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Systems integration: an open book?

16 November 2015

In today’s modern plant, system integration is happening not only horizontally across machines and lines, but also vertically across processes and plant-wide automation systems. What are the current trends in systems integration? Food Processing investigates.

“Advanced automotive plants will want to know the dimensions of a boot cut-out in Body-in-White and use this information further down the line in Final Assembly to match the perfect boot lid and ensure it arrives just in time as the vehicle is produced down the line,” explains Nicholas Temple from B&R Industrial Automation. “This ensures best fit and minimal work, increasing productivity and quality at the same time. Not every manufacturer is looking for the marginal gains that are being sought in the automotive industry, but the same sharing of data across automation platforms is what is bringing improvements to the modern factory and is at the heart of Industry 4.0.”

Interest in Industry 4.0 picked up in a beat in 2014. One aspect of Industry 4.0 is the Internet of Things (IoT), which is more than just a connection between humans, physical product and the internet. It is where technologies can merge and an open architecture enables functionality to be expanded by third parties, allowing more information to be shared than ever before.

“This brings faster, perhaps automated decision-making and more intelligence to process control and manufacturing,” says Neil Ritchie, Division Manager for ABB’s Discrete Automation & Motion business. “We now see similar concepts in our everyday lives with wearable tech. For example, personal health devices can monitor and track our lifestyle and share the details online, in real time, with a like-minded community of other athletes. Internet 4.0 goes even further and brings ‘cloud’ like technology with the ability of data analytics and remote expert support to process plants and technologies. But are we ready for this latest industrial revolution?”

Industrial Ethernet
There still remains a plethora of disparate proprietary communication systems, protocols and networks in industrial automation control systems. Many of these were designed to only do one specific job. While sometimes quirky and difficult to set-up and diagnose, requiring specialist knowledge, they often performed very well and reliably. 

“As integrated control systems have evolved to become more complex, including more devices, more intelligence, more data, these legacy communication systems are showing their limitations in terms of flexibility, performance, bandwidth and ease of use,” says Dave Sutton, Product Marketing Manager at Schneider Electric. “Industrial Ethernet is now displacing legacy communications systems both for new installations, refurbishments and system upgrades and is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for many industry and infrastructure applications. It offers numerous sustainable business benefits, including; flexible network design topologies, media independence (copper cable, fibre optic, wireless), common (browser based) user interface for multiple applications and, of course, today’s new engineers (Generation Y) are being brought up on internet technologies at home, with wide knowledge and easy familiarity ready for deployment within their workspace.”

From its origins as a link for office networks in the 1970s, the Ethernet is now ubiquitous in commercial and domestic end-use sectors globally. As an established technology with demonstrable track record in these environments, its eventual use in industrial environments was only a matter of time. It has filtered down via traditional factory automation layers of plant and process, typically SCADA and PLC domains, and is now taking hold at field device level. 

“As we enter the era of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), this trend will continue as devices and instrumentation become smarter, with on-board intelligence, web servers and in-built Ethernet ports,” says Sutton. “Increased numbers of smart devices means more data, not only process and production, alarm and diagnostics data, but also other data such as file transfers, video streaming and energy management data, all of which are presenting challenges for communication networks, bandwidth and real time data management. Uniquely, Industrial Ethernet allows for the simultaneous management of these different data protocols on the same physical connection.”

Industrial Ethernet, based on open standard technologies, is ready to evolve with emerging standards, such as speed of connection (ready for evolution towards 400Gbps and even 1Tbps) and Internet Protocol IPv6. Economies of scale brought about via commercial and domestic usage also ensures sustainable cost-effective industrial solutions, as well as providing users with a wide risk free selection of off-the-shelf options.

The common trait between concepts such as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things and smart factories is interconnectivity. Networking and connectivity trends are becoming more and more noticeable across industry sectors, including in strictly regulated areas such as food and drinks. 

“Many suppliers in the past have built their entire models on the theme of connectivity but this has created proprietary standards and while good for the manufacturer’s portfolio of products, it doesn’t lend itself to the concept of total openness,” says Ritchie. “Seamlessly and remotely connecting multiple technologies and products – and now applications – users, and even designers, is the key to this technology. The first challenge, however, will be the bravery of manufacturers to open up their systems and technologies to take connectivity to a new level and build up new value networks with suppliers and service providers.”

The second challenge is security. Cyberattacks and network crime is growing, and has become the biggest challenge to the implementation of Industry 4.0. The third challenge is how to create standards and a framework for something that, by its very definition, encourages creativity through its openness. 

“Many of these issues will be debated and resolved through companies collaborating within bodies such as the German ‘Plattform Industrie 4.0’ or the Industrial Internet Consortium,” explains Ritchie. “So I expect to see rapid progress in the development of Industry 4.0 through 2015, but given the challenges, it still may be a little early to expect a full revolution of the wheels of industry.”

