Understanding the Role of Gateways

Aug. 9, 2016
Connecting devices, machines and systems to a network is at the core of the Industrial Internet of Things concept. The goal is to allow these connected components to communicate with each other to become an intelligent system—and gateways are the key.

Until recently, it was difficult for separate pieces of industrial automation equipment to communicate with each other. IMS Research estimates that 85 percent of the legacy devices installed still lack this ability due to the lack of compatibility between different manufacturers. The lack of compatible standards and programming languages meant that gathering all the data in one program was an expensive challenge.

Although many devices haven’t yet standardized their programming, technological advances are enabling manufacturers such as Advantech to develop hardware and software that can communicate with and collect data from all manner of devices.

Most new devices on the market offer smart connectivity—i.e., the ability to connect to and be controlled from a wide range of Internet-based devices. They can be easily monitored from web-enabled SCADA management software, such as Advantech’s WebAccess via Ethernet or wireless networks, and increasingly don’t require the services of a gateway.

The challenge that remains for most manufacturers involves the monitoring of disparate legacy equipment with the same software. That’s where gateways play an important role.

Advantech’s solution to this problem has been to design and build cloud-enabled HMI edge gateway computers, such as the UNO-1372G, UNO-1252G, UNO-2200 and APAX-5000 with dual LAN ports, COM ports, CANbus and iDoor modules, for connecting to multiple interfaces. For the oil and gas and water/wastewater industries, Advantech’s ADAM-3600 series intelligent remote terminal units (RTUs) can complete tasks on site and deliver data to the cloud.

To help address oil and gas industry-specific legacy device connection issues, Advantech’s APAX-5402-E2A0 2-slot PCI express module, APAX-5490 Local Communication Module and APAX-5090 Remote Communication Module use iDoor Modules to act as vertical gateways and convert the protocols from legacy equipment to new management software.

Advantech’s iDoor technology is a modular method of adding flexible functionality to a range of devices. For use in gateway applications, iDoor modules can connect directly to CANBus, Profibus, Profinet, EtherCAT, EtherNet/IP, Sercos and Powerlink devices, saving users from additional purchases of separate devices to stand between the UNO or APAX and the legacy equipment.

By standardizing networking methods and allowing devices to use established industrial networking technologies to communicate via Ethernet, all devices old and new can now be connected to the same network.

Gateways are also essential for the proper flow of status and command information for use by manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Once all data from devices/machines has been filtered and converted into a standard protocol, the data can be transferred to servers via the Internet. Factory managers can then oversee the operating status of all machines and systems on all production lines of all of their facilities and implement remote management and control. Big Data applications also can be used for analysis to extract meaningful patterns to improve operations.

The next mission for gateways is to bridge the gap between machines and humans. Gateways are responsible for collecting data from machines and translating it into a useful operational status. Advantech’s WebAccess/HMI and its visualized HMI Runtime software, combined with the remote display technology of the UNO series computers, allows operators to diagnose and control machines without being present on site.

Advantech does this in two ways: WebAccess/HMI software provides centralized management of all devices and TagLink helps make the ADAM-3600 an intelligent RTU. WebAccess/HMI software enables data transfer between units and the management system by providing more than 450 PLC and controller communication drivers. TagLink, Advantech’s latest gateway technology designed just for RTUs, converts protocols such as DNP3 and IEC-60870-5-104 to Ethernet. The integrated software takes data from the devices connected to the RTU and allows users to access and view specific information about each of them. The ADAM-3600 acquires the device’s data, performs various calculations and can also diagnose faults. TagLink also allows engineers to control a device directly from the web server and transfer its data to cloud servers. With support for more than 200 I/O drivers, it can read information from the most common devices. This data can also be sent to WebAccess, where it can be analyzed in comparison to the data sent from other devices to achieve optimum efficiency.

By offering centralized management to Advantech IP-based devices over HTML5, there is no need for a centralized operation center, since the devices can be monitored across the Internet or intranet from any modern browser. WebAccess/NMS can be used to auto-discover any of the Advantech Ethernet devices on the network and create an automatic topological diagram of the network. If third-party devices are installed, their details can be imported separately and placed manually in the map.

Once we have old and new devices connected and talking to each other, the next step in creating a smart factory is to make the information visible to operators and managers so they can make informed decisions using the data delivered via the HMIs. This will lead to more intelligent factories and greater opportunities for manufacturers.

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