Looking Beyond OPC Interfaces for Industrial IT/OT Convergence

October 12, 2018

Case Study: To ease Industrial IT and OT integration, look beyond OPC interfaces

When a global automobile manufacturer sought to ease the complexity and expense of maintaining and integrating PLC devices to its MES, it first looked to an OPC-based solution (Open Platform Communications). It reasoned that easing the process of adding new device drivers would speed up projects and ease data access.

Looking Beyond OPC Interfaces for Industrial IT/OT Convergence

What it ended up with was a mixed model that still didn’t provide the flexibility and agility it was looking for. Engineers still needed to write custom code for MES and PLC integration, which slowed the implementation of new projects. What’s more, because there was data build-up in transit, response time was slow. The architecture wasn’t flexible, and the software struggled to scale to support both large and smaller plant implementations.

In all, the technology added complexity. It didn’t improve the use of IT resources, couldn’t scale to increase commonality between tools and plants, and ultimately, fell short of the goal of providing easy access to data to improve product quality.

A Classic Challenge of Bringing IIoT to the Factory Floor

It’s an issue that spans industries in connecting plant floor devices to the enterprise: How can you cleanly and easily get PLC data into MES and ERP systems in a short amount of time?

Mapping devices like PLCs directly to applications is challenging, and is a problem that can’t be solved simply by leveraging an OPC-based interface. Projects get backlogged because there still is so much custom coding involved, increasing the cost of the project, the cost of maintaining the solution and the implementation time.

APIs and standard protocols will never get rid of custom programming. The lack of native drivers is what leads programmers to have to write all that custom code. Instead, organizations need a data-centric platform that brings a broad array of native drivers to ensure plug-and-play functionality, to make PLCs talk to other PLCs, and communicate directly to MES and ERP applications.

With this functionality, IIoT projects can be launched in a matter of days, instead of months.

The Role of Flexible IIoT Middleware

By leveraging a data-centric IIoT software platform, organizations can connect legacy and modern devices regardless of communication protocol and provide a central data pipeline to all devices and applications on the network. The platform serves as a control center of all IT and OT applications, lending control over how, when, and where data is used, and providing the ability to quickly onboard new devices.

Most importantly, an IIoT platform can make it easy to build any kind of logic without custom programming. This means that plant engineers and even subject matter experts can fully customize a deployment without the need to get a programmer to make the change, speeding the connections of devices and more easily directing the flow of data.

Leveraging the Telit deviceWISE platform, the manufacturer was able to bring together systems from Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Omron and Mitsubishi, with a proprietary MES on a DB2 database. 

The deviceWISE platform provided a common interface to the factory floor, bringing with it none of the performance issues presented by the OPC-based interface. For both its large and small plants, the company has the flexibility to integrate devices to MES systems using web services and messaging services.

Complex business logic is now available to the plant device, and complex ladder logic has been masked. It’s less expensive to configure logic, and enterprise users can access data without impacting the performance of PLC devices.

For instance, there are times when an enterprise user may want to look for a part serial number history to see whether it has been installed or to ensure there was no defect. The company wanted to make sure PLC scan rates were not impacted by this activity on the enterprise side.

From a factory floor perspective, in the past, that history had to be retained inside of the equipment. Adding more data to the PLC device slows the overall scanning time.

With Telit deviceWISE, query capabilities enable search within the enterprise system. Leveraging web services, the organization could “take” some of the complex logic in the equipment and move it to the enterprise system to ensure high performance. This in turn speeds up the decision making process, and provides more decision-making capabilities on data at the machine level. In turn, while production, and consequently the amount of data, grows, the amount of IT support doesn’t have to.

The deviceWISE platform allows devices and apps to “talk” to one another, with a very quick time to value by providing connectivity that breaks through complicated data transfer layers. By implementing IIoT, fast, the manufacturer can focus on what it does best – making innovative vehicles.

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