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Guest post by Fabrice Jadot. This blog originally appeared here

Some of us are old enough to remember the days just before the internet became a permanent fixture in our lives. At that time, the IT industry had been struggling for years to come up with a way to harmonize disparate proprietary communication protocols. The goal was to make it easier for computer systems to talk to each other and share data.  At first, unifying the protocols proved frustrating and costly workarounds were necessary to help facilitate the flow of communications.  Then, gradually, a tipping point was reached. The economics of connectivity changed dramatically, vendor and user attitudes became more open, standards bodies coalesced, and communications technology advancements (like TCP/IP) allowed the floodgates to open.

Today, manufacturing and process industries find themselves in a similar “pre-internet” dilemma. Within the context of control systems and field devices, proprietary protocols are the rule as opposed to the exception. Although some standardized protocols are beginning to emerge, many of these will not interoperate without configuring specialized gateways that add cost and complexity.

Such a situation places constraints on the ability of industrial organizations to cash in on the promise of the new Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) wave of technological and productivity advancements.

But there is hope.  Progress towards a converged communication protocol environment is being made on several fronts.  Consider the following…

Figure 1 Automation Pyramid

Some layers of the industrial automation pyramid are becoming more open– The theoretical layers of the industrial automation pyramid include field devices at the bottom (i.e., actuators, sensors, hardware), then a controller layer (i.e., PLCs), then a supervisory / control layer (SCADA, MES), and finally, a top enterprise-wide layer (i.e., ERP).

The good news is that, at the controller layer, a standard called OPC UA (Object linking and embedding for Process Control Unified Architecture) is emerging.  The OPC UA standard is a series of specifications that are being jointly developed by industry vendors, end-users and software developers. The OPC UA standards specify the communication of industrial process data, alarms and events, historical data and batch process data.  Key control systems vendors are beginning to build and design products that conform to OPC UA standards. OPC UA is platform independent and ensures the seamless flow of information among devices at the controller layer from multiple vendors. The OPC Foundation is responsible for the development and maintenance of this standard.

Unfortunately, at the layer below, where field devices communicate across to other field devices and up to controllers, the standardization situation is still murky. As a result of the dominance of separate, proprietary protocols, a “field bus war” has been fought for many years. End users are bearing the brunt of the resulting extra cost by having to install and support gateways in order to interpret the data based on the different proprietary protocols.

A new Time Sensitive Network (TSN) standard could inadvertently accelerate convergence at the field device level – TSN is a new standard that is currently under development by IEEE. It’s not yet completely finalized, but it is well advanced. One of the main purposes of the standard is to address the issue of time sensitive data (real time data).  TSN is exploring ways to standardize the definition of “real-time data” and to assure that mission-critical, time-sensitive data can be transferred and shared within strict bounds of latency and reliability. Also under consideration is how time sensitive data can avoid being held up on networks that will become increasingly congested with IIoT data.

Figure 2 Industrial Communication Stack

Although not a goal of TSN, movement towards more converged industrial protocol standardization at the field device level could result, with TSN working to harmonize all of the layers across the industrial communication stack (except for the application layer), as shown in figure 2.

Such a unified industrial protocol will allow organizations across the industry to accelerate the benefits they can derive from the data that they already have in-house and from the future data they process.

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Guest blog post by Greg Conary. This blog was originally published here

IIoT business

It’s become quite clear that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the future of Industry. By now we’ve well and truly covered the point that IIoT is, in fact, not hype. For end users and OEMs IIoT, cloud and big data analytics are creating very real business opportunities.

IIoT not only enhances the communication between machines and people – it is facilitating the next wave of value-added customized business services. In fact, Gartner is forecasting that by 2020 more than 80% of the IoT supplier revenue will be derived from services. IIoT represents a significant market opportunity for industrial manufacturers to improve their operational productivity and the performance of machines they sell to customers.

