The worlds of IT and manufacturing have been converging for several years now, and nowhere was this trend more evident than at the IoT Solutions World Congress, held last week in Barcelona, Spain, and attended by ARC analysts. Co-sponsored by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), the event took place for the third year and is growing rapidly, according to the organizers.
This year’s congress looked strikingly like the IT halls at the Hanover Fair and the SPS IPC Drives show in Germany. Exhibitors were an eclectic mix of established IT companies like Microsoft, SAP, Intel and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, offset by a handful of automation suppliers (Honeywell, ABB, Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation, Harting), and rounded out by a variety of IoT start-up companies looking to cash in on nascent industrial markets.
The market for smart, IIoT-enabled industrial devices is still in an early stage, and competition to deliver device-level architectures is still. With its Azure IoT platform, Microsoft has taken the lead, but there are plenty of alternatives. These include EdgeX Foundry, launched earlier this year by the Linux Foundation. EdgeX Foundry is a vendor-neutral, open source project to build a common open framework for IoT edge computing. Its members include large IT companies (Dell, Analog Devices, VMware), a long list of mostly unknown start-ups, and just one company clearly focused on automation: Opto22. Red Hat was also present at the fair with its open source IoT platform.
For industrial users, the fastest way to get started in IoT is to enable internet-connectivity for installed devices, ranging from sensors to PLCs. Many companies solve this challenge with gateways or edge computers, which are compact, headless industrial PCs. Harting, which has its roots in industrial connectors, showed its Mica line of ruggedized gateways. Mica gateways run on open-source Linux and can be configured to communicate over any common network. According to Harting, the real value of gateways comes when a user wishes to add new hardware, like an additional pump or flowmeter, to an existing machine. The classic solution is put in a new PLC and associated equipment, which might cost around $6,000 with all the necessary hardware and software. Today, that same functionality can be gained by installing a gateway programmed to collect data and monitor or control the device. These devices cost well below $1,000 and some are available for as low as $300. Even after adding in other hardware, software and services, a comparable unit solution price of around $1,000 is possible – far below that of the classic approach.
Exhibiting at the Microsoft partner booth, Rockwell Automation showed two new information processors (also gateways or edge computers) for the company’s ControlLogix and CompactLogix PLC lines. For ControlLogix, the process is a sidecar module that communicates with other modules in the same chassis over the common backplane. For CompactLogix, Rockwell goes one step further and implements the gateway directly on one core of the PLC’s four-core processor. This allows the PLC to double as a gateway with the benefit of high-speed access to PLC data.
Yokogawa exhibited the company’s new IIoT architecture that it plans to release early in 2018. Developed jointly with Microsoft, FogHorn Systems, Bayshore Networks, and Telit IoT Platforms, the new IIoT architecture is designed to allow the delivery of new services. An example is services for monitoring “data meaning” by detecting and reporting abnormal patterns in data that could indicate a potential security breach.
Advantech exhibited together with Stratus, which helps industrial users take advantage of virtualization on the plant floor to consolidate manufacturing software. Advantech also showed its line of wireless IO devices that allow IO to be installed anywhere in the factory without the need for PLC integration. IO data are collected by a wireless gateway and then made available to other devices on the plant network.
The IoT Solutions World Congress brings together the two very different cultures of IT and manufacturing. Many visitors learned for the first time what a PLC is, while others tried to understand the role that blockchain may soon play in securely recording data from manufacturing processes. The congress takes place again next year in October in Barcelona.