FDT IIoT Server (FITS™): Advancing Today’s Connected Industrial Enterprise

Nowadays, there are billions of industrial devices connected to the Internet, and this has led to innovative technology developments that have resulted in various kinds of devices offering advanced communication and networking capabilities.

With the growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and thus the “Connected World,” there is a need for standardized and open solutions to ensure a host of new, powerful automation assets can communicate and work together as needed.

FDT® Technology was an early standard defined to support the connection and flow of intelligent information– providing secure and reliable interoperability across automation systems, networks and devices. Today, it is the industry’s established integration standard, globally adopted with hundreds of thousands of FDT/FRAME™-enabled control and asset management systems and tens of millions of FDT/DTM™-enabled field devices.

FDT’s founding principle of a unified architecture allows for central and remote lifecycle management and the communications flow of data throughout disparate industrial topologies. The technology provides end users with an open standard to incorporate any protocol (open or proprietary), system vendor or device supplier of their choosing – with secure data exchange at all levels of the architecture – to meet their current and future requirements. It has also been updated to address modern mobility, security and authentication requirements.

Today, plants and factories employing FDT-enabled systems are already benefitting from open access to the Industrial Internet. To advance its support of the IIoT and Industrie 4.0, FDT Group has developed a solution known as “FITS™” (FDT IIoT Server). It enables mobility, cloud, and fog enterprise applications, as well as sensor-to-cloud and enterprise-wide connectivity employing FRAME™ and DTM™ business logic at the heart of its client-server architecture.

With FITS and other initiatives, FDT Group is committed to making the IIoT a reality via a broad ecosystem that spans the process, hybrid and factory automation markets, and involves controls and instrumentation suppliers, end users, standards organizations, etc. – all aimed at promoting interoperability, security and mobility through new, adaptive manufacturing assets. The organization is working with various IIoT initiatives around the world to ensure the FDT architecture meets their specific requirements.

FITS represents the next generation of technology intended to protect legacy investments in the FDT standard through advanced business logic, well-defined interfaces and common components, while also providing the foundation for a modern, integrated automation architecture.

The FDT architecture is being enhanced to include operating system (OS) agnostic support for standard browsers, fit-for-purpose apps, and general Web Services utilizing the latest generation of FRAMEs and DTMs. Current FDT-enabled systems support an IIoT-connected enterprise by creating a single system infrastructure that standardizes the connection of disparate automation assets. FITS optimizes this capability by delivering complete interoperability across both current and emerging standards, and supporting the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Users can switch standard protocols for any level of backbone architecture. It is a versatile approach allowing FDT to be deployed as a cloud, fog, local server, or standalone platform. The enhanced architecture is scalable to suit the needs of a single manufacturing facility or an entire industrial enterprise.

The FITS Architecture

From an architectural standpoint, the core FRAME and DTM components are surrounded by three primary sectors: the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), Web Services and the Control portion of the application.

FDT/OPC UA information modeling has been designed and released to create an all-in-one client/server FDT/FRAME Application enabling sensor-to-cloud, enterprise-wide connectivity – making it possible to share information between higher-level applications and the FITS architecture. Together, FDT and OPC UA employ a publish-subscribe methodology allowing sensor, network and topology information to permeate the enterprise, including mobile devices, distributed control systems (DCSs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the cloud, the IIoT and Industry 4.0. Furthermore, the FDT/OPC UA capability provides access to real-time plant information and asset health data with Namur NE107 asset diagnostics available throughout the plant topology via FDT’s key network tunneling feature.

Web Services supports a standardized mobile access approach to the FITS architecture enabled by browsers, apps, standalone applications, or anything else capable of interfacing via web sockets. Users can take advantage of standard browsers to gain access to device DTMs and FRAME-enabled systems as part of the FITS application, or write custom apps and programs. Devices utilizing Web Services can be connected through wired media (e.g., Ethernet), fiber optics, or wireless networks.

Control capabilities allowing operational management and maintenance are at the heartbeat of the architecture for industrial automation networks and attached devices. Connectivity remains intact no matter how FITS is deployed, whether it is directly connected to the IIoT, interfaced in the fog, located in the cloud, or established as a standalone application. FDT’s techniques for tunneling are transparent in all scenarios. This solution can accommodate traditional direct connection of the automation network, as well as secure remote connection of a cloud-based architecture encompassing edge devices.

FITS features robust layered security addressing all the aforementioned components of the server architecture. For example, it leverages vetted industry standards and encrypted communications, with transport layer security (TLS) utilizing secure HTTPS and WSS communication protocols. There are also 509v3 certificates for authentication and authorization of client devices. Additionally, the solution employs on-the-wire security and roll-based user security as appropriate.

FDT was developed to support all common automation industry networks, and its open architecture makes it possible for users to add networks in response to changing industry demands. The technology’s ability to seamlessly nest or tunnel through a myriad of networks to transparently communicate with end devices demonstrates its pivotal position in an intelligent, connected enterprise. The standard is written such that the user has no awareness that routing through different networks is taking place.

Until recently, FDT has typically been deployed in a single instance for a single facility. But with the growing use of cloud and fog applications, it is possible for a single installation to support an entire enterprise from the cloud – including any number of industrial networks or plants. All existing features are maintained with this architecture. The scalable nature of FITS communications also allows FITS to feed data to other cloud instances such as Microsoft Azure through the use of its native OPC UA support or with the simple addition of an AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol) Gateway DTM.

What FITS Means for Suppliers and End Users

The new era of automation is upon us. As the industry evolves with new solutions to support IIoT/Industry 4.0 applications, so has FDT with FITS that will empower the intelligent enterprise supporting the “connected world” for both suppliers and end users.

For system and device suppliers, FDT Developer Tools such as FRAME and DTM Common Components provide the right of passage to solutions in compliance with the latest version of the specification enabling FITS. FDT service providers are also readily available to help with solution implementations.

For end users in the process, hybrid and factory automation markets, the FITS architecture will empower them with open solutions that remain modular, flexible, and scalable to support today’s installed base while advancing to adapt as the industry demands – thus streamlining the evolving ecosystem exchange of the future.

Learn more about FITS

Automation professionals interested in learning more about FITS are welcome to attend a complementary workshop on April 4, 2017, in Germany, and on September 24, 2017, in the USA. For more information about these events and topics to be discussed, please visit: http://fdtgroup.org/events/

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