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WHITEPAPER: netFIELD—A Solution Portfolio for Simplifying IIoT Deployment

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


netFIELD is Hilscher's value-driven response to the complex challenges of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) deployment.


It delivers on the opportunities promised by digitalization and is designed for OEMs, component vendors, machine builders and plant operators as a "Portfolio Tool-kit" for gathering and using plant data more effectively and productively.


netFIELD is a highly versatile solution having many possible use cases. netFIELD enables vendors to focus on their own domain knowledge, while implementing a ready-made IIoT communication infrastructure that facilitates communications between netFIELD Edge Devices, their containerized applications and the netFIELD Cloud. The netFIELD Edge Devices can be managed locally or remotely via the netFIELD Cloud Platform and Portal. Benefits range from remote support of customer equipment to offering "Manufacturing as a Service" leasing options alongside direct sales.


For Equipment Manufacturers and Component Vendors, remote data access means a policy of continuous improvement can be implemented without impacting core customer application activity. In essence, netFIELD is an advanced service solution capable of being used on-premise or remotely to provide the customer with an overview of machine health status and productivity at any time and from any location. Results include better prescriptive maintenance and asset management, and easier staff succession planning. Data remains within a user's own ecosystem and netFIELD solutions can co-exist with existing control networks, with no interruptions.


The netFIELD Portfolio comprises four broad areas:

 

  • netFIELD Device: Sensor-level devices communicating operational (OT) data to netFIELD Edge gateways via Real-time Ethernet networks.
  • netFIELD Edge: Gateway devices for data aggregation and "on-premise" processing using "container" apps. Includes bi-directional communications with the netFIELD Cloud and third-party clouds.
  • netFIELD Cloud:

              • Platform: Administration and support of an entire netFIELD deployment as a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) running in the cloud.

             •  Portal: Web-based User Interface (UI) for remotely managing the netFIELD Platform and its connected netFIELD Edge gateways and Applications.

  • netFIELD Application: Container applications running on netFIELD Edge gateways and providing functions such as configuration, OPC UA and connectivity to commercial clouds.

 

Hilscher offers "on-board" training and support to make netFIELD deployments as simple as possible, particularly for first-time users.

   

WHAT'S netFIELD ALL ABOUT?


The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is ultimately about collecting more data at the plant level and using it intelligently to extract greater value from production units. The internet, together with powerful cloud-based services, has opened up fresh opportunities to do this. Previous IIoT solutions have shown how it can be done, but they have often been costly, complex propositions due to the expense of building weighty IT back-end systems.


netFIELD simplifies IIoT application by combining a flexible cloud-based solution that can be deployed to suit a wide variety of use case scenarios. It incorporates advanced Edge device capability based on Hilscher's 25 years of experience with industrial connectivity products.  It provides for easy aggregation and processing of data locally at the network Edge with advanced cloud-based services for remote management and administration of entire netFIELD infrastructure.


netFIELD Edge device gateways employ Container Applications (Apps) which are pre-packaged software modules for performing specific functions. They are stored in on-line repositories and are called up and managed by the netFIELD Platform to run on netFIELD Edge device gateways.


This concept is illustrated in the diagram below.

 

 

The netFIELD Cloud (Platform and Portal together) provide remote management for connected Edge devices, including the Container Apps. They support secure bi-directional data flows from Edge to cloud, including cloud to cloud transmissions where required.  The entire communication flow, as well as the registration of Edge devices is encrypted. Signed access tokens are additionally used to secure the REST API of the web services. All REST API interfaces are open and well documented for use in any application.


The netFIELD Edge gateways can also transmit data direct from netFIELD Edge to any commercial cloud or third-party systems.  Local management of netFIELD Edge Apps is also possible.

 

LOOKING DEEPER INTO netFIELD


The netFIELD solutions portfolio combines Hilscher hardware and software modules as below:

 

 

The heart of a netFIELD installation is one (or many) netFIELD Edge gateway devices running netFIELD OS, a lean (and secure) version of Linux developed by Hilscher. It also has security enhanced booting across a signed digital hardware-bound fingerprint.

 
Applications in the netFIELD environment are deployed using the Container concept, by which they do not run natively on the host Linux system but in a Docker runtime environment within netFIELD OS.  You can think of Container Applications as apps on a smartphone, called up and used as required.

 

Docker is a well-established open-source technology. Almost any application (even legacy software) can be “containerized” by converting it into a container image and storing it in a repository from where it can be pulled for use. New images are added all the time and Hilscher is contributing many netFIELD-specific examples for configuring and using netFIELD Edge devices. Users can build and deploy their own "container" images. 


