Key Enablers of an Industrial Internet of Things Network Infrastructure

Nov. 1, 2014
A common network technology, an upgraded control system, and defense-in-depth are the three enablers needed to establish a common infrastructure for the Connected Enterprise.

A virtually infinite number of smart things in the industrial sector can be embedded with smart sensors that can communicate with one another within the existing Ethernet infrastructure. This is central to the Internet of Things (IoT), and it can enable organizations to better collaborate and understand complex processes to improve their operations.

The value, however, extends beyond the plant floor, as machine data can be contextualized into insightful information that gives decision makers new visibility into their operations, and new opportunities to innovate and improve. This is what Rockwell Automation calls the Connected Enterprise.

A truly Connected Enterprise consists of industrial operations that are integrated, optimized and secure not only at the machine and equipment levels, but also throughout the organization and across the supply chain. It enables connection and collaboration among global operations, assets and users.

To begin, however, three technology enablers are needed to establish the common infrastructure to achieve a Connected Enterprise.

Common network technology
To capture the value of IoT, devices within machines, equipment and plants need to talk with one another, as well as systems at the enterprise level. This can be accomplished using a unified networking technology that is based on standard, unmodified Ethernet IP (Internet Protocol).

IP provides a single communications pathway to support seamless connectivity across people, equipment and systems at all levels of an organization. Proprietary or purpose-built network technologies, on the other hand, can restrict and complicate your network architecture because they might require gateways or specialized equipment.

EtherNet/IP uses standard Ethernet IP technology to help ensure open and unrestricted connectivity on the plant floor and across the enterprise. It eliminates restrictions associated with the proprietary and purpose-built networks for reduced design complexity, and ensures seamless integration of both industrial and commercial IP devices for greater flexibility.

Upgraded control system
Most industrial infrastructures operating today were not designed to take advantage of the IoT. Aging business systems and/or industrial equipment can pose significant risks, including flawed transmissions that can change processes and result in incorrect product specifications, poor quality or production stoppages. Older legacy systems also are increasingly becoming harder to integrate and maintain.

An opportunity clearly exists for organizations to bring their equipment and systems into the modern, information-enabled era. State-of-the-art equipment and controls rely on open, industry-standard technologies, such as EtherNet/IP, which uses the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP).

EtherNet/IP connects devices to controllers and machine operator interfaces, and can pass the information to the enterprise network. This provides a crucial link between IT at the enterprise level and control technology at the plant level, making the network more mangeable and information more available for improved visibility and decision-making.

For all the benefits of connecting your site and production assets, it also introduces greater risk in the form of internal and external threats, both malicious and accidental.

Industrial security must be implemented as a com- plete system, rather than as an add-on solution. The breadth of today’s threats combined with a constant stream of new threats requires that security be robust and capable of stopping threats on multiple fronts.

As a result, a “defense-in-depth” security approach that addresses internal and external threats is recommended for protecting industrial assets. Defense-in-depth security encompasses physical, network, computer, application and device security.

Capturing the value of IoT
Once you’ve developed the infrastructure to seamlessly share data securely throughout your entire operations, you can take advantage of several innovative and enabling technologies that have emerged within IoT, including:

  • Cloud computing and virtualization—These technologies enable remote monitoring for diagnostic and predictive analytics, as well as the ability to make hardware upgrades without changing the operating system or software.
  • Mobility—Mobility can provide real-time, context-based information to plant-floor and site operation workers on smartphones, tablets and other smart devices.
  • Big Data—The vast amount of data generated in industrial operations can be viewed in real time in key performance indicator (KPI) dashboards and securely disseminated across an organization using web-based reports to uncover hidden inefficiencies and improve productivity, machine up- time and product quality.

    And while these technologies comprise only a portion of a truly Connected Enterprise—outlined in detail in the Rockwell Automation Connected Enterprise Maturity Model—they remain the essential building blocks of a smarter, more productive and more responsive industrial operation.

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