ABB refers to the Internet of Things and People (IoTSP) when talking about the vision of integrated industry. The key components of the IoTSP are:
  • New technologies such as mobile communications or cloud computing help to evolve the Industrial Intranet towards the Industrial Internet. Other requirements like cyber security and data privacy will become more important for all players along the IoTSP value chain
  • Services will become more advanced through the use of data analytics. In the IoTSP, these will provide new opportunities to optimise operations. ABB sees the evolution towards an IoTSP as an opportunity for new service models that implement improvements in collaboration with partners and customers
  • People will not be obsolete in a world of IoTSP as they remain in control of the entire production process. People will be the decision-makers and will programme and control all activities performed by ‘things’.

“Integration is becoming easier as its importance is increasingly acknowledged,” says Rob Stephens, Managing Director of Systems Integration. “Food manufacturers understand the necessity of having a live view across their business for improving productivity and quality, as well as demonstrating traceability. Being able to monitor production progress in real time and immediately identify and rectify any issues stops problems from escalating. Interconnectivity is also essential in enabling food processors to ensure complete traceability from farm to fork, or ocean to plate.”

Open software
Data acquisition is being made easier for system integration with the adoption of open vendor independent standards such as PACK ML from OMAC (Organisation for Machine Automation and Control). This ensures that machine states are identified and labelled in the same way to ensure ease of integration from multiple PLC manufacturers that are found on the shop floor. OPC UA furthermore is the current and future communication protocol to take this machine level data across lines and process to the enterprise level. Since the communication stack can be ported to any operating system or embedded hardware, OPC UA is platform independent.

“To make use of this now abundant data, business intelligent solutions are making the previously complex and time-consuming data analysis process accessible to plant managers and executives that are making decisions based on this data,” explains Temple. “It speeds up decision-making to real time actionable data and is a powerful way to manage a line, process, plant or even multiple sites. Business intelligence creates connectivity not only from the plant data, but can also create access to third party database information, such as weather databases. To use the automotive reference again, a paint shop can then understand how weather affects the quality of cover and make a decision ahead of time whether or not to apply a further coat based on the current or even future weather prior to inspection. To make this data more accessible, business intelligence allows for a variety of users to access cloud based solutions that can allow for data to be generated readily in native iOS or Android Apps or simply in a web browser. This means that the shift manager can quickly receive or create a report to his smart device for use in his pre-production meeting for real-time decision-making without waiting for quality control to come back days or weeks later with reports invalidating the parts they have produced in the lull between data collection and analysis.”

Automated electronic data capture from different hardware and software solutions unlocks data that was previously difficult to access. There is no need to re-key information and it enables everyone in the business to be on the same page and working to one version of the truth.

“A joined-up approach to data collection is essential for food manufacturers,” says Stephens. “This is particularly true for those that are running multi-site operations which interact for the procurement and management of raw materials, as well as the allocation of production. Integration gives food manufacturers the freedom to cherry pick solutions from different providers for their business and to run them seamlessly. We see a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) as the key to providing flexible connectivity options. In particular, the use of web services within the SOA allows the same interfaces to be developed and adapted for single machine, intranet and cloud based solutions. Again, this gives food manufacturers more freedom and choice regarding how they run their business.”

The food industry
While industrial automation equipment has been getting smaller, it still needs to work in difficult environments, tolerating a wide range of temperature, continuous vibrations and electrical noise. For the food and drink industry, it is essential that processing facilities operate efficiently and consistently by eliminating costly downtime.

“The stringent need for product cleanliness means communication network components must often be subjected to environmental extremes,” says Amy Wells, Business Development Manager of Electroustic. “The process of sterilisation can also be harsh for cables and switches. Not to mention that the components may be exposed to organic acids as well as other harsh chemicals. The environmental challenges of the food and drink industry can be damaging to industrial Ethernet equipment. Control networks for cleaning, cooling and refrigeration must continue to work reliably or they could cause costly downtime and production delays.”

Systems integrators like their connectors tough and resilient, but also smaller and easy to assemble. For this reason, push-pull and bayonet mount connectors are much more common these days than older models. Although they can be pricey, systems integrators prefer them because they are easier to install and change, plus they ensure a system is future-proof.

“This takes us to another recent trend in systems integration, namely quality,” says Wells. “Historically, systems integrators looked at high value products when it came to the controller, motors or drives, but didn’t see the point of choosing more expensive, higher quality connectors. After all, the connector’s role was a simple one and if it failed, it would just be replaced with another. Today, systems integrators are starting to understand that increasingly complex industrial automation systems require advanced and resilient connectors. After all, if even one connector fails, the entire system could go down until a replacement is found. And even a few minutes of downtime can cost thousands of pounds.”

Open software and communication standards are paving the way for increasing interconnectivity in the modern plant environment across all industries. This interconnectivity is being used in a variety of ways and through data acquisition and business intelligence, manufacturers can take advantage of the information available from their machines, lines, process and plants to make informed near real time business decisions to increase productivity and quality, while reducing maintenance.

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