The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has emerged as the preeminent initiative to develop the infrastructure of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). By playing a leadership role in the IIC’s Smart Factory Task Group, B&R Industrial Automation is helping to make IIoT a practical reality for all manufacturing enterprises—not just the largest or most capital-intensive companies.
While the IIC addresses application requirements ranging from the electrical grid to agriculture to traffic control, the Smart Factory group focuses on requirements specific to manufacturing automation. Our group seeks to engage automation end users to assure the resulting framework is relevant to manufacturers. And we seek to leverage as many existing manufacturing standards as possible.
Where to start with IIoT
What are your initial IIoT hurdles? Security concerns? Having a realistic payback in mind? Knowing how to implement the technologies and processes needed? A viable timeframe? Is IIoT even achievable with available resources?
These are all legitimate concerns. And as with any major technology initiative, such as implementing track and trace, uncertainty arises when standards and best practices are not defined. The role of the IIC and the Smart Factory Task Group is to help define and clarify the architecture of IIoT—and it all begins with standards.
The IIoT cannot exist without interoperability, and that requires standards. It is essential to arrive at a consensus among many constituents, assure a level playing field, and avoid being overly prescriptive with rapidly evolving technologies.
The IIC does not intend to be a standards body, but rather to identify and aggregate standards into its frameworks and identify gaps that need to be addressed.
The Smart Factory Task Group addresses standards specific to manufacturing automation, but not necessarily required in other IIoT applications. These include real-time, determinism, precision and process requirements.
This is important work because of what can happen when standards lag implementation. When standards lag behind, the proliferation of non-interoperable technologies can flourish, as we’ve seen with the various flavors of industrial Ethernet. In contrast, the Internet itself demonstrates how commerce can flourish when technology standards are established upfront.
The Smart Factory Task Group is working to establish a framework to address specific manufacturing industry needs related to communication and real-time operating systems. This framework will be presented in a streamlined hierarchy that will enable machine-to-machine, machine-to-edge and machine-to-cloud communications.
Standards like OPC UA (Open Platform Communications – Unified Architecture) will play a central role in the IIoT and the Smart Factory Task Group’s framework. OPC UA has been embraced by virtually every automation supplier, and developers of industrial automation standards like MTConnect and ISA TR88.02 (PackML) are working together with the OPC Foundation to write companion specifications.
Because a term like “real time” can be relative to the application, real-time operating systems will receive special attention from the task group. Even though such operating systems are used in industries ranging from aerospace to energy, many manufacturing processes need to operate reliably within fractions of a second. For example, machine safety could require that motors respond to commands from the machine network and go into safe mode in less than 10 ms.
What’s the difference between remote machine access and IIoT? In a word: scale.
Today, it is entirely possible to remotely monitor machines, perform diagnostics, acquire and calculate overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) data, upload production data and download recipes. But the IIoT analytics and optimization that promise the most productivity improvement will require continuous, rather than periodic, access to the machinery. That means a corresponding increase in security, which the IIC is addressing.
At B&R, we anticipate connected machinery to undergo threat assessments just as safety risk assessments are performed today—the difference being that threat assessments will occur on an ongoing basis as threats evolve.
What’s missing in the Smart Factory Task Group’s initiatives? You.
IIC membership is predominantly comprised of technology providers, along with large companies like Boeing and Procter & Gamble. What’s needed is input from the owners of the manufacturing assets to ensure that the technologies and standards being developed are relevant to their actual operational needs. Engaging these end users is a key mission of the Smart Factory Task Group’s charter, specifically through both IIC’s public forums and a new initiative involving IIC testbeds.
I encourage end users to attend IIC events that are open to the public. Doing so will help you gain first mover advantage and demonstrate thought leadership to your company’s stakeholders. If your IIoT strategy calls for gaining first mover advantage, strongly consider full IIC membership and participation in the Smart Factory Task Group.