New Automation Controller Challenges the Status Quo

  • December 08, 2014
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

While attending the recent Inductive Automation Ignition Software conference, I was surprised and intrigued to see a new innovative controller. It has been years since I have seen this level of controller innovation in the industry. I recently spoke with Albert Rooyakkers, CTO of Bedrock Automation, about the company and its new controller. During his career, Rooyakkers created products and opportunities in industrial systems and semiconductors. For more than 15 years, he worked with Invensys.

Question: You have developed a new automation controller which is quite an undertaking. Why does the automation industry need another controller?

Albert Rooyakkers: A survey of automation users will tell you they want and deserve more. The major automation OEM’s are constrained in their ability to engineer and innovate at a commensurate pace. Reasons for this are many, including the need to support decades of legacy systems and building a bidirectional integration of legacy systems with new systems. This legacy support and obsolescence engineering takes an increasing bite out of R&D. As well, their original vertical integration technology model has been eroded over time by white boxes and defacto industry standards such as Ethernet, RTOS’s (Real-time Operating Systems), commercial switches, consumer servers and others. As a result, there is a lack of internal talent to create holistic disruptive ideas to put them back on track. At the same time, the emergence of enterprise applications and the Internet has introduced new performance and security requirements that has put even more pressure on R&D budgets and added to the existing constraints on the existing suppliers. A fresh approach was needed.

Question: Can you elaborate further how the major automation vendor vertical integration technology model has been eroded over time by white boxes and defacto industry standards?

Albert Rooyakkers: The automation vendor model has not eroded over time. They are all still vertical solution providers. What has changed is their ability to innovate or develop and sustain technical talents within the layers of technology that make up their solution. Whereas in the past these vendors designed and manufactured many of the hardware, software, firmware components of their vertical technology, today they do not. This is a consequence of industrial and defacto standards around networks, operating systems, software, hardware, design tools, and other factors.

Question: What are the key features of the Bedrock Controller?

Albert Rooyakkers: Our guiding principles and features are Simple, Scalable, and Secure.

Simple: Users can engineer any automation solution with less than a dozen part numbers, including a universal magnetic backplane, universal analog, discrete and fieldbus IO, universal smart coupled power, one universal extreme controller, and just one universal system cable. Couple that with a powerful, easy-to-use software environment compliant with IEC 61131-3. Plus, there is an OPC UA server resident in the controller to interface to any compatible SCADA package.

Scalable: Bedrock’s solution offers unlimited scalability from tens to tens of thousands of IO with an asynchronous 4GB magnetic backplane. The controller supports software selectable IO functionality and redundancy, and universal Control and Power to support any system of any size.

Secure: Users get transparent instant cyber security that works 24/7. Black FabricTM Cybershield is Bedrock’s embedded deep trust cyber defense solution. It uses patented processor, memory, communications, inter-connections, backplane, and packaging technologies to integrate cyber security into every module at birth and cyber-protect the applications performed by the modules throughout their operational lifecycle.

Question: Your literature mentions a Bedrock advantage as perpetual non-obsolescence. How is this accomplished?

Albert Rooyakkers: ICS obsolescence through the years has been primarily caused by component obsolescence. There are reasons why Bedrock can change the paradigm. First, through advanced design and analog and digital ASIC’s, (application-specific integrated circuit) our total system component count is at least 75% less than typical controllers. Second, Bedrock is a subsidiary of the large semiconductor company Maxim Integrated (Nasdaq:MXIM) and almost all of the active semiconductor components in our system are supplied by our parent and/or designed and sourced by Bedrock. While most chip companies are quick to obsolete components after a few years, Maxim has taken a different position honoring an extensive non-obsolescence policy for many years and works hard to sustain production products. When you control the component supply chain, you can control the component lifecycle over decades versus years. This is truly unique in the industry and a big advantage to end users.

Question: Cyber security is a big issue, why is this controller secure?

Albert Rooyakkers: Bedrock was able to start with a blank sheet of paper and design security as a core tenet. We have layered and embedded cyber security that begins at the transistor level with secure microcontrollers and memory, hardware accelerators, and TRNG (true random number generation). This foundation makes our platform inherently secure and any system without it is vulnerable.

