Businesses today, across a broad spectrum of industries, are looking to deploy integrated and cost effective automation solutions from the plant floor to the wider enterprise. As well as for control, this is driven by the need to access plant floor process and equipment for remote process status and diagnosis, asset management, increased quality control and to improve overall operational efficiency. Added to this is the need to provide clear migration paths from legacy installed systems, while at the same time ensuring future proof architectures that enable the broadest selection of best-in-class products with easy interoperability to solve demanding control applications. And most importantly, not be restricted to a proprietary or vendor-specific solutions.
The explosion of the Internet and the development of Internet Protocol (IP) based services in our daily lives (smart phones, tablets, PC, WiFi, etc.), as well as the arrival of a new generation of engineers and decision makers familiar and comfortable with these high-tech and, today, user-friendly solutions, has resulted in a growing acceptance and expectation that these new technologies will be applied to enhance and improve industrial and process applications along with the business supporting services.
As a result, the combination of open Ethernet technologies and associated Web Services along with other open industry standards for software and device integration, such as FDT/DTM, is changing the face of today’s industrial and process control worlds.
No more proprietary technologies
In the not too distant past (and in many cases still the norm today), the way to integrate control equipment to supervision and enterprise systems would involve a combination of multiple proprietary technologies. Control, I/O, “intelligent” device and instrumentation networks would exist separately and utilise different cabling and protocol technologies. Discrete sensor and actuator connectivity still relied extensively on hard wiring with all the associated cabling and installation costs. To read data from these low level devices required the data to be “transformed” at each layer, bits to bytes, bytes to data and then data to information. This traditional approach ends up putting a heavy burden on the Automation Controller and associated SCADA applications and does not provide any “transparency” through the layers of the automation pyramid.
Collaborate on open technologies
Simple, open technology standards are the best way to foster the emergence of new, more effective applications. Collaboration with international standards organisations, such as the IEC, ISO and IEEE plus groups such as the Zigbee Alliance, FDT Group, OPC Foundation and ODVA are essential in order for this to happen.
The great advantage of using open standards, and in particular Ethernet based networks that utilise the Internet Protocol (IP) suite (not to be confused with Ethernet/IP, which we will discuss in a subsequent blog), is that they are essentially neutral to higher level protocols. This means they can be a part of a platform to connect diverse systems via the use of modern methods such as Service Oriented Architectures.
Leading the future
Today’s challenges require control systems that are not only easy to engineer and simple to maintain, but that deliver a clear picture about what is happening in the process, regardless of application. Control systems must be flexible enough to be tailored to meet the needs of all types of process including discrete, batch, continuous, safety or any combination and be capable of easily integrating with modern enterprise systems and third party devices.
Please share your thoughts on open architectures…