I/O Systems / IIoT

Exploring the tools, skills needed to navigate the Industrial Internet of Things

Understand key IIoT concepts and lingo, and apply them in a way that serves your process application, facility and business.

By Jim Montague

Familiar things can look strange sometimes, and be hard to handle until you recognize them. Green and sustainable manufacturing were in vogue few years ago, and mostly turned out to be new hats for efficiency. Cybersecurity became more approachable when people equated it with process safety. It’s easier to deal with a new idea or technology when you know more about it, and then cope with any truly new aspects that tag along.

Same old—almost

Likewise, all the blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchats are just more websites and webpages. Big data is just more data. The Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial IoT (IIoT) are just more Internet, which is just more networking using Internet protocol (IP) over Ethernet and wireless. And virtualized and cloud computing are just bigger and more secure data storage.

“The basics of IIoT have really been in process automation for a long time because we’ve been connecting processes and whole plants for years,” says Will Aja, customer operations VP at Panacea Technologies Inc., a CSIA-member system integrator in Montgomeryville, Pa. “The pharmaceutical companies we serve can’t operate without connected and networked facilities, but today’s smart devices, apps and virtualized computing are making life more interesting. The automation industry is trying to mix in consumer-based Internet technologies, but the industry is still far behind.”

Related: Read Jim Montague's Control Report column on the IIoT

Aja adds this lag isn’t a particularly bad situation because process control applications and users require much different capabilities from Internet technologies. “For us, IIoT didn’t begin when Ethernet kicked off because that doesn’t account for DeviceNet, ControlNet and other older protocols, or the fact that we’ve been able to read data from HART devices for a long time, accomplishing many of the same tasks that IIoT does,” explains Aja. “I think IIoT is less about connecting devices, and really begins with collecting, contextualizing and using data appropriately. For example, Amazon Echo’s voice recognition and intelligent assistant is a nice device, but it doesn’t jive with what we have to do on the plant floor. The consumer side is vastly different than pulling data from a plant with 10,000 I/O points, and we have much bigger operating and safety consequences.”

Alicia Dubay, strategic marketing manager for ABB process automation and control technologies, adds, “Much IIoT technology has been in use in the process industries for years. The gains will start to come when the needed standards emerge, security concerns are addressed and the issue of who owns the data becomes more clear. It is possible now to get process data and diagnostics onto the cloud for analysis, but the question becomes who can access the data to provide value-added applications? Once these questions are answered, the value of IoT in the process industries will become more clear.”

Jason Wright, PlantPAx business manager at Rockwell Automation adds, “Bringing operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) to develop IIoT can be like trying to bring two positively charged magnets together because they’re different disciplines, but they’re sharing more technology. Still, this is like any technological shift. When we went from proprietary operating systems to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) in the 1990s, there was a lot of resistance then, too. However, it gets solved when people see the value the new technology can bring, and that’s what going to happen now with IIoT.”    

Common language, common ground

Apart from the latest buzzwords and hype, there are a few new and substantive differences between traditional industrial networking and IIoT. Faster, cheaper, more powerful microprocessors can run software anywhere, and are finally making the old dream of distributed control come true, while their Ethernet ports, IP addresses and internal webpages are getting them and their data onto the Internet, up to the enterprise and onto cloud-based services more easily. Also, these functions require more collaboration with IT and its advanced security capabilities. In fact, some users are even asking why plant-floor data needs to stop off at PLCs and DCSs on the way to the enterprise.

Despite these tremors, manufacturing and process control have the same goals as always: do more with less, run lean, and maximize efficiency, production and profit. It’s just that some new Internet-based tools are now available, and more users and applications are waking up to employ them, so some new skills are needed to take advantage of them. One of the most crucial tasks in understanding and adopting IIoT and gaining its benefits is learning the networking concepts, terms and technologies it uses—most of which originated in the IT realm. 

