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Skkynet at Automate Show in Chicago

There will be live demonstrations of DataHub, SkkyHub, and the ETK in two different areas of the Automate show at the McCormick Place in Chicago next week.  The Automate show is one of the largest industrial automation shows in North America, with displays of robotics, vision and motion control, and other cutting-edge technologies that attract automation and control engineers, managers, and researchers from across the world.

A Renesas demo at the Renesas pavilion, Booth #866, is being powered by Skkynet’s SkkyHub service and ETK.  The demo lets show attendees monitor the movement of a Festo linear piston from their mobile phones.  The base-level control of the piston is through a PLC that is connected to a Renesas Synergy S7 chip running on a development board.  The S7 chip has the Skkynet ETK loaded on it, which makes a connection to SkkyHub to provide the data and a user interface. Anyone can call up a URL on their smartphone and then view the data in a seamless connection.

“This demo makes the Industrial IoT come alive,” said Paul Thomas, President of Skkynet.  “Everyone attending the Automate show has probably heard about the IIoT, and now they will have a chance to experience a secure-by-design implementation of it, first-hand.”

The Cogent demo will be shown at the OPC Foundation pavilion, Booth #2265.  We will be demonstrating the latest features of the DataHub, in addition to an integrated solution using Red Lion’s mobile gateway and an embedded demo using Renesas Synergy S7 running Cogent’s beta implementation of OPC UA.  Attendees will be able to control LEDs on the S7 demo board itself, as well as control a bank of lights on the booth.  Additionally, they will be able to see output from the board’s light and motion sensors in their mobile displays.

Backing up the demo with insight, Xavier Mesrobian, Cogent’s VP of Sales and Marketing will be presenting a talk, Share your Data Not your Network, at the Future of Automation Theater on Tuesday afternoon. “Both of our demos at this show rely on our secure-by-design technology,” said Mesrobian, “but few realize how revolutionary it is. When you are talking about security for the IIoT, most people think ‘VPN’. But that’s the wrong technology, by far. We want people to know that there is a better, safer, and more affordable alternative.”

Come and meet us, hear the talk, and see the demos.  Members of the Skkynet and Cogent team will be at the Cogent area in the OPC Foundation pavilion, Booth #2265.  Don’t forget to bring your smartphone!

2017: Predictions for Smart Manufacturers

The start of the new year brings new hope, new resolutions, and new predictions from the pundits. For the year 2017 and beyond, IDC FutureScape has published their vision, 10 Predictions for the Manufacturing Industry.

“It’s important to note that technology continues to reshape the relationship between business and IT for innovation and digital transformation,” says the document summary.  “Manufacturers want to work smarter using digital technologies in their products and processes and throughout the value chain.”

Of the ten predictions given, at least five of them involve or imply Industrial IoT and Industrie 4.0.  Three of these five promise to be beneficial, while the other two represent stumbling blocks that any alert C-level executive would do well to heed.

Benefits

The proponents and early adopters of smart manufacturing have seen and expect to see more evidence of its benefits.  Among these benefits, here are three related to the IIoT that the IDC report predicts:

1. IT and OT integration will continue to provide advantages in efficiency and responsiveness within the organization.  By 2019, about 35% of large multinationals will be integrating their IT and OT systems at a significant level, and deriving those benefits.

2. Increased use of IIoT among as many as 75% of the world’s major manufacturers by 2019 will power real-time analytics, which in turn will drive predictive maintenance and similar initiatives.  As a result, these companies will reduce risk and bring their products to market more quickly.

3. Integration of supply chain, plant operations, and life-cycle management will offer gains in the overall value of their businesses for the 50% or so of manufacturers who are expected to be pursuing this goal by the end of 2020.  This integration will be made possible, to a greater or lesser extent, by the IIoT.

Stumbling Blocks

Offsetting these benefits, the IDC report foresees a few potential obstacles to unfettered growth and success through implementing the IIoT.  Understanding these predictions can be a first step towards addressing them:

1. An imbalanced approach will reduce ROI. Despite wide-scale adoption of smart manufacturing and IIoT initiatives, by the end of 2018 only as few as 30% of those investing in these technologies will be able to reap the full benefits.  Those few will be in this favorable position because while investing in IIoT, they were also actively keeping their related business models and technology up to date.  Rather than tacking on IIoT technologies at a superficial level, these are the ones who will grasp the deeper implications, and incorporate truly smart manufacturing.

