IIoT / Industrial Ethernet / Wireless

How process automation standards fuel our industry and IIoT

If it weren't for standards, we wouldn't have an automation industry, and certainly not the wired or wireless field devices we rely on to connect the controllers to the process

By Ian Verhappen, P.Eng

I just returned from the IEC TC65 and associated SC65 Plenary meetings held every 18 months, and though the majority of the population believe that standards are boring, when you think about it a little, you quickly realise that they are anything but. If it weren't for standards, we wouldn't have an automation industry, and certainly not the wired or wireless field devices we rely on to connect the controllers to the process. Then again, we wouldn't have the controllers, either, since they, too, need standards as the basis for the networks, operating systems, HMIs, alarm management, etc., to allow us to make effective use of the data gathered by the field sensors. However, all these standards apply to systems that we use today—what about products not yet widely available?

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A lot of press and conference space is being consumed today by Internet of Things (IoT) or Industrial IoT (IIoT), and most people assume all they need to do is assign an IP address to a device and it is now IoT-enabled. An IP address is like a phone number, it means that we may know how to make a connection, however, once the connection is made, what language to speak, or even how to say hello, requires additional standards. In the IEC world, Industrie 4.0 forms the basis for a series of standards that will address the Life Cycle and Value Stream throughout the business value of an asset, through the functional layers (integration, communication, information) to the hierarchy levels (product, field device, control device, station, workcenter, enterprise and connected world), as shown in the Reference Architectural Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0).

Other key standards that will be required to enable IIoT include XML-based life cycle definitions for each of the above elements as a means to transfer data across different computing platforms (including, for example, the exchange formats for IEC61131 programs); cybersecurity and maintenance of the same for the duration of a system's operational life; 26 fieldbus protocols; the IEC 62439 series of industrial communication networks to ensure high availability of the automation networks to transmit the bits and bytes from A to B; OPC and FDI to improve connectivity between all the nodes (i.e. devices) on the network/system; and Smart Grid, to name just a portion of the projects presently underway.

But this one set of IEC committees is “restricted” in scope to working on standards for systems and elements used for industrial process measurement and control. IEC has other committees that work on the electrical grid and nuclear facilities, for a total of 174 technical committees (TCs) and standards committees (SCs) populated by over 15,000 experts from industry, commerce, government, test and research labs, academia and consumer groups representing a total of 83 different countries.

The IEC also has a number of conformity assessment bodies to verify compliance with the standards: IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE); IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components (IECQ); IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to equipment for use in explosive atmospheres (IECEx); and IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications (IECRE). These conformity-assessment bodies work with local certifying agencies in various countries, such as CSA, FM, UL, etc., to be sure they meet the requirements developed for the individual assessment schema.

When you consider that ISO, ITU and IETF also are developing standards that relate to IoT and subsequently IIoT, it adds up to a lot of new technology being worked on collaboratively by many people and organizations, all to make it possible for the average person to take for granted that when they press a button, things will work as expected, not just in isolation but as part of a larger system. 

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