Control Amplified

Designing control with an edge

March 28, 2023
A Control Amplified podcast with John Wozniak, product manager for automation digital products at Wago Corporation.

Edge devices are all the rage in in control engineering circles these day. To find our more, Control’s editor in chief, Len Vermillion, talked with Wago’s John Wozniak to learn more about the uses and availability.

Transcript

Len Vermillion: Why don't you give us a little primer on what is defined as an edge device?

John Wozniak: So many people have so many different definitions. The one I like to use is any piece of hardware, a bridge, if you will, that controls data flow at the boundary between two networks. The Wago edge device line of control products are indeed such a device. It's a bridge, a boundary, if you will, between multiple functions between the automation operation, the connected worker and the manufacturing analyst.

Another way to look at it would be that if you think about where these edge devices generally reside, it makes sense both literally and figuratively. One, these devices literally sit at the edge of the operation at the last part of the automation, and they interact with the outside world. Figuratively, these are at the edge of the automation monitoring, sending out data for analysis, again, an edge device. Even yet another way to look at it, the edge device collects data from the automation activity and sends that data onto a cloud or some other sort of collection location, internal or external. This edge device also manipulates and analyzes that data with the intent to improve the process.

Therefore, you can say an edge device collects data, controls where that data flows, whether it's from the automation activity to the outside cloud or from the outside cloud analysis information back to the process to improve that process, collecting data and then controlling the flow of that data between networks. Generally, the definition of an edge device.

Len Vermillion: Why would I need an edge device?

John Wozniak: The rule you learned in high school, remember in wood class or [shop] class, measure twice, cut once? You can't cut if you can't measure. You must be first able to measure. So, you measure first, then you manage. Digitization, it's all the rage, but in today's global economy, that has become a necessity for modern manufacturing and processing facilities. When running IIoT, you know the industrial internet of things applications, most maybe, but if not all, data needs to be collected, stored and analyzed in real time to move between the cloud and the local devices and edge devices necessary. That's why you need it, because you do not want to affect that control process that's already there. These edge devices can transmit data between protocols used by the local process networks into the protocols used by the cloud.

Usually, they're separate. Also, instead of directly sending all the application data to an offsite cloud to calculate these analytics, these edge devices can also provide local execution of data analysis with low latency and a high level of determinism. Data at the edge of the network can also be aggregated and contextualized to send rich sub information directly to the cloud. This ultimately reduces cloud storage costs. Other reasons for using edge computing include the benefits from condition-based monitoring, which can help prevent critical failures, downtime, maybe even lower parts inventory and maintenance costs.

So, reducing that inventory and the need for that inventory is… we all know right now we have that supply chain issue, you can keep going with your manufacturing. The networking of existing processes and operation remains a prerequisite to transition to the smart factory, to the IIoT, if you will.

This networking includes the vertical integration, namely that control system to the field level as well as the horizontal portion where they're connecting those vertical integrations. This extends the data between various control systems in the process. The only opposition to this type of complete networking today is that the data is not consistently generated and used. We have diverse media and system discontinuities occurring in both the vertical, but mainly in the horizontal integration. Because you're going to be doing one vertical piece and then you do another vertical piece at a different time, and those two may not be the same.

So, this diverse media and system discontinuities introduce difficulties in correlating data logically and sensibly across these processes. As a rule, each IIoT approach poses recording data, digitizing and linking each together in a profitable and useful way. This step is essential thought-driving IIoT, collecting, networking and evaluating data from the production in order to exploit that data profitably such that it's sustainable value added information is generated for the application. To keep from drowning from this resulting data flow applications and local data analysis and control with Edge controllers play a really a decisive role. If they're incorporated correctly and make use of the individually relevant KPIs, then the existing processes can be fundamentally improved, and you can use your edge device to save money and improve productivity.

Len Vermillion: Let's talk about functionality. What have edge devices provided to a traditional automation processes? They use, as you know, a PLC, PAC, IPC. Of course, those are programmable logic and automation controllers, or even just full-blown industrial PCs.

John Wozniak: It's basically what has the edge device contributed? ‘What have you done for me lately?’ question. It's a good question. How has the process automation structure evolved? It used to be a simple automated activity right in the PLC and now you're using this controller and edge combination that we have today. What has the edge device added to that particular process? Well, the standard PLCs have increased in power, upgraded their functionality. Their main function is still to be that controller, be it the PLC or you know that industrial PC.

