry 4.0 visit www.balluff.us.

JSON Objects and How They Can Streamline an IIoT Application

In web development, JSON objects are a programmer’s dream come true. JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is much similar to XML (EXtensible Markup Language) in that it’s used as a standard format to organize and transfer data across multiple programming languages. For example, say you want to send sensor data from a SQL database to a JavaScript front end. JavaScript doesn’t know SQL syntax and SQL doesn’t know JavaScript syntax. How do these different languages communicate? JSON/XML will act as a middle ground between the two allowing them to talk to each other. When given a choice between the two, I’m always going to pick JSON objects as they are much more efficient than XML. They are shorter in length and easier for computers and people to interpret. Here’s what 3 sensors would look like in XML versus JSON:

xml
Example of XML
json
Example of JSON

dpropHow does this apply to the Industrial Internet of Things? The JSON format for data transfer is so universal that IO-Link modules host it on a web server. This server is accessible by entering the IP address of the module. The module data can be seen in JSON format by modifying the IP address and adding “/dprop.jsn” into the URL of a web browser (i.e. 192.168.0.1/dprop.jsn). You should see something similar to the image on the right.

reqqresarchThe “dprop” stands for data propagation or simply the movement of data from one source to multiple sources. This data is delivered with a standard request-response system. Say you’re writing some software that uses the sensor data as variables. All that’s needed to get that sensor data is a few lines of code that send a request to the module which in turn responds with your data.

opcuaHow does this differ from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) application frameworks from my past blogs? Previously, we discussed using OPC UA software to subscribe to PLC data and forwarding this data to a SQL database. From there, the application would query SQL for the data and render it appropriately for the user experience. Using JSON objects, we entirely eliminate the need for SQL or OPC UA software by accessing the data directly from the module. This not only makes the application independent from the PLC but also uses much less network traffic. However, using JSON objects, we can only subscribe to data from IO Link devices.

All acronyms aside, there are a million different ways to structure an IIoT application. The best fitting architecture depends on the environment. Systems with standard input/output will most likely need some form of communication with the controller. IO-Link systems will streamline this process by allowing the user to directly access the module’s IO Link data. How you go about building your application is entirely up to you. In the end, however, having this information readily available via the Industrial Internet of Things will be more beneficial than you could have ever imagined.

To learn more about IIoT visit www.balluff.us.

The Importance of Data Accessibility with IIoT

20160809_100331 (1) Typically a college student is asked two questions: “What are you studying?” and “What would you like to do with your degree?” In my case, I always answer with “Computer Science” and “I have no idea”. Lately, the field that has grabbed my interest the most is the Internet of Things (IoT). The concept of data transfer and communication between ordinary utilities is going to revolutionize the way we go about our day to day tasks. Home automation is a key example of this. We have found ways to expedite those pesky tasks that nobody enjoys doing by simply automating them.

I’ve come to realize that there is data everywhere; we just need to take the opportunity to use it. I’ve done this in a few small side projects around my apartment. Is the door locked? Are my lights on? Did the refrigerator door completely close? These are all examples of data that is useful to me at any point in time. The trick is making it available. Using a low power microcontroller and a few sensors, I’m able to host this data and view it at any point in time. IoT has the capability of effectively improving our energy efficiency, security, and productivity simply by making data readily available.

IoT screenLikewise, these same concepts apply to industrial automation. I’ve spent the last few months developing a web application to demonstrate Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).  The web app simply hosts a live feed of data from a conveyor system. From any computer on the network, we can see crucial data such as conveyor accumulation, sensor status or even maintenance needs.  Once this data is made available, we can even automate the analysis. For example, on a conveyor, we can look at the number of packages that go by every day. A simple script that increments by one for every passing object can give a very accurate representation of day to day productivity. More intense algorithms could analyze trends in mass quantities of data return valuable results. All of this is done simply by making data continuously accessible.