System software is another factor. Bedrock’s controller is built upon the world’s most secure RTOS (Real-Time Operating System), one that is EAL6+ (Evaluation Assurance Level) certified. This same RTOS is more often used in military and aerospace systems. This means it will continue operating even while facing persistent attacks.

Physical protection is critical to cyber security and Bedrock has that covered as well. The Black FabricTM backplane has no IO pins and enables strong anti-snoop protection while sealed all-metal modules keep cyber predators at bay. The only way to open any module is with a metal saw, which, in the case of the controller, would trigger the casing sensors to destroy the memory and keep IP safe. The supply chain is also secured via a proprietary Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) system. This enables all hardware and software used in the control system to be authenticated. This platform cryptography can then be used to authenticated third-party software and applications. This is security done right, from the inside out…really the opposite of what everyone else is trying to do.

Question: What is the pin-less backplane and why is it important?

Albert Rooyakkers: Every control system backplane requires dozens to hundreds of pins per slot on both the backplane and corresponding system module. The result is many thousands of control system pins in a moderate process site. While pin failures are more typically thought of with respect to corrosion or deformation, these are not the only issues to overcome. Other critical pin factors include EMI and EMP susceptibility, galvanic isolation and cyber security. Every pin is a place for corrosion and physical failure and also an antenna to receive and project electromagnetic radiation. Finally, pins are doorways to snooping and deciphering communications and faking out a module. By eliminating pins, all of these issues go away.

Pin-less Backplane of a Bedrock Controller

A further bonus of our approach is the ability to simplify and dramatically improve the channel to channel and channel to ground galvanic isolation. To make this idea work, we had to solve many physical and electromechanical issues and it forced us to design literally everything from scratch on both the backplane and the interconnecting IO modules. These challenges include transporting hundreds of watts of redundant power, ultra-high speed redundant communications, robust mating interconnect, materials of construction, tolerances and behaviors - all to survive the test of time and the range of expectations and industrial certifications such as IEC 60068, UL, CE, and others. The result is nothing short of transformational because it all works perfectly and the benefits are numerous and user-centric.

Question: Do you support redundant CPUs?

Albert Rooyakkers: Absolutely. Redundancy exists at the IO module, Control Module and Power Module.

Question: What is virtual marshalling?

Albert Rooyakkers: Black Fabric Virtual Marshaling Series (VMS) IO uses layers of advanced technology to deliver a software defined IO platform consisting of three IO module types: Universal Analog IO, Universal Discrete In and Universal Discrete Out. A Universal Fieldbus Module (UFM) platform is rolling out of development now to provide Profibus and DeviceNet. Other networks are on the horizon.

Question: How does Bedrock reduce total cost of ownership (TCO)?

Albert Rooyakkers: With our simple, scalable and secure system, Bedrock significantly reduces total cost of ownership in all aspects, including procurement, engineering, installation, commissioning, maintenance, and of course, cyber security.

We expect our unit prices to be very competitive to PLC and DCS systems. Engineering hours can be reduced by more than 30% due to a greatly simplified BOM (automate with less than twelve part numbers), virtual marshalling of IO and the elimination of junction boxes to reduce cable termination requirements.

With regards to installation, third party estimates show a 75% reduction in panel cost fabrication due to our reduced BOM count and cabinet volume.

With regard to commissioning, Bedrock saves in in these ways:

  • providing the ability to issue universal control panels for fabrication and installation prior to completing engineering
  • reducing control system commissioning spares
  • decreasing the impact of late design changes
  • massively simplifying the documentation and red-line processes

In regard to maintenance, imagine the cost savings achieved when you have an overall system module reduction of greater than 90% compared to typical systems. Lifetime ownership cost reductions are achieved in our lifetime non-obsolescence policy which ensures lifetime support. We call this Set and Forget Automation. This one factor alone eliminates the single largest cost of ownership, i.e. a forced wholesale replacement due to obsolescence.

