As the concepts of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) become real applications, exciting conversations are centered around the integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Large IT companies have been actively promoting ideas such as enterprise workload integration to optimize processes and become more competitive. Some of the largest players in Automated Technology (AT) are participating. Advances in system openness, real-time deterministic control with manycore processors, embedding of web technologies, machine learning, and more are all made possible by applying common technologies to industrial applications.
IT and OT convergence brings incredible benefits to today’s machine control architectures, as has been done for over 30 years. Many suppliers are just beginning to integrate PC-based technology into industrial automation, but that’s not new. The history of IT-OT convergence in automation technology dates back to the early 1980s, when people saw the latest PCs and their industrial potential. Adaptation of these ideas is innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), and finally delayed (16%).
PC-focused innovations of the 1980s In this era, the world of larger technology is far beyond the level of the 1970s, with personal computers (PCs) and related technologies for widespread use by businesses and consumers. Development has begun. This has transformed standard chipsets, board designs, and advanced operating systems. At that time, most industrial technology companies were off the road to the PC. PLC platforms at the time used their own chipsets, board designs, and, in most cases, programming software. Traditional PLC technology for machine control has evolved much slower than it should, due to the aversion to change throughout the industry. As a result, the hardware PLC and consumer PC paths haven’t started to converge for decades.
The majority of industrial vendors and manufacturers initially avoided IT technology on the plant floor, but small start-ups realized that both technologies could coexist. Using proven industrial standards and computer science innovations, small AT companies have begun integrating IT and OT in the manufacturing industry.
Early Adopters in the 1990s In the 1990s, both technologies continued to advance, and IT pioneers were orbiting traditional OTs. The popularity of Windows has exploded and has become widespread in almost every area of technology. By launching Visual Studio in 1997, Microsoft combined a number of programming languages in a single environment. This continues to evolve to this day. Industrial vendors who have begun implementing PC-based automation technology in the last decade have significantly improved their hardware and software performance far beyond traditional PLCs. Successful companies have created new tools for deterministic, real-time control that can be run on industrial PCs with standardized operating systems.
More automation vendors took this opportunity to embark on computer-based control. However, these early adopters found it very costly to develop their own software from scratch. They started using off-the-shelf real-time operating systems, but often didn’t publicize their solutions. Some notable crashes and burns gave PC-based platforms a bad reputation during this time. However, many platforms have produced astounding results in this area, outperforming traditional PLCs.
The transition of the early majority millennium since 2000 has led to further development of software and multi-core processors. Major IT players such as Intel, IBM and Microsoft have aggressively advanced to OT. Similarly, a determined subset of automation space continued to integrate IT and real-time enhancements.
In addition to these advances in automation and control, another major development included networking. Industrial Ethernet protocols such as Ether-CAT have significantly improved performance and paved the way for legacy fieldbuses. This is another example of IT and OT integration through Ethernet and fieldbus technology integration. EtherCAT eliminates the complexity and cost of switches and additional hardware while providing deterministic control with up to 65,535 devices per network. This stems from the same PC-based control innovator that carefully explored the potential of Industrial Ethernet, combining its openness and acceptability with fieldbus capabilities.
From automation software apps for the majority of today’s smartphones to manycore Intel Xeon processors for controllers, IT-OT convergence continues to accelerate today. For example, today’s HMIs are now generally dependent on web technologies, with standards such as MQTT and JSON implemented in the IIoT context.
As machines become more complex, Gigabit Ethernet technologies such as Ether-CAT G are also becoming important. The industry is also beginning to apply machine learning and other artificial intelligence technologies.
Fortunately, manufacturers’ resistance to implementing PC-based technology continues to disappear as they understand the benefits of IT technology in the industry. Decades of IT-OT progress have shown that the IT principles that OT products carry on must be deterministic, reliable, long-lasting, and efficiently implemented. increase. When done correctly, IT-OT integration produces far better results than traditional platforms can achieve.
For more information, please visit www.beckhoff.com/IoT.
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