“We’ve all been hearing about the wall coming down between OT and IT, but there are still profound language and protocol differences between them. And, because the IT-based protocols enable IIoT and big data applications, these language differences must be resolved for IIoT to succeed on the OT side,” explains Paul Sereiko, marketing director for FieldComm Group, which administers Foundation fieldbus and the HART communication protocol. “For example, IT staffs use high-level, data-exchange formats like XML and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) as building blocks for web applications. To bridge the OT/IT gap, JSON and XML representations of HART and Foundation fieldbus data would be very valuable. It’s the role of organizations like FieldComm Group to provide these tools to our member companies and ultimately to end users.” (Figure 1)

Just as most transmitters and other process control devices progressed from point-to-point, 4-20-mA hardwiring to twisted-pair fieldbuses and digital communications in recent years, IIoT is expected to further simplify and accelerate their networks and communications. However, process engineers and operators will need more IT know-how as IIoT moves down to the plant floor and out to the field to interact with more so-called edge devices, which include all the usual sensors, instruments, valves, actuators, transmitters and other equipment.    

“In contrast to OT, IT enterprise networks use the same open standards and protocols found on the Internet, which was founded on open communication standards like Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP),” states Matt Newton, technical marketing director at Opto 22, in his whitepaper, “Your IoT Primer: Bridge the Gap between OT and IT.” “Application-specific protocols are layered on top, including Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) and so on. The Internet uses programming languages like JavaScript, Java and Python, and presents information using technologies like HTML5 and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), all of which are open.”

White Paper: Wireless Connectivity for the Internet of Things

In the short run, Newton explains, OT and IT can converge using protocol gateways, OPC servers and middleware, but long-term convergence will demand flattened architectures and seamless communication between assets, using open, standards-based protocols and programming languages. As a result, process control assets will need to be designed with built-in web technologies, such as Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) for interaction, Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) for encryption and authentication for data security, and JSON for data formatting. This approach is presently available and is called Representational State Transfer (REST) architecture. Opto 22 has already added a REST-compliant, or RESTful, application program interface (API) to its industrial programmable automation controllers (PACs).

Newton adds OT assets will need to use this and other APIs, which are sets of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications, and specify how software components should interact. To have OT assets communicate autonomously and directly with each other, he adds they also need to use other Internet protocols, such as:

  • MQTT publish/subscribe messaging protocol for constrained devices and low-bandwidth, high-latency or unreliable networks to collect device data and communicate it to servers;
  • eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) that enables near-real-time exchange of structured yet extensible data between two or more devices on a network;
  • Data Distribution Service (DDS) fast bus for integrating intelligent machines; and
  • Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), an open-standard application layer protocol and queuing system for connecting servers to each other.


Putting things to work

Once you understand IIoT concepts and lingo, and how they can serve your process application, facility and business, what’s next? Well, lead, silver and zinc have been mined in Garpenberg, Sweden, since the 13th century, but when Boliden AB decided in 2011 to spend $580 million to expand its mine there, it also decided to add a lot more of its formerly isolated equipment, applications and systems to its 800xA DCS, and coordinate them all with IIoT-based technologies to improve efficiency and productivity (Figure 2).

As a result, Boliden Garpenberg also implemented ABB’s IoT, Services and People (IoTSP) program, which helps 800xA to handle not only the mine’s mill drives, hoists and other traditional equipment, but also its electricity, high-voltage transformers and sub-operation that used to be seen as separate tasks. Previously autonomous equipment and systems added to its System 800xA DCS include mine hoists, ventilation, dewatering and water, pressurized air, low-/medium-/high-voltage substations, conveyors, crushers, ore storage, energy monitoring, IEC61850 power management, maintenance system, document management, stop/log reporting, BAC facility/building automation, underground communications, process instruments/positioners/valves, and motors and drive systems. Only the public-address radio and video systems remain separate under the mine’s new IIoT-aided strategy. 

“It’s a high level of automation,” says Lennart Evrell, Boliden’s CEO. “After the trucks tip into crushers in the mine, the ore is sent without human touch into the skip, into the hoist, up to the surface and through the plant, 24 hours a day.”

Serving as the mine’s unified brain, 800xA controls and collects data from Garpenberg’s 400-plus electric motors, 280 variable speed drives and two hoists that transport people and 416 tons of ore inside its 1,200-meter shaft. This system integrates functions, such as water management, crushers, conveyor belts, skip loading, concentrator and pumping stations, and controls ABB’s SmartVentilation system, ensuring blowers run only at speeds needed to clear the air.

Most importantly, this Internet-based platform works with 800xA to give the mine’s engineers and operators one user-centric environment to instantly access their process displays, history and trends, alarms and events, stop reporting, operator notations, maintenance, document drawings and other tasks. Located in 33 different work areas, they use tablet PCs linked by wired and wireless networks in the mill and part of the mine. The staff at Garpenberg report they now have an “integrated ore factory—one body with one brain—with real-time optimization from mine to port.” And, besides local support and service, ABB remote-service engineers in Europe are on-call to support Garpenberg 24/7 from hundreds of miles away by accessing its communications, and offering proactive maintenance advice. 