2. Increased connectivity will demand a redesign of security architectures.  Most implementers of the IoT in the industrial space continue to pay lip service to security, while relying on architectures that are not secure by design.  The IDC predicts that by 2018 the number of interconnected devices, communication layers, and cloud ecosystems will have grown so large and complex that it will be painfully obvious that they simply cannot function in a robust and secure way, using traditional architectures.  We say, “Why wait?”  Using a secure-by-design approach now will pay off handsomely right away, as well as in the foreseeable future.

IIoT: Choose the right tools for the job

Note: This article was originally published in Plant Services magazine.

The American poet Carl Sandburg wrote, “They will go far and see much, and they will never be any good for sitting with the sitters and knitting with the knitters.” As true today as it was almost 100 years ago, those who sit tight and stick to their knitting rarely accomplish much. Right now in the world of manufacturing and industry, a new horizon is opening up: the industrial internet of things (IIoT). Are you curious? Do you want to go far and see how much you can do with it, or will you just sit back and knit?

Even from a distance, the benefits of the IIoT are visible. Plant Services contributing editor Sheila Kennedy highlighted many of them in August in her article Yes, IIoT can drive operational improvements. Put briefly, the IIoT offers a number of ways to optimize your system performance by providing data-driven insights into your processes. Among other things, you can see how well your assets are performing, implement predictive maintenance, simplify logistics, coordinate procurement, and drive down resource costs.

OK, you may say, that all sounds fine. Suppose I am interested. How will it work? Can the IIoT fit with my current system? How much will all of this cost? What about security? And supposing I do want to build IIoT connectivity and capabilities in my plant, how should I get started? Should our company try this on our own, or should we seek expert outside guidance or assistance?

Who builds it?

Taking the last question first, building your own system from scratch may not be the best way, according to those who have tried it. A recent Machina Research survey, “Lessons Learned from Early Adopters of the IoT,” shows that most early adopters in the IoT space who took a do-it-yourself approach found the task to be more complicated to implement than they had expected. “When asked about primary concerns around IoT, adopters have some insight that nonadopters just don’t yet have,” the report’s authors wrote. “Adopters point to ‘complexity of the IoT solution’ as the largest concern around IoT, a concern that nonadopters have yet to consider fully.”

On the other hand, if you do decide to bring in an expert, you’ll have to decide who is most qualified for the job. In her blog post “The IIoT Integrators Are Coming“, Stephanie Neil at AutomationWorld claims that control system integrators are not gearing up for the IIoT quickly enough and that SIs from the IT world are stepping in to fill the gap. They are more than happy to bring their experience implementing IoT for IT applications to the OT world. Naturally, some OT system integrators see things quite differently. They point out that it is easier for an OT company to add IoT to its portfolio than for an IoT company operating in the IT space to learn industrial process control. Jeff Miller of Avid Solutions wrote a blog post titled “We Are Ready for IIoT” to make the case that control system integrators are gearing up for the task.

The right tools for the job

Whomever you choose, an in-house team or a system integrator, you can save a lot of time and money by not reinventing the wheel. You can benefit by using tools, and you’ll want to choose the right ones. Because the IIoT looks a lot like SCADA, some may be tempted to continue using the same tools. This can be a mistake, though, because industrial data communications software was not built for the open spaces of the Internet.

Take security, for example. The IIoT presents security challenges that industrial system designers never contemplated. First, there is the obvious need to eliminate the chance of attack from outside the perimeter. But there’s also a need to protect the system and its data from inside as well. Using designed-for-IT approaches like Microsoft’s RDP or a VPN may seem like the logical choice, but Microsoft Developer Clemens Vasters raises valid concerns in a paper titled “Internet of Things: Is VPN a False Friend?” Useful as they are for the purposes for which they were designed, RDPs and VPNs give each user the keys to the kingdom – access to applications and data far beyond what they might need or what you might want them to see. The 2014 attack on Target via a VPN shows how dangerous and costly that can be.

What is needed is a secure-by-design technology that does not rely on a VPN and keeps all firewall ports closed. This can be done by making outbound-only connections to a secure cloud service. This design exposes zero attack surface and makes your system invisible to hackers. At the same time, it allows for bidirectional data communication through reverse proxies, which corporate IT departments are increasingly recommending as a standard for ensuring the security of OT systems. Needless to say, developing this kind of technology from scratch is not a project for your average plant engineering team. Instead, you can get the most out of your team and keep costs down by using a tool designed for the job.

The tool you choose should also support real-time data throughput speeds at scant milliseconds above network or Internet latencies. Ad-hoc approaches like collecting process data in an SQL database and then accessing it from the cloud will slow down your applications like a sloth at the DMV in “Zootopia.” You won’t get the response you need. Just because you may be using the Internet is no reason to compromise on speed.