However, that additional requirement of monitoring data, collecting analysis, cloud interaction, that's all an add-on. That's independent of the control, right? The edge devices used to improve the functionality of the entire ecosystem, not just one aspect. All of this is done without impacting the control, without interfering with the system. You can still manage your system independently of this edge device.

You have this edge device monitoring data, oh, I got to improve my process. You can improve your process independently of monitoring. Performing this functionality completely independent of the control platform. So that edge device performs this collection and analysis tasks seamlessly without impeding the control and process operation.

The combination of the edge device is the ability to include that monitoring, to include that data collecting and analysis along with the cloud interaction without impacting the control structure of the process. While this is true, you're adding another device to your system. This device accumulates information, enables the process to be improved, to increase the productivity.

Len Vermillion: We've talked about what edge devices are and why we need them, and so we talked about the functionality. So let's kind of go through this and say what can an edge device do for me as an operator?

John Wozniak: As an operator, as a company, what can an edge device do for you specifically? All companies and individuals are looking to maintain that core competency, that one thing that they do, and they do better than anybody else. They need to be competitive in that global industry, in this global industry. There are significant efforts to reinforce production operations using a maximum level of automation to reduce their costs while still improving quality.

This automation can help drive competitive advantages for factories, process, plants, whatever they're making. The Wago edge devices are advanced edge controllers and can be incorporated into existing automation systems as scalable nodes and gateways, which can't be retrofit without having to interfere with your actual automation and control. So what you are best at, when you're really good at that, does not change what this edge device is doing for you. It's adding that additional functionality, that application can then be monitored and then can be aggregated into an information for transmission to a higher level system or a cloud for that analysis.

The advantages connected with the cloud link offer benefits. They're too numerous to talk about. Cloud solutions are flexible, scalable, available, all audit all the time and provide the opportunity for centralized access. They can go back and see what they did. The big company, the big brother can come in and look and see, okay, you're improving, let's use your improvements on somebody else. Edge controllers can provide a decisive contribution and offer suitable solutions for practically any sensor interface by enabling signals to be collected from the field level and managed locally at the plant floor.

These Wago edge controllers with different communication interfaces and fieldbuses can be used to collect this data from device independent of manufacturer can't open, ethernet, profinet and can also manage the vertical information to and from the cloud via your standard cloud operations, MQTT OPC UA protocols. All of these protocols are available in the Wago edge devices. So independent of what the operator is using to control their network, we can communicate it. We can also communicate up to the cloud.

Len Vermillion: Wago has some latest edge devices, and their latest series includes both the IEC 61131 development tools, as well as an open Linux version that is really primed for the next generation containerized applications. Can you explain a bit more about the vision for how these new edge devices function both now and in the future?

John Wozniak: That's a loaded question, but it's a great question. That's what Wago edge devices were designed for. They were designed for the future. Going forward, using Linux and the containerized applications, like Docker gives the engineer flexibility. They're going to need that flexibility going forward. The flexibility to reuse applications, no need to keep designing the same application. They can just use that same application and improve it using the data that they get from the edge.

The flexibility to reuse these applications in designing these again and again, in fact it may become more important in the future. The challenge is to find qualified engineers and designers may get even more acute than they are now. Using this containerized application will provide the ability to reuse these programs and features that have already been designed, but probably more important, tested and battle tested, that is. This will reduce the time to market for these applications and these installations as well as give those same engineers, designers more time to complete different projects and applications.

Another advantage to Linux going into the future will be the use of the Linux platform itself. Right now, proprietary program software platforms require specialized training. To use these other edge devices, you have to go to specialized training by the manufacturer. Something that's not usually available at university engineering programs that we all go to. Linux, on the other hand, is a programming course that's available in most engineering and standard computer science curriculums. Linux is much more accepted as a programming environment in non-automated situations. This makes the availability of those people that can program in a Linux environment greater and thus would provide a greater tool of individuals capable of designing and testing applications on the Wago edge products using the Linux platform.

Len Vermillion: An edge device would seem an ideal device for a whole breed of standalone applications, really, especially where user interface and control and analysis plus cloud connectivity are necessary. What sort of applications do you see them being specified for today?

