Field Level to Cloud Connections Take Off

May 12, 2016
Displays by Lenze and Beckhoff at Hannover Messe highlighted the trend toward enabling field-level devices to send data directly to the cloud for analysis.

Once largely thought of as a repository for enterprise-level data, the cloud is increasingly being leveraged as a home for field-level data with the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 initiatives. I reported on this trend in two other recent Hannover Messe 2016-related blogs: “Industrial Communication Organization Embrace the Cloud” and “Adaptive Learning for Factories and Businesses.” But these were not the only such announcements made at Hannover Messe this year.

Lenze and Beckhoff also staked out their own approach to cloud computing through partnerships with ei3 and Microsoft, respectively.

Through its partnership with ei3, Lenze is sending machine data to the cloud via ei3’s Amphion remote service security device (RSSD). On display as part of Lenze’s Easy Machine 2.0 exhibit at Hannover Messe (see video below), the Amphion model 14 – H RSSD device was positioned among the exhibit’s featured motors, drives, robotics, and handling and conveying systems. The Amphion device, which is designed for installation inside a machine control panel on the factory floor, provides a secure pathway for remotely accessing machines. Once a machine is connected to the Internet via Amphion, machine data is monitored and stored within the ei3 Remote Monitoring Cloud to provide controlled, secure access for remote service technicians.

Typically positioned behind an existing firewall to connect to the Internet through the existing plant network, the Amphion RSSD communicates via an encrypted connection to the data centers that host ei3’s Remote Monitoring Cloud. Industry standard security techniques are used to create a virtual private network between the facility’s LAN and the service technician. Amphion also provides firewall protection for the machine’s devices—protecting and isolating the machine’s devices from other network activity or unauthorized access.

According to Spencer Cramer, CEO of ei3, Amphion has been installed in 15,000 machines in 92 countries.

Also at Hannover Messe 2016, Beckhoff introduced its EK9160 IoT bus coupler. This coupler is designed to directly connect EtherCAT I/Os with the Microsoft Azure cloud without the use of a specific control program. With this type of direct field-level I/O connection to the cloud, process variables such as energy or condition monitoring data can be stored and analyzed in the Azure cloud.

With respect to Beckhoff controllers, the company’s TwinCAT IoT function module allows for the implementation of MQTT and AMQP functionalities directly through the controller to send data to the Azure Cloud. The TwinCAT IoT Data Agent serves as the gateway application to transmit data from TwinCAT 3 controllers as well as process data from TwinCAT 2 systems and third-party provider systems via OPC UA to Microsoft Azure communication services.

Beckhoff also showcased its CX51xx embedded PC at Microsoft’s Hannover Messe exhibit. Cited as “the world's first industrial automation controller with Windows 10 IoT Core Pro,” the controller can reportedly capture a device or system’s energy and process data and supply it to the Azure cloud for storage and analysis. Highlighting its early adopter status in the OPC UA Pub/Sub working group, Beckhoff showcased the embedded PC’s direct connection to OPC UA-AMQP Azure cloud services.

The video below highlights Lenze's Easy Machine 2.0 display at Hannover Messe 2016.