Containers ensure that applications run in isolation. They are easily ported among Docker-capable platforms on different CPUs, making them scalable, re-usable, flexible and low cost.  There are thousands of container images already on-line, covering processes and procedures relevant to automation.


netFIELD OS (and therefore netFIELD Edge devices) incorporate two Docker environments for running Container Apps. One, Standard Docker, is controlled via the local web interface.  The second, IOT Edge Docker, is used when the netFIELD Edge device is on-boarded to the netFIELD Cloud. In this scenario all edge devices and application containers can be managed from the single-entry point.

 

  • Standard Docker environment: netFIELD Edge gateway devices use this in offline mode (without internet connection) for running Apps specific to the netFIELD Edge device and for container management. In Standard mode, netFIELD Edge device management uses an open source web administration tool running as a Container App and can only operate locally.
  • IOT Edge Docker environment: This is used to enable the communication infrastructure to the netFIELD Platform and provides the remote application container and device management capabilities.

 

Bundled netFIELD Apps include: Network protocol selection, netFIELD App OPC UA Client, netFIELD App PROFINET Tap, netFIELD App Edge Monitor and netFIELD App MQTT Broker.  A full listing can be found under netFIELD Applications, later in this document.  Business, analytical and enterprise apps can be created and deployed in these Docker environments as required by the user.


Above the netFIELD Edge are the netFIELD Platform and netFIELD Portal, which together make up the netFIELD Cloud. These support platform, device, and app services, ranging from device updates to the administration of users, permissions, and organizations for access control management and the structure of device hierarchy.


netFIELD Cloud includes remote management of the application "containers" running on the netFIELD Edge Device, and access to the netFIELD Edge device for servicing purposes. In addition, netFIELD Cloud ensures secure bi-directional communication between the machine plant and the netFIELD Cloud SaaS.


The open API architecture makes all functionalities nested in the platform available for use in customer applications on other commercial clouds. The netFIELD Cloud supports the whole software life cycle.


How the netFIELD Platform is deployed depends on individual use cases, and there are virtually no limits.


Support: Hilscher provides customers with an "On-boarding program" to evaluate, design and implement their digitalization strategies using netFIELD.  This covers IIoT hardware at the edge to data management across OT/IT (acquisition, aggregation, mapping, streaming) domains.  Hilscher´s experts accompany you throughout, from initial designs through to POC, pilot and industrial series products.

 

THE netFIELD SOLUTION PORTFOLIO: DEVICE, EDGE, CLOUD, APPLICATION

 

1.    netFIELD Device:


Comprising IP67 field-level interface modules supporting netIOL connectivity to IO-Link sensors over a local Real-time Ethernet network. A range of these devices is expected to be available in the near future.

 

2.    netFIELD Edge: 

 

netFIELD Edge Connect (available now). The IP20-rated Connect gateway couples a CPU processor with a dedicated Hilscher netX comms processor, including dual active Real-Time Ethernet Slave interfaces. It is the entry-level IIoT Edge gateway for netFIELD and can gather data from netFIELD field-level Devices over a Real-Time Ethernet network. It is capable of providing local processing support as well as acting as an interface to higher-level cloud-based services. It's controllable locally using a web interface or remotely via when on-boarded in the netFIELD.io platform.

 

netFIELD Edge On-Premise (available during 2020) – Similar to the netFIELD Edge Connect device (above) but with expanded resources. It can monitor Real-Time Ethernet traffic passively and is therefore "invisible" to production devices, including the PLC.  Its greater resources increase its potential for on-premise processing, reducing latencies that result from sending data to the cloud. Hence it delivers results more quickly and efficiently. It is managed locally using the Local Device Manager or remotely via the netFIELD Portal when on-boarded to the netFIELD Cloud.

 

 

netFIELD Datacenter (available during 2020) – a more powerful and scalable aggregator solution running on a certified third-party multi-processor server system in a VMware ESXi or a KVM (Linux Kernel based Virtual Machine) environment (e.g. Proxmox). It can aggregate data from multiple netFIELD Edge Devices on a cascaded netFIELD Edge device implementation. netFIELD Datacenter (available during 2020) – a more powerful and scalable aggregator solution running on a certified third-party multi-processor server system in a VMware ESXi or a KVM (Linux Kernel based Virtual Machine) environment (e.g. Proxmox). It can aggregate data from multiple netFIELD Edge Devices on a cascaded netFIELD Edge device implementation.

 

 sensorEDGE (available during 2020). An IP67-rated netFIELD device gateway for connecting eight IO-Link sensors to a special sensorEDGE Portal. This portal is a slimmed-down version of the full netFIELD Portal described below. It is intended for deployment where a full-scale cloud-based implementation cannot be cost justified. However, it still allows data to be viewed from anywhere in the world, including the direct access and visualization of IO-Link data.sensorEDGE (available during 2020). An IP67-rated netFIELD device gateway for connecting eight IO-Link sensors to a special sensorEDGE Portal. This portal is a slimmed-down version of the full netFIELD Portal described below. It is intended for deployment where a full-scale cloud-based implementation cannot be cost justified. However, it still allows data to be viewed from anywhere in the world, including the direct access and visualization of IO-Link data.