Human productivity is also an area that has huge potential for improvement thanks to IIoT-related services. I recently attended an event hosted by theInternational Business Congress (IBC) and heard a figure quoted on “wrench time” for field operators. It said that in a 10 hour shift a worker spends only 2.5 hours of that shift on productive work – work that adds value to the business – the rest of the time is taken by looking for information – probably travelling back and forth to a central maintenance office presumably searching filing cabinets looking for service manuals, along with admin work and various other non-value add tasks. This is a very interesting figure because it means that the worker is only actively productive for 25% of his time!

IIoT from a services standpoint will have several key benefits for our field worker, his boss, the business and its suppliers.

Firstly, technology vendors and suppliers will increasingly be called on to deliver their knowledge and expertise to their customers as a service. This means sites can outsource some of their maintenance. For example a facility that is trying to downsize its staff can rely on its suppliers to monitor critical equipment health via secondary sensors and upload data to the cloud. This can be very useful for complicated high performance machinery because the vendor is, in fact, likely to be the expert in the operation of the equipment. It also means that the business does not need to directly employ a specialised, and highly paid, member of staff to wait around and fix an issue when it arises. Alternatively, if a company does want in house specialists and has multiple sites, they can hire one expert who, through the use of IIoT can, monitor critical equipment at multiple sites.

Secondly, IIoT and related services will improve the efficiency of staff in the field no matter their age or experience level. We refer to this as the augmented operator and it can be illustrated through this simple analogy: if a 55 year old operator walks by a machine that is making a funny noise he may well know from experience exactly what the issue is and how to solve the problem. Contrast that with the new 25 year old operator who, without the aid of mobility devices, has to go back to the maintenance office to look for the manual of the equipment and, when he can’t find it, start ringing around to find someone who is experienced with the equipment. Going forward, the 25 year old will be able to pull the manual and troubleshooting charts up on his mobile device. Some newer equipment even has the capability to flash a dynamic QR code directly on the device allowing the operator to access real time information on the problem the equipment is experiencing, which helps the operator diagnose and solve the issue much more quickly.

Thirdly, on the customer side, IIoT will assist in the management of the maintenance supply chain by making it easier to track spare parts and inventory levels, and simplifying the ordering process. From the vendor side this represents an opportunity to build new service revenue streams by creating such digitized services – including digitized options for ordering manuals and spare parts and putting in place models to monetise the knowledge, advice and best practice of its own employees for greater customer service.

Finally, IIoT services will make the “great crew change” a less scary transition. Similar to my points above on worker efficiency and productivity, as we move from experienced operators to the next generation there are two telling statistics about aging workforce:

  1. 50% of all refinery staff will retire in the next 5 to 7 years[1]
  2. The millennial generation will be the largest generation in the workforce by 2025[2]

So in a short period of time digital natives will make up the majority of the workforce. This means moving from an average workforce age of 50+ to a new guard of 20 somethings who have vastly less experience and very different working practices. Bridging this gap will require digital tools to not only capture the knowledge of older workers before they retire, but also make it available to the new generation in a way that supports their preference for digital work practices – tools such as augmented reality applications, dynamic QR codes and access to easy online support.

What unique services have you developed or experienced with the advent of IIoT?

[1] http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-04-02/news/38218078_1_oil-gas-aging-workforce-hr-manager

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/

About the Author

Greg Conary is Schneider Electric’s Senior Vice President of Strategy. In this role he is responsible for the strategic planning activities for the company’s Industry Business. Greg joined Schneider Electric in 2014 through the acquisition of Invensys. Prior to the acquisition he was the head of global business development for the Invensys systems business and was a leader on the integration of the company with Schneider Electric. In his capacity as head of Business Development, Greg was responsible for developing and executing growth strategies related to licensing, partnerships and distribution agreements around the globe. Throughout his career with Invensys Greg held various positions across the automation business in key account management, strategy, planning, M&A and in the CEO’s office. Prior to joining Invensys, Greg worked for the Ethyl Corporation where he held a series of senior positions in R&D, technical support and global accounts. Greg is a chemist by training and holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern Illinois and a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. He is a resident of the UK and a dual US and UK national.

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