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'Plants seek to maximize their return on assets by making sure that their automation investments are scalable, future-proof, adhere to open standards, and can seamlessly integrate to existing assets, avoiding having to ‘rip and replace’ current infrastructure,” according to one industrial technology expert.

Will Connectivity Mean Increased Competitiveness?

July 13, 2016
Manufacturers need more convincing, and new PLCs, switches, and platforms aim to cut through the fog and making a performance-based case for IIoT 92% of machines disconnected Pluggable micro-services, and more Low-power-wide-area network Fully integrated process software

For all the enthusiastic evaluations of the Industrial Internet of Things coming from high-tech analysts, manufacturers seem to be only tentatively embracing the concept of a universal operating platform: according to Cisco, the architect and developer of network programming and devices, 92% a 64 million manufacturing machines in operation worldwide are not connected to any network.

The IIoT, you may recall, is the virtual network established by tying together individual sensors, connective devices, analytics programs, and process controls, and unifying systems worldwide to optimize information flow and responsiveness. And, manufacturing is only one facet of this proposition, others being the energy sector, transportation, and civilian/governmental information networks (shorthand, “smart cities.”)

While most manufacturers are familiar by now with “cloud computing” (i.e., remote, secure data storage), this arrangement is more commonly described as “fog computing”, or fog networking, because it uses one or a collaborative multitude of end-user clients for computing and data storage (in contrast to using cloud data centers.) The fog cluster is also responsible for communication, control, data configuration, and more essential functions of a data network.

While all this promises to make data collection and analysis faster and more dynamic, and thereby improve process control, it’s still a vast and challenging proposition for manufacturers. It requires more than the usual level of trust between supplier and customer. But, it’s a vision that’s hard to contain, and Cisco is rolling out a bundle of new devices and capabilities it intends to use to make the possibilities more realistic to individual manufacturers.

Cisco Connected Machines is a control platform the developer promises will connect control devices securely, create fog networking feasible and effect, and convert machine data into real-time analysis. Connected Machines functions as a link between machine designers/builders and the manufacturers using them, which is foreseen as a way to promote process improvements via “real-time corrective action and continuous, predictive maintenance.”

Connecting Machines, Connecting Plants

Two products are being introduced this month to expand the scope of the Connected Machines platform, including a new series of switches (IE4000) operating on the IOx operating system. This means the platform is able to deliver pluggable micro-services and can integrate with IIoT sensors and cloud applications while processing data nearer to the machine. Cisco also introduced “Connected Streaming Analytics,” real-time analysis of process activity via the IE4000, for small footprint deployment.

Cisco also added to its Connected Factory platform, which allows industrial organizations to integrate industrial automation and control with business systems, build a common “plant-to business” network, and locate and resolve problems to improve uptime and equipment availability.

For the Connected Factory, Cisco is offering a new, multi-gigabit speed ruggedized switch (IE 4010) that offers in-line Power over Ethernet/PoE+ multi-speed Ethernet ports, that can power up to 24 other devices in industrial applications. Another new switch, IE 1000, is a rugged but more compact option, with in-line PoE/PoE+ multi-speed Ethernet ports for up to eight other industrial devices.

And, because an increasing number of IoT devices are connecting to the Internet (Cisco predicts the number will reach 50 billion by 2020); and because approximately 45% of such IoT devices are constrained by battery power and require long range for IoT connectivity, Cisco is offering a new platform low-power-wide-area network (LoRaWAN) enabled with WiFi and cellular technologies, to connect with “billions of such battery powered, low-data rate and long distance IoT sensors.”

Cisco is not the only developer trying to help manufacturers find their way in the fog. Honeywell Process Solutions is offering fully integrated system of process software to convert plant data into actionable information. According to Ali Raza, v.p. of HPS’ Advanced Solutions business, the Uniformance® Suite lets users “capture the data they need, visualize trends, collaborate with other users, predict and prevent equipment failures, and act to make informed business decisions.”

Using a common asset model, Uniformance collects and stores all types of data for easy retrieval and analysis; predicts and detects events based on underlying patterns and correlations; links process metrics with business KPIs, to inform decision-making. Besides the IIoT access, it allows user mobility and cloud connectivity, big data access, and predictive and enterprise analytics.

HPS also offers a new programmable logic controller it contends will manage dual requirements of connectivity and device integration necessary for plants to realize IIoT in their own operation. The ControlEdge PLC, combined with Honeywell’s Experion® Process Knowledge System (an enterprise-wide control system), will work with devices from multiple vendors, simplifying configuration and reducing maintenance.

"Plants seek to maximize their return on assets by making sure that their automation investments are scalable, future-proof, adhere to open standards, and can seamlessly integrate to existing assets, avoiding having to ‘rip and replace’ current infrastructure,” commented Craig Resnick, vice president, ARC Advisory Group, articulating one of the most apparent, but consistent inhibitors keeping manufacturers from achieving IIoT connectivity. “Future-proofing” everything from the controller to the enterprise platform so that it integrates with existing assets, is the Honeywell strategy to accelerate manufacturers’ IIoT availability.

Still, manufacturers understand the current state of development well enough to realize that IIoT signifies a conversion of their current production processes, transferring competitive advantage from machinery to “information.” It will take the proof of performance from these devices to make manufacturers IIoT-ready.