John Wozniak: I see a plethora of applications where the Wago edge device would be suited. Not just standalone applications, but an entire array of applications. It would even be a first step into the IAOT universe. They have their setup and let's add an IIoT box onto this that just gets their feet wet into the IIoT.

Another is remote energy and monitoring. When I think it's what's happening in the process industry, I see a vast migration and change to more remote applications and connectivity. I mentioned standalone applications. Yes, this is where the Wago edge devices would work very well. One is that new and ever expanding micro or nano energy grid industry, remote energy monitoring control. With the new extreme weather circumstances causing power outages and the grid being stressed, not to mention all the new stress being put on the energy grid. Electric cars are coming online and they're coming online fast, and so we're going to need these charging stations everywhere if we're ever going to have an infrastructure.

One of the things we're going to be doing is looking at these powered requirements. It's even in my backyard, my neighborhood, my neighbors are adding all these whole house generators to fight backup to provide power in case of a blackout because of these extreme weather circumstances and the stress on the grid. Adding these whole house generators, they need them in case of a blackout.

The same is true for businesses, as they have a lot to lose, should they define themselves without power. They're adding onsite generators to provide power in emergency situations, and it's not just medical and other elderly facilities. One large facility that comes to mind that you may not think of, grocery stores – a lot to lose should the power go out. No power to refrigerate that produce, that fresh dairy and all the other perishable items. And then there's the aisles and aisles of frozen foods. I mean, we all go to these grocery stores on a regular basis and these grocery stores have a lot to lose if they lose power. They may not be remote, but they really are standalone facilities, especially concerning power, and they would require a complete control system to manage, maintain and review any power generation for the store should they lose power.

Another is industry process. It's also a market for edge devices. Again, should that facility lose power and entire batch could be lost, right? But beyond power, maintaining records of a batch is becoming increasingly necessary to track from inception all the way to the customer. Recalls, we have these happening all the time, and this edge device information would be able to enable that company to recall a smaller batch should something happen.

You're not recalling everything from this entire month. You're recalling something from this batch that happened at this day, and that's it. So, it's reducing the amount of recall, which right there would save that particular company money way above and beyond that edge device. Another market where the edge device works, right, process doesn't mess with the current proven process. It just works. It's an add-on that provides with that analysis, that connectivity, without changing anything already in place. With the required certifications and the power to complete the necessary functions the Wago line of edge devices is very well suited for these process applications.

Len Vermillion: How do I get started with the Wago edge device?

John Wozniak: Well, first thing is you find a business issue that you are looking into. A bottleneck, if you will, but instead of looking at the entire scope of the problem, break that bottleneck, break that issue to that problem that you're having in small, manageable sections. Once you've done that, determine the priority of each. What's highest priority, what's lowest priority? The next step is to start collecting your plant floor data using these containerized applications.

And you can analyze that data because if you start with the entire process, you're kind of flooded with data. So, you'll start with the small bottleneck. The benefit here is that the bulk, the connected worker on the plant floor, as well as the management, can use this data to troubleshoot problems or these bottlenecks at the manufacturing level as they happen. It helps offsite management look at efficiency as well. They look at logistics and other data to determine what is working, what areas need to be looked at more closely, and they can formulate plans for improvement on a long-term basis.

The advantage of this is that you have buy-in from your connected worker. They're the ones that got their feet on the floor of the rubber to the road, whatever way you want to look at it. But they have this buy-in and they are more involved. There are multiple places within an organization where these edge devices could be implemented. Many pieces of key data that can be analyzed to help improve your company's bottom line. These may include power consumption, the vibration of a device bearing temperature, pressure, uptime. Uptime is huge.

Using all this information patterns can be recognized and determined causes of failure, what can be done to avoid these failures in the feature future. This can all be done using a Wago edge device. You'd be used to track and store data for delivery straight to the user when it's needed. Wago combines the advantages of decentralized cloud computing with local control networks using our edge devices, the edge controller and the edge computers.

The edge controller uses part of the process to collect plant floor data information from industrial fieldbuses, those fieldbuses that are on your vertical network. If the application calls for it, this data can be published directly to the cloud. If not, the edge computer can take all that edge controller data, store it, run analytics on it locally before posting to a cloud internally or externally for anyone that really has proper access rights to view and to monitor and to look at.

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