 

 

3.    netFIELD Cloud:

 

netFIELD Cloud is the solution for managing netFIELD deployments. It includes all organizational and administration functions, plus the management of Container Apps.  netFIELD Cloud also supports remote management of netFIELD Edge gateways for maintenance, including firmware updates, etc. In addition, netFIELD Cloud supports secure bidirectional communication of data across the entire netFIELD infrastructure, with open API connections making data flows and functions available to third party systems.


There are two parts to netFIELD Cloud: netFIELD Platform and netFIELD Portal.

 

  • netFIELD Platform:

 

 

 

The netFIELD Platform is the main functional part of the netFIELD Cloud and is for managing netFIELD Edge gateways and their Containers remotely.  Containers are used to provide a secure environment for customers and Hilscher to run applications. Some of the Containerized applications provided by Hilscher include: netFIELD App OPC UA Client; netFIELD App MQTT Message Broker; netFIELD App Platform Connector; netFIELD App AWS, Azure, and Google Connectors; netFIELD App PROFINET Device; and netFIELD App EtherNet/IP Protocol Adapter. netFIELD Platform Services manage users, organizations, roles, permissions, and keys, plus device data streaming through web sockets. Customers can build individual solutions by using open web services tools. End-to-end security is supported in netFIELD Platform with security standards such as OAuth, Device Certificates, TPM, and TLS.

 

  • netFIELD Portal:

 

 

netFIELD Portal is the GUI enabling remote management of a netFIELD Cloud infrastructure. Users manage and administer all the following from the Portal: Tenant Manager; Organization Manager; Device Manager; Container Manager; netFIELD Edge OS Manager; API Key Manager; Developers Cockpit; DI-Portal (external link).


Hilscher and third-party vendors may place containerized applications in the Hilscher Container library from the Portal. Customers may subscribe to these containerized software applications (SaaS) by deploying them from the netFIELD Platform to the netFIELD Edge device.


Hilscher can provide OEM customers with their own netFIELD Cloud instance under the Hilscher netFIELD Cloud Enterprise model. Customers can do with these instances and tenants as they wish.

 

Here's a summary of the dashboard functions:

 

  • Tenant Manager: The instance administrator (this is usually Hilscher, but it can be a customer) can create and manage tenants and define who the tenant administrator shall be.
  • API Key Manager: Can create keys to permit the API usage of the netFIELD Platform.
  • Tenant Administrator: There can be many tenants in one instance.   A tenant administrator can manage sub-organization, devices, roles, containers, etc.
  • Device Manager: netFIELD Edge gateway devices are organized in hierarchies. Containers can be automatically installed when a gateway is on-boarded.  Functions include the ability to configure and deploy containers, and create "web hooks" to call external web-services for cloud-to-cloud integrations.
  • Organization Manager: Manages organization hierarchies and the various users of the netFIELD Cloud at each organization level. It allows the creation of specific roles for users and it adds fine-grade permissions.
  • netFIELD Edge OS Manager: Manages the availability of netFIELD OS versions for device operating system updates.
  • Container Manager: Manages the application container library. Each item is referencing an image in a Docker registry including the authentication information to pull the container from this Docker registry.

 

4.  netFIELD Application

 

 

  • netFIELD App Platform Connector: Transport data from the MQTT communication infrastructure to netFIELD Cloud and the platform API, where this data is exposed as a Web Socket Secure endpoint. You are free to configure which data topics are transported and you can stream this data into analytics pipelines or real-time dashboards. The firmware update of the netFIELD Edge gateway device is also managed by the netFIELD App Platform Connector container.
  • netFIELD App Edge Monitor: Gain health insights and take action based on the acquisition of netFIELD Edge configuration information and resource consumption data.  The collected information is published to the MQTT communication infrastructure on a regular base. When netFIELD Proxy is available and configured, these data are provided to netFIELD Cloud and a data visualization is available in the netFIELD Portal.
  • netFIELD App PROFINET Device: netFIELD Edge devices with integrated netX technology can be connected directly to a Real-Time Ethernet network. In this case the netFIELD Edge device can exchange cyclic IO data with the PLC. Input and output data can be read/written via the MQTT communication infrastructure. In the case of a netFIELD Connect Edge device, the application container is enabling the Real-Time Ethernet interface for use as a TCP/IP network connection.
  • netFIELD App PROFINET Topology: Recognizes which devices, including IO-Link sensors at the field level, are available on the network and how they are related to each other. The complete set of asset data and network information is published to the MQTT communication infrastructure on a regular basis.
  • netFIELD App PROFINET TAP: Enable brown-field machinery for condition monitoring and data analytics applications. It allows the extraction of machinery process data simply by monitoring the existing Real-Time Ethernet network traffic. There is no need to change PLC or machine configuration. The extracted data are published to the MQTT infrastructure.
  • netFIELD App OPC UA Client: Allows access to one or more field level devices equipped with an OPC UA server. The netFIELD App OPC UA Client reads the node tree of each server. The read data nodes can be selected for publishing the data to the MQTT infrastructure.  All data is provided as interoperable and easy to process JSON encoded messages.
  • Additional Apps: Users can run Node-Red in a Container to run additional functions, for example, EtherNet/IP, OPC UA Server and other protocols.

