Prepare Your Automation Control Systems for the Industrial Internet—Part Two: Getting Connected
In my last blog, we discussed how if you are not already executing plans to get your automation systems Industrial Internet ready, then you’re already behind. We covered installing a redundant controller not just as a backup device but as a validation tool for software and firmware updates pushed to your system. This month, I am covering some of the options used for automation control systems today as secure interfaces to the Industrial Internet.
Some people think getting connected is as simple as having an Ethernet port on the front of your automation controller, but connecting that way can be a dangerous thing, potentially allowing access right into your critical production processes. Most companies that have implemented Industrial Internet connectivity use some form of a gateway, and I will share three options I have seen in practice today.
A number of our customers have used an IPC (industrial PC) as a gateway. This is a ruggedized PC running vanilla Microsoft Windows®. You can pick and choose from a number of Microsoft Windows security software products or use Proficy Agent to act as a proven secure gateway with data encryption to your systems. Why an industrial PC as opposed to a consumer product? Well, in truth, either will work but the IPC can run in harsh environments, is fanless, and based on Flash® Media so no moving parts to break. Also consumer PC installs tend to involve IT, whereas this can be handled by the automation group.
I have seen a second group taking advantage of our QuickPanel+ operator interface. It delivers all the key operator interface functions but also acts as a gateway to the internet as it runs the very secure OS embedded compact Windows 7. We have partnered with companies such as Secomea on this product for Industrial Internet connectivity for a secure gateway with data encryption. Also QuickPanel+ typically can be installed and configured by automation engineers.
A third group has installed our PACSystems® RXi controller as a secure gateway and data concentrator. Yes, it's an automation controller but its software is built on the OPC-UA framework that allows secure data transaction through firewalls and supports data encryption. This also means it’s a standard controller that automation teams implement, in a similar way to the QuickPanel+.
One thing that we are working on is to offer additional Industrial Internet interfaces for simpler applications that do not require complex gateways. We’re about to launch a “mini field agent" as part of our Equipment Insight product, targeted at bringing Industrial Internet connectivity that is cost effective for a number of smaller assets .
So, we have covered the preparation of the controller to support frequent upgrades remotely and a number of gateway options to get you onto the Industrial Internet journey. In my next blog, I will cover some of the key software tools needed to extract value from the real-time data you’re harvesting.