And the tool should be convenient. It should fit unobtrusively and connect seamlessly with any new or existing system, with no need for programming and no dependencies. If the outside network or the Internet goes down, your primary control system should experience no effect whatsoever. The IIoT should be considered as data access or at most supervisory control. All low-level control should be completely isolated.

Start gradually

With the IIoT team assembled and tools in hand, start gradually. There is no need to tackle a huge project. Pick the low-hanging fruit. Kennedy suggests identifying functionality that is already close to the IIoT and using components that are easy to access. You may be able to connect sensors, monitors, or other devices in different locations and aggregate their data or even bridge their data sets.

A well-designed, cloud-based IIoT system does not require much upfront investment in time or money. As long as you work with a provider who offers a monthly subscription, you should be able to start a pilot project for as little as $100 per month. And if the service is reasonably complete, it should only take a few days to get up and running. Of course, you’ll need to ensure that such a system meets your specific needs, whether that means offering data archiving options, web-based HMI, access to analytics packages, or something else.

The adage “well begun is half done” applies here. If you work with a good team, choose the right tools, and start with something manageable, chances are you will succeed. Once you’ve got some initial experience, the next project can be more elaborate and ambitious, and the one after that even more so. Soon you will be going far and seeing for yourself what the IIoT can do for you and your bottom line.

Manufacturers and Machine Builders Weigh In on IIoT

With all the conversation swirling around about Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT, you sometimes have to wonder what’s actually trickling down to those people who are expected to buy in, like manufacturers and machine builders.  The bottom line is that someone is going to have to invest in the IIoT, and they expect to get a return on that investment. IIoT proponents are counting on manufacturing companies and OEMs to put some skin in the game.  But who is talking to them?

At least one person is.  Larry Asher, Director of Operations at Bachelor Controls Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), has been meeting with long-term customers in a number of industrial fields, and asking them for their thoughts on the IIoT. Their responses indicate an overall positive view of the potential.

Asher first reiterates a growing understanding that the IIoT is not just a new term for industrial networking, or SCADA as usual.  He says, “Though it is true that networking has existed as part of industrial control solutions for many years, traditional isolated control networks will not support the level of integration required for large-scale data and analytics, nor will they support the number of connected devices that will be a part of IIoT-based solutions. IIoT-based solutions demand connectivity, accessibility and security, making the network infrastructure critical.”

He then shares the insights garnered from his conversations, organized into four areas that the IIoT is expected to impact: data analysis, mobile/remote access, supply chain integration, and preventative maintenance.

Summary of Insights

Here is a summary of how the manufacturers and machine builders he met with view the impact of the IIoT:

Data and Analytics: Everyone agrees that investing in IIoT to enhance data collection and develop more sophisticated and powerful analytics is a good thing.  Applying this higher level of analysis is already impacting procedures and control implementation on the plant floor. Some manufacturers are even revising company organizational structures to bring in people who can maximize performance and profit using IIoT data.

Mobile/Remote Access: Access to data via mobile devices and/or from remote locations has seen less interest, but that is expected to change.  Right now the implementation is fairly low, despite the significant number of products and options available, perhaps due to a perception of high cost.  But, as Asher reports, “mobility remains as a central theme and poised for rapid growth with a change in the value proposition.”

Supply Chain Integration: As to supply chain integration, there was a wide range of experience.  Some saw little or no difference between current practices and what the IIoT has to offer, while others reported that the integration is so complete that suppliers now effectively have direct access to user inventory levels.

Preventative Maintenance: Manufacturers and OEMs alike appreciate the value of IIoT-based preventative maintenance.  With machines and equipment connected directly to the vendor, manufacturers can automatically generate maintenance work orders or request spare parts.  Vendors gain a competitive advantage when they are able to monitor and remotely service their equipment 24/7, which also provides them with a source of recurring revenue.

Overall, the views of those at manufacturing plants responsible for ensuring ROI validate the practicality and cost-effectiveness of the Industrial IoT.  As word gets out, and more decision-makers understand the benefits, we expect to see increased levels of adoption.

Realizing Profits from the IoT

“Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It’s the only insurance against irrelevance. It’s the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty. It’s the only strategy for out-performing a dismal economy.”

– Gary Hamel, management expert

A recent study from MPI Group, “How Manufacturers are Profiting from the IoT” validates the importance of innovation in IoT technologies.  It shows that there is a strong correspondence between understanding the IoT, implementing the IoT, and benefiting from the IoT.  “A good understanding of the IoT is a strong indicator of better operational performance,” the study said.  “Two-thirds of innovators have fully achieved or made significant progress toward world-class manufacturing status,” the study found.