Its recent expansion and adopting IIoT enabled Garpenberg to avoid a once-planned closing and reportedly become the world’s most integrated, advanced and effective zinc mine. In fact, after the mine’s expansion and upgrade were finished in 2014, its ore tonnage increased about 60% to 2.22 million tons per year, and was expected to reach 2.5 million tons by the end of 2015. As the same time, costs per ton also plunged thanks to reduced energy consumption and water use.   

“The project went as planned,” concludes Evrell. “The concentrator plant started very well and has excelled, and Garpenberg is now the most profitable unit we have in the group.” 

DIY IIoT? Prioritize, contextualize

So, what steps can you take to design and build an IIoT solution for your application and facility? Just as with any process control and automation project, most experts report that users and system integrators must decide on their business goals and problems they want to solve before they can determine how IIoT might help them.

“IIoT is far from simply connecting equipment to the Internet and a cloud service, which is just ‘things on the Internet,’” says John Traynor, VP and COO of C-Labs, which produces software such as its Factory-Relay that delivers live access to equipment and IIoT data. “True IIoT is at the forefront of an industrial transformation because it provides direct integration of equipment, use of business intelligence at the equipment level, and more cost-effective, efficient production systems that can be self-managing and self-healing.”

Steve Pulsifer, global director of process market development at Rockwell Automation, adds, “This process is just like our five-step Connected Enterprise Execution Model, which includes baseline assessments of what’s in place, secure and upgraded controls and networks, defined and organized working data capital, analyzing operational benefits, and optimizing and collaborating to deliver value.”

For instance, South African Breweries’ new malting plant in Alrode, South Africa, recently launched SAB’s first fully automated and EtherNet/IP-based control system. It integrates multiple traditionally disparate malt processes on one network, which provides plantwide visibility and actionable data from the production floor to the top management floor (Figure 3). Located next to SAB’s existing brewery, the plant is expected to increase the company’s malt production from 42,000 tons to 150,000 tons per year.

All devices and processes in the plant are integrated into one secure network, which uses dual-port, EtherNet/IP hardware connected in device-level-ring (DLR) configurations or other topologies where appropriate. Controlled by Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers and Allen-Bradley Stratix industrial EtherNet/IP switches, the motor control centers (MCCs) manage more than 500 E300 intelligent electronic overload control relays, 70 Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 750 AC drives, and 50 Allen-Bradley SMC Flex smart motor control soft starters. To address the plant’s energy metering, energy consumption, load shedding and harmonics analysis, Rockwell Automation also supplied its Allen-Bradley PowerMonitor metering products. To keep the plant running nonstop, all MCC and device-level hardware is equipped with Rockwell Automation’s automatic device configuration (ADC) for automatic self-healing and configuring of replaced components.

“By converging OT and IT, we provide SAB with secure access to operational, business and transactional data to improve the malting plant’s supply-chain, economic and sustainable performance,” explains Adrian van Wyk, Rockwell Automation business manager for power and components in Johannesburg. “By enabling secure access to actionable, run-time production data, machine diagnostics and automatic fault-finding, SAB gains full visibility of the maltings plant, ultimately facilitating faster time-to-market, lower TCO, improved asset utilization and enterprise risk management.”

Besides determining business goals and infrastructure needs, Panacea’s Aja reports IIoT also requires users to decide how to contextualize incoming information, so they don’t end up with too much meaningless data and too little insight. “IIoT isn’t about connecting everything, and gathering all information from everywhere,” explains Aja. “You have to prioritize what data you want to collect ahead of time with IIoT; and talk about end goals for it, such as increasing efficiency, cutting downtime or saving energy. Then you can look at better ways to parse the data, manage automation assets, and implement predictive analytics. For instance, if we have a clean-in-place (CIP) process that’s acting as a bottleneck because it wasn’t designed correctly or is used manually, you can use IIoT concepts to give more access to available process data and batch scheduling to intelligently plan ahead for resource loading such as water for injection (WFI) production.”    

