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Why Collaboration Is the Key to IIoT

Spring 2017

CEO, Hilscher North America, Inc.Building the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a complex undertaking.
When Hilscher started to create an IIoT strategy, we realized that no single organization would be capable of a total solution. Too much is involved. Plus, there is a lot that automation and IT vendors need to learn about each other.

Both sides are coming together slowly. But with new technologies like deep learning and artificial intelligence starting to impact automation, it’s the IT suppliers who hold most of the aces.

Large automation vendors are moving towards cloud-based solutions of course. But I think their solutions will depend as much on what IT vendors can offer as on the decades of controls experience they bring to the party. A collaborative approach is inevitable.
Thanks to collaboration, SCADA is getting a mid-life kicker. Hilscher’s new marketing partnership with SCADA-specialist Inductive Automation and middleware supplier Cirrus Link Solutions demonstrates this. The connection is a natural one: Hilscher fills the data-gathering role via our netIOT Edge Gateway, while Inductive Automation supplies the SCADA functionality. The key, however, is the MQTT middleware supplied by Cirrus Link Solutions - and there’s an interesting backstory here.

MQTT is already a de facto standard for IIoT. It’s lean and fast; it works in parallel with standard protocols; and it’s ideal for Internet connectivity. But it transmits raw data, in other words there’s no structure or context. Cirrus Link Solutions is directly addressing this discrepancy.

Arlen Nipper, co-inventor of MQTT and CTO of Cirrus Link Solutions, sees IIoT as a massive opportunity. His company has developed an open specification called SparkPlug that adds the missing structure and context, making the IIoT SCADA task elegantly simple.

Inductive Automation notes that, with their Ignition system, anyone can now access any tag by name from anywhere in an enterprise within minutes.
Another example of business collaboration comes from the IT majors.
With the arrival of cloud strategies and the use of “as-a-service” product delivery (whereby customers use standard modules and pay only for what they need), traditional IT software came under threat. IT vendors quickly spotted the opportunity to dig deep into new working environments, including our manufacturing automation universe.

But they knew they could not do it alone. And so, collaborative efforts are underway to bring the two worlds together. The prize is a quantum leap in operating efficiencies for manufacturing and new market opportunities for IT.

Take the digital twin concept for example, where a real system is partnered with a virtual copy in the cloud. From engineering through asset management to maintenance and even eventual dismantling, modelling a system in software offers huge potential.
However, creating a digital twin requires comprehensive, reliable and readily-accessible device information. Unfortunately, that is not easy to access and that is preventing faster deployment of the digital twin approach.
So, permit me if you will, to mention the Device Information Portal that Hilscher is planning to launch.

The Device Information Portal is a library of device description files and similar data, aggregated both automatically using web crawlers and manually through direct upload by device manufacturers.

This Portal will support all protocols and manufactured devices. Vendors will have the chance to check, upload and amend the data themselves before it goes live and they will be responsible for its accuracy. We’ll make things easy for them and we’ll make the data available to anyone who has a need. In time, we’d like to include documentation, photographs and just about anything else that might be of value in the IIoT universe.

Major end users we’ve spoken to are eager for us to succeed. Our discussions with fieldbus organizations and device vendors also confirm that the demand is there, as is across-the-board support. Even our competitors want to be involved!

Yet another example of IIoT collaboration in action?

Reproduced by permission from an article first published in Automation World.