These “innovators” are defined in the study as those companies most willing to use smart devices and embedded intelligence in their processes, their manufactured products, or both. Contrast that with those in the planning stages, labelled “incipients”, and those with no interest at all, called “indifferents.”  The indifferents, according to the study, “are also indifferent to manufacturing success; a whopping 73% have made—at best—only some progress toward world-class status.”

The take-away here is that those companies that understand the IoT and how to apply it to their businesses have for the most part benefitted, and are realizing profits from the IoT, while those that lag behind risk falling futher behind.

Two Areas for Realizing Profits

The study looks at two main areas of implementation of the IoT among manufacturers—in process and in products.  The process areas offering the most profit-making opportunities, according to survey respondents, were shipping and logistics, warehousing, document management, and manufacturing.  The most profit potential from products included adding IoT capabilities to the firm’s own products, as well as selling these capabilities in technologies, devices, software and/or materials to other companies.

There are challenges, of course.  One drawback is that most companies feel that their network infrastructures are not capable of handling machine-to-machine or machine-to-enterprise communications well.  Other top-of-mind challenges to survey respondents were in finding the budget needed for implementation, and in indentifying IIoT opportunities.

By the same token, though, when these companies learn how SkkyHub provides IIoT connectivity on existing networks and can be implemented with no capital expenditure, they may find that the Industrial IoT is within their grasp.  Using an end-to-end, secure-by-design IIoT solution that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, they may find that realizing profits from the IoT is not as difficult as they thought it might be.

Case Study: Plastics Manufacturer, Scandinavia

Leading plastics manufacturere uses live process data to optimize production, saving time and materials

One of Scandinavia’s leading plastics manufacturers has chosen the DataHub® from Cogent Real-Time Systems (a subsidiary of Skkynet) to extract data and interact with their state-of-the-art plastic manufacturing equipment. The firm can now access any desired process data for the purposes of engineering analysis and enterprise-level resource planning. The DataHub was the only additional piece of software required to realize substantial savings of time, materials, and production costs.

“The DataHub is exactly the kind of application we needed,” said the project coordinator. “Our system is extensive, and we need to visualize a lot of production parameters. We looked at other solutions but they were too expensive and more complicated.”

plastics-manufacturer-plantWhen the company installed new equipment recently, the necessary system integration grew very complex. Progress was slow. After almost a year they were facing a deadline and had little to show for their time and effort. The goal was to pull together data from 15 machinery units, and feed it in real time into the company’s business processing systems. And if possible, to enable plant engineers to view and work with the live data as well. When they found the DataHub they were pleased to learn that most of the work had already been done.

The first test was to connect the DataHub to an OPC server and put live data into ODBC databases, Excel spreadsheets, and web browsers, as well as to aggregate OPC servers and tunnel data across a network. The DataHub proved to be easy to use and reliable, and it performed remarkably well. The next step was to set up a test system.

The test system connected all of the OPC servers for the plant’s plastics production machines to a central DataHub. Another DataHub at a network node in the engineering department is connected to the central DataHub by a mirroring connection, for tunnelling data across the network. This second DataHub is then connected to an Excel spreadsheet to give a live display of the data in real time. When a piece of equipment machine starts up on the production line, the chart comes to life—cells spontaneously update values and bar charts spring into existence.

plastics-manufacturer-system

The engineering department was able to develop a custom TCP application that uses the DataHub C++ API to make a direct connection from the DataHub to their SQL Server database. Once connected that database gets updated in milliseconds with any change in the plastic-manufacturing machinery. From the SQL Server database the data is accessed by the company’s ERP and accounting software. Using the DataHub in these ways allows the company to:

  • Aggregate the data from all machinery into one central location.
  • Distribute the data across the network to various users.
  • Do decimal conversions of the data as it passes through the DataHub.
  • Put selected subsets of data into Excel for engineers to view and run calculations on.
  • Feed values into a SQL Server database in the company’s IT and business processing system. The OPC points are read-only to ensure a clean separation between the management and production areas.

“This system pays for itself,” said a company spokesman, “and we save money in many ways. We have seen substantial gains in productivity and performance because we can monitor our processes far more effectively. Our accounting and planning departments have, for the first time ever, an up-to-the-second record of actual production variables and statistics. At the same time, our engineering staff can use real-time data in their calculations, and feed the results directly back into the process.”

The DataHub also saved substantial programming costs. The time alone saved on development work has paid for the system many times over. With a single tool the project coordinator has met the various needs of both the engineers and company managers. “The software is easy to install and it works well,” he said. “It’s at the correct level for our needs.”