ABB’s DuBay adds, “Much like a safety HAZOP, users need to look at their goals, and determine the right level of technology to achieve them. If continuous operations with minimal shutdowns is critical, then virtualizing the PC/server architecture may be useful for maintenance and uptime. If moving to a predictive maintenance strategy is key, some IIoT concepts may provide great value. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. All of these concepts and technologies bring value in some cases. However, the risk is implementing a technology for the sake of doing ‘something,’ rather than looking at what problem needs to be solved.”


Instilling skills

While finding the right tools and parameters to measure is fine, the biggest obstacles to IIoT adoption and success are human issues, such as a lack of training and the reluctance of potential users to try it.

“The goal with IIoT is to secure data seamlessly and improve applications, but there’s a big skills gap because many process engineers can’t get the data from their devices to the cloud using the current plant network,” says Bain Ashworth, control products marketing manager at Phoenix Contact. “As a result, many need a third party with the IT skills to do it, while some are taking network fundementals courses for industrial controls. IIoT also has a bit of a gray area because, while users want a dashboard of useful information they can streamline right to the top of their organization, they don’t want to be inundated with controller data. This means the local office managing their local network and switches must find ways to prioritize the information coming from their sensors and instruments and going to their PLCs and DCSs. This is why solutions like our Eaglei remote terminal unit (RTU) are installed in the field to monitor local data, and send information via the mGuard stateful firewall/VPN device/cellular modem to a mCloud service for hosting.”

To help process engineers and operators manage their increasingly sophisticated and/or IIoT-aided devices, Endress+Hauser offers numerous classes, online training modules and other educational resources because getting the right know-how to the right individual can be trickier than it appears. “Many times, we sell one person on the features and benefits of a product, but it’s often shipped to and installed by someone else, and then maintained by a third person, and the last two aren’t aware of the advantages that the first one learned about,” says Jerry Spindler, training manager for field service and customers at Endress+Hauser. “So it helps when someone who’s been struggling with a flowmeter can come to a class, learn about its programming and advanced set up in the first five minutes, and immediately feel like the trip paid for itself. This is even more important now because the instruments are a lot smarter, and users need to know how to optimize them in their applications, but it’s hard to keep up.”

Among Endress+Hauser’s most powerful teaching tools are its 10 nationwide Process Training Units (PTUs), which include basic and regular instrumentation, pH and conductivity measurement, liquid analytical measurement, Coriolis flow, introductory and advanced flow or level, radar level, time of flight, free space and guided-wave radar level, pressure and temperature, industrial Ethernet and certified Profibus PA. Students and other users can operate all these devices to learn how real process systems run, and most important, observe how experienced operators solve problems and optimize performance.

More recently, Spindler reports the PTUs added virtual environments running VMware software, which lets them run various Endress+Hauser software packages as virtual machines, eliminate many former servers and cabinets, and operate more flexibly. Jon Davis, process consultant at Rockwell Automation, helps maintain sections of two PTUs, and uses their secure, firewalled Internet connections to dial in and configure, program and troubleshoot equipment. “The PTUs don’t touch the Internet directly, but I can see the status of all their devices from my desk or anywhere with Internet by accessing their local, onsite networks, which are protected by firewalls and 128-bit encrypted communications.”         

James Toboni, Extended Maintenance and Systems Services (EMASS) engineer at Tesco Controls Inc., a CSIA-certified system integrator in Sacramento, Calif., adds that, “Instruments on the PTU can communicate in several ways via Ethernet, serial, fieldbus, and more. In the past, there was a lot more wiring involved, but now, one communication wire can provide many data points showing values like temperature, pH, device health status and more. Instruments using these forms of communication can transmit this added data to the PLC with essentially one communication cable. E+H showcases this on its PTU.

“These forms of communication are great because they not only share information from instrument to PLC, but also from PLC to PLC, or from a PLC to a SCADA device such as a computer, smart phone or tablet PC. For example, our Tesco L2000 and L3000 PLCs can communicate not only with each other over a single RJ45 cable, but when paired with our L3000 gateway, they can communicate with almost any PLC platform. With this new technology, users can reach in and grab any bits of data they want from nearly anywhere. I like to joke with the old timers who used to stare at dials all day that from now on, they can stare at their smart phones.”

Ultimately, end users must decide and continually reevaluate for themselves what role IIoT will play in their applications and organizations, and what tools and skills will be most useful to them and their customers based on all of their their unique requirements and goals. Fortunately, IIoT enables the flexibility to do it.