According to Business Insider, by 2020, there will be 34 billion devices connected to the internet and that there will be $6 trillion spent on incorporating and integrating IoT.  As a student with a passion for technology, I see a lot of potential in this field.  So next time I’m asked what I plan on doing with my degree, I might say an IoT developer. It’s a fascinating subject that only has room to grow.

To learn more about IIoT visit www.balluff.us.

Industry 4.0 & IIoT, who cares?!?! You should.

(If you aren’t sure what Industry 4.0 or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) are, take a look at these previous blog entries.)

I’m amazed at all the research published each week presenting the value Industry 4.0 and IIoT are bringing to manufacturing.  And the articles about Industry 4.0 and IIoT are not just in industry rags, there are mainstream publications like Fortune & Forbes who are aware of and presenting the power of Industry 4.0 to the masses.

But why should anyone even care?

Looking backwards a decade, no one should be surprised that an explosion of data has occurred.  In 2013 the IMS found the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of Ethernet-based automation components was 16.4 percent in 2012.  It was outpacing fieldbus growth dramatically in every category and predicted strong CAGR through 2016.  And taking a look forward provides just as exciting an outlook in the global industrial Ethernet market as Technavio is expecting growth at a CAGR of more than 15% for 2016 through 2020!

industry4.0-2So as I look at the economic effects of IIoT, Morgan Stanley sees: investments in the automation industry are expected to grow at a faster pace than the GDP, capital budgets for IIoT type investments will grow 18% and greater than 70% of respondents believe IIoT is an important strategy for their company.  And with 73% of companies investing more than 20% of their technology budget on Big Data analytics and growing, this trend toward Industry 4.0 does not seem to be letting up.

But why are manufacturer’s making these investments?

This infographic really summarizes well how I feel our situation in the US today is laid out.

Infographic

We need upgrades and investment in US manufacturing infrastructure.  And to remain successful we need to improve production efficiency and evolve towards flexible manufacturing processes.  In a recent survey from SCM World the benefits of Smart Manfucaturing and can provide a 48% reduction in unplanned downtime from IIoT solutions. WOW!  Can you imagine the kinds of investments we could make if we weren’t throwing our money into the downtime fire?  In this same survey close to two thirds of respondents said they are ready now or will be in 5 years for implementation of IIoT solutions.

The kind of focus and growth I’m reading about every week is driving investments and benefits for all stakeholders in manufacturing and it would be smart to take a look at where your company stacks up.

If you are interested in seeing how Balluff enables & scales Industry 4.0 and IIoT, visit our website at www.balluff.us.

How do I see PLC data from my smartphone?

From my smartphone, I can do anything from making coffee to adjusting my home thermostat. This wave of appliances and other physical devices connecting and communicating through a network is known as the Internet of Things and it’s playing a crucial role in industry. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) we can now monitor PLC data without ever intruding on the PLC. Let’s take a look at how I implemented PLC tags on a web application.

IIoT_computer The first step is to download OPC UA historian software. OPC UA stands for Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture. OPC is a client/server communication standard that was made as a gateway between the PLC and a Windows PC. The UA was added as an upgrade that allowed communication across other operating systems such as Linux and iOS along with other added functionality improvements. Once this software is running and the PLC and PC are communicating, we can work on hosting that data.

IIoT_StructureHosting the controller data can seem like a daunting task at first due to the many different options in software and programming languages to use. For example: Ruby, PHP, ASP, ASP.NET and much more are available for back-end development. For my web app, I used SQL to host the data from the OPC UA software. As for the back-end, I went with node.js because it has great packages for working with SQL; in addition to the fact that node.js uses JavaScript syntax which I’m familiar with. The front end of the app was written with HTML and CSS with JavaScript for interactivity. With all these elements in place, I was ready to host the server on the PC to host PLC data.

With smart IO-Link sensors on our conveyor I was able to look at diagnostic and functional data in the PLC and setup an interactive screen at the conveyor for viewing production and maintenance information.

And now I can even check my sensor outputs with the same smartphone that just made my coffee and adjusted my office’s temperature.

