Millennials have a reputation for embracing technology to share information, stay connected, and improve their productivity. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is doing the same for production machines.
At NIWeek 2017, we saw how our partnerships are inspiring innovation in automotive development and test. One of the key underlying trends enabling these innovations is the evolution of in-vehicle networks (IVNs), namely Automotive Ethernet.
Faster time-to-market is critical right now for automakers investing in this technology, so there’s a drastic increase in the need for automated testing for automotive testers. The automaker that masters this market first will cement their market share.
Automotive Testing Expo (ATE) Europe is one of the most important expos for the automotive industry. Honestly, we’re excited to see the emerging tech at the show since the market trend toward autonomous vehicles is becoming so competitive.
Many of the life-changing advancements brought to bear by the Internet of Things (IoT) stem from cloud storage and cloud analytics: controlling your home with your voice, seeing inside your fridge with an app, and storing and accessing every picture ever taken of your children on any smart device from anywhere in the world. These technical marvels would be pure wizardry to anyone living 50 years ago.
Timing is essential to IIoT networking
The Industrial IoT (IIoT) doesn’t get as much mainstream attention as its consumer-oriented cousin, but it will arguably have an even greater impact on our society. The IIoT can be defined as a vast number of connected industrial systems that are communicating, coordinating, and acting on shared data to improve the performance of operational technology (OT).
By this definition, it’s tempting to think of the IIoT as simply a hardier variant of the IoT. This line of thinking has given rise to devices like IIoT gateways, which can be thought of as the fax machines of the IIoT, translating OT data for the IT infrastructure. Although gateways enable the communication of OT data to the cloud (or fog), they usually scrape away something fundamental to most IIoT systems: time.
We tolerate (barely…) some level of lag, delays, and reloads while streaming Game of Thrones on HBO GO. But these glitches cannot exist between two high-speed assembly robots or, worse yet, between a geofenced safe zone and the brakes of an autonomous earthmover.
Edge Nodes: the key to maximizing IIoT speed and reliability
Employing the IIoT to monitor and control our farms, test facilities, power grid, and factories means we must do more than simply collect and share operational data; we must also understand the importance of data latency and synchronization between our connected, industrial assets. Put simply, IIoT success hinges on the communication of the right data at the right time.
This IIoT fact of life has given rise to a layered architecture defined by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) called the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture. This IIoT architecture consists of three tiers: the Edge Tier, Platform Tier (on-premises IT), and Enterprise Tier (cloud-based IT).
In the IIoT, decisions can happen at all three tiers, and the volume and timing requirements of the data normally dictate how to architect a system. Maximizing performance and reducing unnecessary data transfers are two primary reasons for pushing decision-making down to Edge Nodes deployed at or near OT assets. In this light, IDC predicts that by 2019, at least 40% of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to, or at the edge of, the network.
Edge Nodes, like CompactRIO, can certainly maximize the speed and reliability of IIoT control loops. They also serve an important role in data reduction, feature extraction, and decision-making. For instance, by pushing machine learning models for predictive maintenance to the Edge Tier, CompactRIO can locally detect an anomaly and determine what the potential impact of the anomaly is on the lifetime performance of the asset, without burdening the IT infrastructure. From there it can work, through the less time-critical Platform and Enterprise tiers, to schedule the appropriate repair/replacement service. Flowserve, one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial and environmental machinery, is working with PTC, HPE, and our own teams to implement such a solution for their customers today.
Though the IIoT megatrend is taking the OT world by storm, our customers have been quietly adding distributed measurement and control systems to their assets for decades. With connectivity to any sensor, nanosecond analysis and control, open and connected software, and world-class ruggedness, we're uniquely positioned at the IIoT edge.
Time-sensitive networking, IIoT Lab: what we're doing to advance the IIoT
Looking to the future, we're working tirelessly with our partners to create industry standards and prove out IIoT concepts. We recently opened the Industrial IoT Lab, which showcases the latest IIoT technologies and provides a collaborative space for an expansive ecosystem of partners with different expertise to work on solutions that will change the way businesses operate.
One vital IIoT technology featured in the Industrial IoT Lab (and mentioned previously in this blog) is Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). TSN is the evolution of standard Ethernet (IEEE 802.1) to provide deterministic data transfer and Edge Node synchronization down to 100 ns. By using standard Ethernet components, the cost to achieve TSN levels of determinism and synchronization for the IIoT will be much lower than using specific cabling or boutique Ethernet variants.
We’re confident that the IIoT will benefit greatly from TSN, ensuring the secure, predictable, reliable and uninterrupted flow of information from sensor to cloud.
Kyle Voosen, Ali Bravo, and I recently represented NI at the Q1 2017 Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) meeting in Reston, Virginia, near Washington, DC. NI is a member of the IIC, which hosts this meeting for industry leaders from around the globe to accelerate the development and adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
As the IIoT matures, the areas of focus for the IIC have become clearer. The meeting introduced the concept of “hotspots” that exist at the intersection of IIoT use cases and IIoT vertical industries, where IIoT interoperability is especially challenging or undefined.
To help address these “hotspots,” the IIC focused on testbeds that prove out ways to overcome challenges and realize the benefits of the IIoT sooner. The IIC plays a strong role in shepherding the development of testbeds that demonstrate the usefulness and viability of IIoT technologies, applications, and processes. This meeting provided testbed leaders the opportunity to update the membership on their progress.
IIC member companies are actively developing 21 testbeds that range from Condition Monitoring & Predictive Maintenance to Communication and Control for Microgrid Applications. They’re even developing the Smart Airline Baggage Management Testbed, which I wish would hurry up! Though testbeds are diverse, Mitch Tseng from Huawei reminded the crowd that, “From 36,000 feet, every testbed looks the same,” which means they all adhere to the three-tier IIoT model described in the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture. This model consists of the Edge Tier, Platform Tier, and Enterprise Tier. The Edge Tier often lists CompactRIO as the edge node of choice when testbeds require advanced measurements or computational power at the edge.
Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) Wins the Testbed Showcase
The meeting featured the first-ever Testbed Showcase that educated attending members on the strategic value provided by eight key testbeds, half of which involve NI. I presented an overview of the Time Sensitive Networks for Flexible Manufacturing Testbed. I began by reminding the audience that for the IIoT to be successful, a network is essential, data communication is vital, and siloed, proprietary systems are bad.
TSN is the evolution of standard Ethernet (IEEE 802.1) to provide deterministic data transfer and edge node synchronization down to 100 ns. By using standard Ethernet components, the cost to achieve TSN levels of determinism and synchronization for the IIoT will be much lower than using specific cabling or boutique Ethernet variants.
Nineteen companies, including NI, Cisco, Intel, and Bosch, are working together on the TSN Testbed to ensure network performance and interoperability among vendors. This level of activity helps explain why the TSN Testbed was voted the Most Valuable Testbed by IIC meeting attendees at the Testbed Showcase! Votes were based on criteria like vision, goals, impact, and benefit, along with innovation and experimentation, and outputs and results.
The meeting wasn’t all about testbeds, though. We’ll continue to play an active role in developing testbeds for the IIoT, but there are many projects and “tasks forces” in flight. Look for other updates from the quarterly meeting soon!