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Between the worlds – Universal data exchange

The digital networking of industrial production with information technology is the central nervous system of the intelligent factory of tomorrow. With a new hardware platform Bihl+Wiedemann is ensuring that the data from actuators and sensors arrives with optimal preparation at the top IT level. The bridge between the worlds leads first over the open communication protocol OPC UA, which has established itself currently as the first de facto standard for industry 4.0 applications. The history of Bihl+Wiedemann is a history of universal automated communication. The Gateways from the AS-Interface specialists have always spoken all the languages of automation – and can be incorporated into the most varied control systems as simply as a normal slave. It is to these perfect team player qualities that ASi owes a not inconsiderable part of its global success. That the era of industry 4.0 is now beginning means “just” one thing from the perspective of the AS-Interface Masters from Mannheim, Germany: the team that is playing together with ASi will consist of many more players in the future. Because in the intelligent factory of tomorrow it is not just the host controller that is interested in the data from actuators and sensors. In view of the rapidly increasing networking of industrial production with information technology a whole series of additional recipients is suddenly appearing on the scene (see also the interview “Optimal data for big data” ).

And no matter whether the data is sent to a PLC or diagnostic PC, to a control panel or webserver, a local analysis server or to a cloud for further analysis: the data from the actuators and sensors forms the basis for everything that happens on the next levels. Thus, it must be available simultaneously, but how the data is used varies greatly: on the lowest level simply structured binary transmission via fieldbus is appropriate with respect to speed and robustness. Further up it is not so much the time as the quantity of data that plays a decisive role. In addition, the higher levels require that the data conveys information by adding corresponding semantics which can be optimally interpreted within the overall context. To make the data exchange from the bottom to the very top as simple, efficient and reliable as possible, in spite of ever more complex demands, integration of an additional interface is the solution. When selecting the right communication protocol, Bihl+Wiedemann’s close relationships with customers served the company well: in numerous discussions with users OPC UA was quickly recognized as the best solution by far given the current environment – customers in Mannheim have even asked specifically for ASi devices with just this linkage for industry 4.0 applications. “If another standard should become established in the future, we will of course respond immediately,” says Managing Director Jochen Bihl. “But at the moment the market has made a clear choice for OPC UA – and this makes absolute sense to us from both a technological and strategic point of view.” As a universal, standardized cross-platform interface OPC UA already meets all the requirements for the intelligent factory of tomorrow: it enables data access across all levels, networking of components from different manufacturers as well as analysis, processing and representation of the data on a wide range of devices such as smart phones or tablets. It also ensures trouble-free linking to common enterprise resource planning and cloud systems like SAP or Microsoft Azure.

For the user this offers many advantages: thanks to the standardized data transmission to all its machine and system parts it eliminates cumbersome piecing together or conversion of data. This applies both for horizontal integration such as networking of different plants around the world and for vertical integration from the actuator/sensor level through the control and production level up to the manufacturing and execution level and finally to corporate planning.

 

When it comes to using bite-size delivered data from actuators and sensors there are virtually unlimited possibilities in the age of industry 4.0. That way, monitoring over a longer period of time can help to uncover weak points or irregularities in processes and productions. By processing on a local server or in the cloud parameters for tool wear can be recorded and automatically corrected – sometimes even in-process. Intelligent algorithms also permit big data analyses on the higher levels: for example with respect to the relation between service life and cost of tools from different manufacturers, optimization of the production cycle and resource consumption, or early planning of servicing (predictive maintenance).

 

The OPC UA interface, which is now being integrated incrementally into all Bihl+Wiedemann devices, also helps the user in implementing innovative Internet of things (IoT) strategies. And of course thought has been given to effective IT security: a clean encryption concept with all the modern ingredients such as RSA or AES offers the best foundation for constructing a highly effective cryptography infrastructure in the respective plant. Additional security comes from a unique feature of Bihl+Wiedemann devices whereby the various network interfaces are physically separated – a technological trick with two positive effects: it not only makes access from one network to another much more difficult, but also facilitates segmenting of the individual systems. Because one thing is always at the top of a product concept catalog for the development team around Managing Director Bernhard Wiedemann when it comes to industry 4.0: “The more complex the production equipment gets, the more clearly structured the systems need to be.”