IIoT_warehouse

You can learn more about the Industrial Internet of Things at www.balluff.us.

The promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Things to Avoid and Pursue

There is a long list of activities Control Engineers and Plant Managers avoid like the plague…

  • Modifying PLC code
  • Adding an HMI
  • Modifying HMI screens
  • Adding additional Indicators

On the other side, there is a list of activities they need to do to keep their plant on the forefront of lean manufacturing…

  • Providing real-time operational visibility
  • Adding new manufacturing/process functions
  • Adding/updating Error Proofing devices
  • Providing preventative and predictive maintenance information
Scaling up to IIoT with IO-Link and Balluff's Virtual IP Address Concept
Scaling up to IIoT with IO-Link and Balluff’s Virtual IP Address Concept

Fortunately, the IIoT can help you avoid what you want to avoid and do more of what you need to do. The promise of IIoT can be realized with an IO-Link Architecture featuring Balluff’s Virtual IP address concept. This scalable architecture allows the PLC to do its thing while an independent PC (the one on your desk for example) can access the IO devices directly to get at operational and process data not always available in the PLC.

Learn more at www.balluff.us/io-link.

Mission Industry 4.0 @Balluff

Internet of Things (IoT) is the most discussed topic these days. Every organization, rather, every individual seems to have vast and varied definitions for what IoT means to them. In general all definitions revolve around connected-ness or interoperability of differing systems to make sense of plethora of data streaming from devices and machines at all levels. This grand vision attempts to connect individual consumers to the production value chain to provide the never-before-seen customized product experience.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a small subsection of the grand vision– which in itself is huge visionary concept- that foresees the next generation of industrial automation. German government termed it as Industry 4.0 initiative, while in North America various organizations started initiatives such as Smart Factory, Connected Enterprise, Machine Clouds and so on.

At Balluff it took us almost a year to really break down the vague concept of IIoT and to define what would Industry 4.0 mean to us. We decided that it is not important what we think of Industry 4.0 rather it is important to understand what our customers expect of Industry 4.0 and we must find our path and our solution to help our customers realize their expectations of the modern factory. This definition should serve as a blue-print for our future product development and also utilize existing products to realize several concepts of the Industry 4.0.

Two major themes came to light that our customers valued the most and demand industry 4.0 framework to solve: Lot size one a.k.a. individualization of products, and, efficient production. In the current generation of automation we are focusing on small batch productions- for example, along the same production line we are dealing with multiple product variations or packaging but we produce many of the same kind. In the near future, each product while flowing through the line could be customized to individual’s taste- like the Coke bottle with your name on it.  Efficient production on the other hand is broader topic. Today we deal with efficiency at the plant level or machine level- with the added complexity of product customization, we need to broaden our horizons to production levels and efficiency of the entire organization to be able to produce where it is economical without compromising on any attributes of the product.

Industry4.0With our sensor, measurement and identification systems, combined with networking and connectivity solutions, we found ourselves at the core or the foundation layer of Industry 4.0 framework. Sensors and identification systems is where the data is essentially generated and flows through the connectivity solutions to the higher level systems to be interpreted and acted up-on. The actions/orders then flow back through the networks down to the devices and actuators to tune up the system performance. We essentially are the enablers or the Heartbeat of Industry 4.0! This means our sensors and systems need to talk intelligently and convey information beyond the sensing property. At Balluff we chose IO-Link as the intelligent communication across the board. It does not matter what the higher level communication is at the controller all our intelligent devices communicate over IO-Link, the medium that offers process, configuration and event communication on the single line.

With IO-Link at the foundation, our framework of Industry 4.0 consists of seven functional areas to provide sharp focus for our development and existing solutions: Predictive Maintenance, Parameterization, Recipe Change Management, Quality Assurance, Condition Monitoring, Format Change Management, and Traceability. These are the core areas that would assist us in helping our customers achieve their objectives.

Over next months, I will discuss each of these seven areas in greater details in my blogs.