Industrial automation lacks essential elements for IoT

  • December 16, 2014
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

I see the technology progress in other industries, and I am coming to the realization that the industrial automation industry is way behind. The automation market lacks the essential elements, thought leadership, and desire to take advantage of IoT (Internet of Things) architectures and technology.

This came into clearer focus while listening to John Chambers, CISCO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, speak at the Internet of Things World Forum 2014. He described industry as being "at an inflection point." The Internet of Things requires companies to reinvent themselves. Chambers said, "No CEO likes change, but in this market, if we don't change, we will be left behind." "I saw that happen at IBM and it took them two decades to recover." He said that with the Internet of Things comes the need for companies to begin collaborations and create an ecosystem. The focus of these collaborations shouldn’t be on the number of devices connected, but rather the benefits and outcomes of the connected devices. He punctuated the challenge by saying, "The industry is going to go through tremendous disruption.” “Cities that don't change will be left behind. Manufacturers that don't change will be left behind. We can come together as an ecosystem to make it happen. Have the courage to disrupt. Each of us has to disrupt our own company."

Ecosystem Essential

The automation industry acknowledges that leveraging open IP and IoT is essential for increased productivity but has been unwilling to collaborate on creating an open ecosystem. A technological ecosystem is a community of components based on open, interoperable standards that interact as a system. In contrast, the cellular phone system evolved into an ecosystem so that phone calls can be made to anyone regardless of carrier without a gateway or special software. There has been a rapid adoption rate in using cellular for M2M (Machine to Machine) communications to remotely monitor and remote maintenance of machines in manufacturing plants.

The situation in industrial automation today is more like a feudal system where a supplier captures an industrial plant with their industrial network, software, and information standards. The supplier then tries to capture all the system components sales with either their own and authorized partner products. This makes it difficult for users to add superior technology from other suppliers and forces them to use gateways and cumbersome configuration software that impact system performance. Automation suppliers are all talking about creating a connected enterprise built on standard IP-based networks, but in the context of the particular supplier’s concentric standards.

Achieving seamless interoperability by leveraging open IP and IoT concepts will NOT occur until the industrial automation vendors recognize the value of creating an open ecosystem. Industrial automation has a long way to go from vision and concept to reality.

Glimmers of Hope

There are some glimmers of hope emerging and I believe they are on the right track to create an open ecosystem.

Business To Manufacturing Markup Language (B2MML)

The Business To Manufacturing Markup Language (B2MML) XML standard creates an open interface for applying ISA95. ISA-95 is the international standard for the integration of enterprise and control systems that has been adopted throughout the world including by Industry 4.0. ISA-95 models are used to model and implement the exchange of information to accomplish manufacturing operations management between systems including sales, finance, logistics, production, maintenance and quality. The new OPC-UA/ISA95 specification enables real time access to critical data by serving as a bridge between the slow speed and occasional access requirements of corporate systems and high speed requirements of MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management) systems. The key part of this cooperation is incorporating the B2MML XML standard for ISA95 into OPC UA data models.


OPC UA objects leverage the Internet Protocol (IP) and provide an open-architecture, transparent mechanism to link information throughout an automation system. This includes the enterprise and Internet using established and accepted computer industry standards. OPC UA uses common computing industry standard Web Services which are the preferred method for system communications and interaction for all networked devices. Since OPC UA can reside at all levels of a system, including controllers and embedded controllers, it is ideal for completing the vision of IP to the edge and Internet of Things. Vendors, including Beckhoff Automation, Siemens, B&R Automation, and Bosch Rexroth, have brought to market controllers and drives with embedded OPC UA.

The OPC Foundation is working with other groups to create an ecosystem and achieve open communications using data models developed for vertical applications.

  • MTConnect - Machine Industry, universal factory floor communications protocol
  • Oil & Gas Industry - MCS-DCS Interface Standardization: MDIS
  • Oil & Gas Industry - DSATS (Drilling System Automation Technical Section) of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)
  • Building Automation - BACnet Interest Group Europe mapping BACnet and OPC-UA
  • ISA-95 - OPC UA for ISA-95 standard for modeling physical assets and material handling
  • AutomationML - Data exchange standard for engineering data standardized in IEC 62814

Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)

According to Dr. Richard Mark Soley, Executive Director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, they are focusing on the creation of test beds based on real world use cases. These activities will lead to forward development, adoption and wide-spread use of interconnected machines, intelligent analytics and people at work. They intend to deliver best practices, reference architectures, case studies, and standards requirements to ease deployment of connected technologies.


Going beyond vendor-centric unique data exchange protocols, PLCopen introduced a set of function blocks in April 2014 that enables the transport of information between controllers, systems, enterprise, and the cloud.

The PLCopen OPC UA function standards are a universal, secure and reliable network communication method in IEC 61131-3 based systems. This enables frictionless and out-of-the box information exchange based on computer industry standards.

Furthermore, peer-to-peer communications between various vendors’ controllers is accomplished with PLCopen OPC UA function blocks. This communications enables coordinated manufacturing and the transmission of complex data structures without configuration of every single data point. It also solves a major problem for users that have controllers from various vendors, each with proprietary and unique data exchange protocols. This was first demonstrated at the SPS/IPC/Drives 2009 in Nuremberg, Germany.

Big Question

Will the traditional vendors adopt emerging open standards or will there be new upstart companies?

Business Dilemma

Industrial automation vendors are faced with a classic dilemma when a major technology shifts occurs. Conventional financial thinking has no way to gauge the opportunity cost of not investing in new technology. The first priority is to protect the existing business and hold on to customers. In many cases, the suppliers simultaneously use marketing messaging to pay lip service to the new technology trend indicating it is not ready for prime time. Remember John Chambers’ (of CISCO) comment as a wake-up call - "I saw that happen at IBM and it took them two decades to recover."

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