The traditional strict hierarchy architecture is giving way to a more responsive and direct model, bringing manufacturing into a real-time manufacturing business model.
The ultimate industrial edge computing devices sense and control physical processes, run local programs and communicate with industrial controllers, plant operations, enterprise systems and cloud applications. This is required for real-time closed loop manufacturing business operations to be profitable and competitive.
Over the years, industrial automation architecture has been marked by increasing computing pushed toward final field devices leveraging distributed computing to increase performance, quality, reliability, availability, responsiveness and lower software maintenance cost. The limiting factor at each step has been the cost, ruggedness and reliability of technologies. This has changed with significant commercial, consumer and Internet of Things (IoT) technology and communications advances at low cost that are pervasive in daily life. The smartphone, an everday device many people possess, is an obvious example of a rugged, powerful computer with integrated communications and display.
The major value of edge computing is executing applications close to physical production, achieving fast response times with very low latency and capturing real time data. The incorporation of higher-level functions directly into this new breed of powerful field devices and industrial controllers, coupled with real-time transaction processing business systems, is diminishing the need for industrial middleware software. Business systems have evolved more rapidly than industrial systems to meet the requirements of business functions including supply chain, customers service, logistics and Internet commerce. Middle level software and computers have served their purpose of buffering, synchronizing, translating and refining sensor and controller information but also created brittle systems with a great number of middle level computers, duplicate databases, complex configuration control and software that is expensive and difficult to maintain. Edge computing is computing that takes place at or near the physical location of either the user or the source of the data. Distributed functions at the edge include optimization, expert systems and artificial intelligence with new classes of devices.
Edge device types
Edge gateways supporting legacy systems
Industrial edge gateways are typically rugged industrial computers running middleware software that connects to PLCs, drives and other edge devices to contextualize information and map it to data enterprise software and databases. Edge Gateways are ideal to provide edge computing functions leveraging installed legacy controls and automation extending capital equipment investments.
Edge industrial computing platforms
Intelligent/smart field edge devices
Intelligent/Smart Field Edge Devices are a new class of smart field devices including sensors and actuators that are intelligent and communicate directly to controllers, enterprise and cloud applications. These devices incorporate distributed control functions including, optimization, webservers, OPC UA server and clients, REST APIs and cloud communications (AWS, AZURE, etc.). User based initiatives are defining the new architecture based on these concepts including the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) and Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) standards.
Ethernet IP to edge
The industrial edge is entering mainstream computing and IoT with the integration of Single Pair Ethernet standard 10BASE-T1, making IP communications embedded in end field devices cost effective, including sensors and actuators. Ethernet-based networks supporting industrial controls and automation leverage the advantages of ethernet infrastructure products produced in high volume, including lower costs of hardware, software and support. SPE finally is the way unlock more information directly from sensors, actuators, drives, motor starters and other devices.
Single Pair Ethernet is the basis for the Advanced Physical Layer (APL) to bring Ethernet to field-level instruments in hazardous areas. Ethernet at the field level will make digitalization for process industries a reality with its universality and speed. Current and voltage will be limited to have an intrinsically safe solution for zones 0 and 1 / Div 1. The main goal is to adopt proven technologies and options in the field of process automation.
Semantic contextual data connectivity
The OPC Foundation OPC UA FLC (Field Level Communications) initiative is creating open standard semantic contextual data connectivity communication solution between sensors, actuators, controllers, enterprise and cloud that meets all the requirements of industrial automation factory automation and process automation. OPC UA FX continues to make rapid progress to modernize the most basic industrial communications with mainstream computing data concepts to the industrial edge. The OPC UA Field Level Communication (FLC) initiative goals include:
- Secure and reliable communications
- Vendor, platform and domain agnostic
- Interoperability from sensors to enterprise and beyond
The OPC Foundation ecosystem is unifying, made up of industrial, information technology (IT), Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud organizations participating in more than 65 joint working groups focused on defining and implementing standard contextual and semantic data models from industrial field devices, including sensors/actuators to enterprise and cloud systems.
The OPC Foundation globally available UA Cloud Library co-developed with the Clean Energy and Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) makes OPC UA information models available in the cloud on a global scale providing users an efficient way to find and use OPC models. This simplifies application engineering providing a trusted source for semantic data models.
Direct field to enterprise communication
The traditional strict hierarchy architecture is giving way to a more responsive and direct model, bringing manufacturing into a real-time manufacturing business model. Field devices can communicate information directly to with applications including Historians, advanced cloud analytics, real-time maintenance monitoring and other functions. This simplifies the applications of these functions and eliminates level 2 and 3 software costs, complexity, performance drag and ongoing software maintenance.
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