And finally, there is cyber security, which is an emerging lifetime ownership cost. Suppliers today have a new revenue stream from their security offerings requiring spend on additional equipment, service and support, and added resources for implementation, training and monitoring. Bedrock Black FabricTM Deep Layered Trust is embedded into the processors, memory, communications, interconnections, backplane and package technology at no extra cost for the system components. Everything end users need is already there by design and comes with no added cost.

Question: There is an industry debate about using PLCs as a single platform in the process industry for all control. How does Bedrock view this?

Albert Rooyakkers: We have built the platform that does that and more. The objective is total automation unity including not just PLC and DCS, but SCADA RTU, Safety, Commercial HVAC, Marine, Military, and others. A moniker is needed for the new class of automation technology Bedrock can deliver. It could be called UCS, Unified Control System, or perhaps UA for Unified Automation.

Question: You literature notes the controller is ready to run any industry standard system software. What is the operating system environment?

Albert Rooyakkers: The controller’s embedded RTOS is Integrity by Green Hills Software. Our upcoming Bedrock Integrated Development Environment 1.0 is built upon CoDeSys IEC 6-1131-3 compliant editor. This includes organically developed extensions for continuous control such as advanced PID block and a few other select function blocks. We will Beta that product for field pilots in Q1 CY15 and a full product launch is scheduled for July 2015. This IDE 1.0 will include control system IO and network configuration, control application development with integrated debugging and diagnostic modules, import and export capabilities for integration with third-party applications, and online help with access to free manuals and training.

We are also working closely with Inductive Automation to launch with their Ignition SCADA HMI package through OPC UA Server support from our controller. This will provide a world class HMI to complement our offering. The combined solutions will enable Bedrock to provide integrated automation solutions in record time.

Question: What industry certifications are you pursuing?

Albert Rooyakkers: We have UL listings for Class I Groups A-D, Division II. We have also completed IEC 60068 (60068-X-X Vibration, Relative Humidity, Cold and Dry Heat, Temp Shock, Drop, Shock Operating and Non Operating) and CE testing to EMC directive 89/336 (EN00XX – 2 Emission, Immunity, IEC61000-4X ESD, RFI, EFT/Burst, Surge, Conducted). We will also complete ISASecure and Wurldtech L1 and L2 before launch next year. We are also embarking on 61508, SiLII. Certification is targeted for the second half of 2015.

Question: DCS systems have a high level of HMI integration. What is your HMI strategy?

Albert Rooyakkers: Our HMI integration strategy is OPC UA Server support in the controller. We will launch with Ignition, but can readily support any OPC UA compliant HMI product.

Question: What is your historian strategy?

Albert Rooyakkers: We will support historians through OPC UA. With the power and memory of our controllers, several people have expressed interest in enabling ultra real-time historian functionality in the controller. This is an area of interest for us in the future.

Question: Are you supporting OPC UA client and server in the controller?

Albert Rooyakkers: Yes.

Question: Bedrock was founded in 2013, which is very recent. Why should a user take a risk using your products?

Albert Rooyakkers: Bedrock officially incorporated in October 2013 but the technology project began 2.5 years ago and has been running in our lab Beta and Pilot for 14 months. The system is ready for field application testing in 2015. We designed the system to be extremely robust with a zero defect design philosophy. We have the support and financial backing of Maxim Integrated, one of the most profitable and stable companies in the semiconductor industry. We also have an all-star team with more than 200 man-years of ICS experience so end users should have the confidence to know that while the company may be “new” to the industry, the team is not. Finally, users will take a risk on us for the competitive advantage our platform will give them in the marketplace…unmatched cost savings, unbelievable performance enhancements, unheard of reliability and unimaginable cyber security. We expect early adopters to be ready to use the system as soon as we are ready to ship it. The future is now! And many users will be ready to roll with us. We believe in a future of simple, scalable, and secure automation. Others will too.

Thoughts & Observations

There has been a growing unrest among many automation consumers because traditional automation suppliers have not been keeping pace by leveraging new technology. In contrast, those same consumers use products in their daily lives that leverage the latest technology, including smart phones, tablets, and electronics in automobiles. Bedrock is stepping out of the traditional thinking and aggressively applying new technology. This company is one to watch.

Related Articles

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..