 

CASE STUDIES

 

Machine Builder Lease Strategies
 

 

An OEM machine builder serves the special assembly machine market. Its products are “one-offs” but there's enough commonality for industrial control systems and local networking to remain similar.  The machine builder’s customers are increasingly wanting flexible manufacturing lines based around more resilient machines having zero downtime. The machine builder decided to create a range of machines meeting these needs and realized that centralized management of all installed machines from their factory HQ would be required.  From this evolved a “rental” strategy for the new range of machines, whereby customers would lease machines instead of making outright purchases. By offering a central monitoring, comprehensive predictive-maintenance and repair service based on the netFIELD platform, the company could guarantee up-times as well as minimizing its customers’ staffing costs and inventories.  A big benefit for the company is that continuous improvement programs can be deployed to learn how machines perform, allowing weak points to be identified and eliminated.  Some ten machines are currently deployed. Each machine is fitted with one netFIELD Edge gateway. This machine builder is now negotiating with international customers to extend netFIELD to other installations around the world.

 


OEM Machine Deployment and Remote Management

 

An OEM’s machines are being used to process materials. The OEM and its customers need to monitor and measure data from the manufacturing process. This OEM has thousands of machines installed world-wide that require monitoring and updating. Increasingly, the OEM’s machines are being leased to its customers and the measurement of products produced by the machines is the basis for customer billing.  This is essentially “Manufacturing-as-a-Service”, with the OEM or dealer taking responsibility for the reliability and security of day-to-day operations, and the long-term maintenance of equipment.

 
In addition to basic manufacturing, machines may be required to gather data relating to local operating conditions (e.g. temperatures, wind speeds etc.) and even security-oriented information sources such as from IP video cameras.  Extra data may also be needed for predictive maintenance (e.g. vibration monitoring of motors or pumps). 


Individually supporting each unit locally is inefficient and expensive, so a centralized management resource is required to handle remotely all the functions required to ensure that machines operate accurately and reliably. Remote machine monitoring and management can consistently deliver quality, performance, and reliability information in real-time. With this data, engineers can use VPN technology or local interfaces to the machine controller to effect manufacturing process improvements.


In 2019 the OEM machine builder commissioned a Hilscher netFIELD solution to manage its global network of machines, both purchased and leased by its customers and dealers. Around 150 netFIELD Edge Devices are being deployed to obtain the customer-required data from existing machines in the field. The next phase will expand the netFIELD implementation to thousands of customer machines. Data is stored and analyzed in an off-premise cloud structure. As tenants of the netFIELD cloud and with proper log in credentials, all national dealers, end users and OEMs have access to the machine data.


For More Information: 


netFIELD Overview


netFIELD Containers


netFIELD Platform


netFIELD OS


Technical Questions: Please email Hilscher, or call 1(630)505-5301, to find out more about netFIELD's powerful, open, and highly customizable features. Let us show you how netFIELD can enable your entry into the world of IIoT.


About Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH and Hilscher North America, Inc.


Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH is a global specialist in network connectivity solutions for device makers, OEMs and end-user manufacturers. Founded in 1986 and with locations worldwide, Hilscher focuses on industrial communications, with solutions spanning single-chip ASICS, embedded modules, PC cards, protocol converters and gateways, along with supporting software and development tools and services.


Hilscher’s own netX “system-on-a-chip” network controller is at the heart of every solution. netX allows for universal Master and/or Slave connection to all popular communications protocols, including: Fieldbuses, such as DeviceNet, Modbus, CC-Link and PROFIBUS; Real-Time Ethernets, such as EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, PROFINET, Modbus TCP, CC-Link IE, POWERLINK, Sercos and TSN; and IIoT protocols, such as OPC UA and MQTT.


To bring the benefits of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things to its customers, Hilscher has developed the netFIELD portfolio, a solutions platform for simplifying IIoT deployment. The netFIELD portfolio comprises: netFIELD Sensor-level Devices; netFIELD Edge Gateways; netFIELD Cloud, with a Software-as-a-Service Platform and Portal; and netFIELD Applications, which are containers to provide functions such as configuration and connectivity to automation protocols and commercial clouds.


Hilscher North America, Inc., based in a Chicago suburb, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH.