This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of OnWindows.
The promise of connecting everything within an industrial environment to get complete visibility into operations and allow the best real-time decisions to be made – with or without human intervention – will transform how we manufacture for years to come. The premise for this next industrial evolution is the industrial internet of things (IIoT).
While IIoT sets its sights on internet-enabling all hardware and software components (the ‘things’) that comprise an automation system, the biggest challenge will be seamlessly internet-enabling the things that live at the edge of the network. Industry-wide, this area contains trillions of things that contain one or many data points that may need to be analysed and combined into information. Unfortunately, the edge of the network is also the furthest removed from the IT we have become accustomed to using when internet connectivity is required.
In order to seamlessly integrate industrial data into IIoT, a new communications platform is required. This platform requires extensive knowledge of the intricate realm of operations technology (OT) and the state-of-the-art and rapidly-changing domain of IT.
Within OT, the platform must understand the various network topologies and data protocols that will be encountered. It must be able to automatically discover and identify industrial things and the data they contain, as well as be able to handle the storage of high-frequency updates.
Within IT, the platform must be able to transform the data it collects and push it into the cloud via IIoT standards. Emerging standards include Asynchronous Messaging Queuing Protocol (AMQP), Message Queueing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), Constrained Application Protocol (COAP), and Data Description Services (DDS). These standards allow for the retransmission of data in the event it does not reach its destination.
With the lack of computer networking infrastructure in OT, this platform must be embeddable and run within a standalone appliance or an edge-based switch or router where IT and OT converge.
Its flexibility will enable industrial data to be sampled cyclically or based on some event or condition and be published to the cloud independently of data collection. Data filtering should be available through basic analytics. Lastly, user setup should be minimalised by automating as much configuration as possible.
As industry continues to define IIoT, the concepts and realisation of the optimal communications platform will continue to evolve.
Tony Paine is the CEO of Kepware Technologies
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