The automation industry has changed dramatically over the past decade with the advent of Industry 4.0 and the drive for greater connectedness and digitalization of all plant floor devices and related data. In response, technology suppliers and the working groups surrounding them have been in an almost constant state of change to keep up with and stay ahead of industry’s needs.
Recently, Dr. Peter Wenzel, executive director of the Profibus Nutzerorganization (user organization) posted an announcement that the changed industry environment ushered in by Industry 4.0 has “decisively altered the perspective of the working groups involved in technological developments.”
He explained that a full realization of Industry 4.0 is directly tied to robust real time-capable communications for operations technology (OT) and a secure communication platform for production control and data exchange with the cloud and other IT services.
“The result of this changing environment is that industrial communication has become even more important and dominant than it was before,” Wenzel said.
To highlight what this means for the Profibus/Profinet International (PI) organization’s technology portfolio, Wenzel pointed to PI’s recent inclusion of omlox location/tracking data as an example of how PI is expanding its footprint beyond traditional I/O communications and into other information that assets on a factory floor can provide. “This is a big step beyond simple data communication,” he added.
Another example he cited is the group’s recent creation of a “Profile for Robot Systems” working group that identifies data structures as well as a standardized command interface for robotics. “This uniform data interface between PLCs and robot controllers makes robot programming easier and more efficient for manufacturers of both PLCs and robots, and of course, for the PLC programmers themselves,” said Wenzel.
He also noted the ongoing co-evolution of IO-Link and Profinet. These two groups began working together years ago around the introduction of application profiles, which enable data from all devices in a particular family (e.g., drives or process instruments) to look the same, regardless of the supplying vendor. Wenzel said these application profiles were “information models before information models existed. Now, with the increasing usage of edge computing/gateways, there is often access to device information outside the traditional way via the PLC. Therefore, we supply information models of the devices based on an industrial standard like OPC UA. This is being done for both IO-Link and Profinet.”
Discussing these new directions for Profibus/Profinet, Wenzel made it clear that these adaptations are not part of an attempt by PI to be a one-size-fits-all organization for the digital transformation of industry. “One organization is hardly in a position to cover all aspects” of the advance of Industry 4.0 and the related merging of IT and OT, he said.
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Michael Bowne, executive director at PI North America, added that “one organization or protocol alone cannot satisfy all the communication requirements of Industry 4.0. Standards bodies are responsible for technologies, each having their role and task. Some are related to the physical layer of the communication, some are related to the transport layer, and some are the protocols themselves. It’s akin to using different technologies and protocols in the consumer world. When we want to access a webpage, we use HTTP; when we want to transfer a file, we use FTP; when we want to run these protocols without wires, we use Wi-Fi. Each technology has its role and is suited to its particular task. The same is true for industrial communication. When we want deterministic data transfer and control, we use Profinet; when we want to move information to higher level systems, we use OPC UA; when we want to run these protocols in hazardous environments, we use Ethernet-APL (Advanced Physical Layer). Again, each technology has its role and is suited to its particular task.”
A full realization of Industry 4.0 is directly tied to robust real time-capable communications for operations technology (OT) and a secure communication platform for production control and data exchange with the cloud and other IT services.
Examples of the type of ongoing collaboration between protocol organizations referenced by Bowne include PI’s collaborative work with FDI (field device integration) in the process control industry, and collaborative work on Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) in the factory automation market.
“Since TSN is not just one thing, but rather a collection of tools, IEEE 60802 is ensuring the TSN tools employed for industrial automation are the same and independent of the protocols they are running,” said Bowne. “We’re making sure we don’t end up with different flavors of TSN on the factory floor.”
Industrial Internet Consortium changes name
In related news, the Industrial Internet Consortium announced a new direction and a new name—Industry IoT Consortium (IIC). As part of IIC’s announcement of this name change, the consortium said its new mission is “to bring transformative business value to organizations, industry, and society by accelerating the adoption of trustworthy IoT systems. IIC's new focus will drive technology innovation that fosters business transformation so that organizations can realize a return on their IoT investments.”
As for how this name change reflects specific directional changes in the organization, Dr. Richard Soley, executive director of the IIC, said, "We recognized the need to focus on technology deployments to solve technical problems and strengthen the IIC ecosystem by unifying members around successful IoT deployment outcomes. We're applying technology to address customer pain points and improve business results.”
Soley added that “industry organizations and technology providers turn to IIC and its members for IoT support and guidance. Now we'll guide them on the application of IoT technology and digital transformation enablers to achieve positive business outcomes."
Amid these changes, the organization says it will continue its operations around best-practice frameworks, testbeds, and providing standards requirements to standards development organizations. IIC will focus on work in IT, networks, manufacturing, energy, utilities, and healthcare markets, as well as academia and research.
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