OPC UA technologies are proving to be key in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 platforms. Hilscher's new netIOT family of connectivity products has been “OPC UA enabled” as a strategically vital way of supporting IIoT services and applications, allowing users to move towards digital manufacturing benefits such as predictive maintenance, data analytics, and better resource utilization.
By partnering netIOT with OPC UA, Hilscher is offering unprecedented new ways of gathering and using low-level data that will kick-start a new era in automation. This capability is available without having to replace or reprogram existing systems.
The netIOT family includes netIOT Interface modules for integrating OPC UA into field devices. OPC UA Nano and OPC UA Micro profiles are implemented, enabling data of almost any type to be collected.
At the next level of the hierarchy, Hilscher offers netIOT Edge Gateways. OPC UA field data is communicated to a netIOT Edge Gateway via existing networks (including PROFINET and EtherNet/IP), over a separate TCP channel on the Real-Time Ethernet. This channel operates invisibly to the control processes and does not interfere with regular operations. No existing equipment or processes are changed or made redundant.
Hilscher’s netIOT Edge Gateway monitors field data over existing Real-Time Ethernet networks (shown as solid grey lines), such as EtherNet/IP and PROFINET, and communicates OPC UA data over a separate TCP channel (shown as dotted red lines) on the RTE network.
Greenfield and Brownfield
The netIOT family with OPC UA makes it very attractive to upgrade existing “brownfield” systems as well as IIoT-enable new “greenfield” applications. And, since most IIoT applications and services from the major cloud vendors are available for purchase on an as-used basis (the so-called “X-as-a-service” model), IIoT is open to all budgets.
Completely new use cases and business processes become possible. This is because, in general, a PLC only uses a small amount of available data from sensors, actuators and the network. The vast majority of real process data and information is not used. The capability to monitor systems and equipment alongside normal control functions points to new operating models, for example the leasing of machines based on time-used, or the ability to gather and analyze types of data that have not previously been considered (such as error rates and time-spent). OPC UA can read data from field devices no PLC ever would be interested in, encouraging the evolution of smarter devices that communicate data such as temperature, vibrations, current and voltage in parallel with real-time monitoring and control data.
As an active device on the OPC UA side, the netIOT Gateway can actively talk to other OPC UA servers anddevices supporting OPC UA. As slaves on the Industrial Ethernet network, netIOT Edge Gateways can communicate directly with PLCs to exchange data for remote or local processing.
For remote analysis and feedback, Hilscher’s netIOT Edge Gateways can deliver data to the cloud using OPC UA, or standard protocols such as MQTT. A special high-performance Edge Gateway is available to process data locally – the so-called “On Premise” model - to achieve low-latency analysis with fast feedback of results. This version supports branded IoT services from industry majors, including IBM Watson and the SAP Asset Intelligence Network.
A More Secure IoT
Hilscher’s Edge Gateways enhance IoT security by offering a “listen-to-all” capability that supports “promiscuous mode” functionality. The Edge Gateway monitors traffic on the network, writing data to the cloud as needed for higher-level analytics. However, on the IT/cloud side, applications can be configured to only read data on the Edge Gateway, preventing security breaches and unwanted intrusions. As such, the netIOT Edge Gateway can provide a secure, physical separation of the IT network from the field network. The netIOT Edge Gateway is Linux-based and supports netIOT Service, Hilscher’s own suite of monitoring and analytical applications, as well as third-party software applications such as IBM Informix Database Software.
To make building and using netIOT applications easy, Hilscher offers the netIOT Thing Editor. Based on Node-RED software, created by IBM and now open-sourced through the independent Node-RED organization, this envisions functions as “bubbles” that are selected and interconnected at will using “click and drag”. As well as many standard functions such as TCP/IP, HTTP(S), Email and MQTT, the Thing Editor includes an OPC UA “bubble” which simplifies the collection and forwarding of data across the IoT channel.