Will Industry 4.0 & IIoT create new standards wars?

  • April 20, 2015
  • Feature

Bill Lydon’s Automation Perspective

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Over the years as an automation engineer I have witnessed standards wars that resulted in higher costs for users. This same pattern could develop again with Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). But, there are some positive developments that might allow us to avoid new standard wars. Hopefully, the various “camps with agendas” will converge their approaches and standards to leverage the latest Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data and analytics technologies. It would be great if we could avoid the religious/cult wars like we experienced in the past. The standards wars of the past increased application engineering labor, complicated systems startups, decreased system reliability/availability, complicated troubleshooting, and required the use of cumbersome software drivers and gateways to automate production and processes in plants.

New Architecture Tethering Points

A number of building blocks and resources that leverage IoT technologies are already being used to create more efficient, responsive make-to-order systems. That is very encouraging! Here are a few examples.


Ethernet has become the backbone of industrial automation communications and includes wired and wireless (802.11.x and 802.15.4). The IP (Internet Protocol) standards are the “plumbing” for cloud computing and they are being leveraged in many cases rather than reinventing an alternative. The major industrial protocol standards need to be upgraded to IPv6 to keep pace with the Internet of Things. As IPv6 becomes broadly adopted worldwide, industrial protocols not natively supporting IPv6 will become effectively non-standard.

Configuration Standard

Plug-n-Play has been elusive in the industrial automation world. Industrial network protocol standards each have unique configuration software and electronic data sheets (EDS). Too many “standards” create complexity and inefficiencies for users. There is hope that the FDT Group will achieve a single standard. With any standard, everyone agrees that open standards are a good thing. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to make it happen and there can be protective attitudes. For example, an FDT press conference hosted a panel of participating organizations and vendors that discussed multiple protocol cooperation. I asked if there will be a harmonization of electronic data sheets for various protocols into a single standard. A representative for a major industrial protocol said, “This is not technically possible!” Obviously, it IS possible. If we used that logic, plug-n-play printers would not have be possible in the computer industry.

Web Services

OPC UA (IEC 62541) is becoming very popular as a communications mechanism. OPC UA is now embedded in a number of industrial automation controllers, drives, sensors and other devices. It is also being adopted by enterprise software companies like SAP and Oracle. OPC UA incorporates data models from the successful OPC standards that have been used for years. Plus, data models from a number of other standards groups are being integrated, including FDI, Standards Leadership Council (SLC), Drilling System Automation Technical Section (DSATS), Energistics / Production Markup Language (PRODML), MCS-DCS Interface Standardization (MDIS), BACnet, MTConnect, ISA-95 Common Object Model ISA95 (ANSI/ISA-95/IEC 62264), and others.

Programming Standards

In collaboration with the OPC Foundation, the PLCopen organization introduced 23 OPC UA function blocks to extend the IEC 61131-3 control programming software standard for communications. This enables automation engineers to utilize web services via standard function blocks. Functions include communication of information, synchronization of make-to-order manufacturing, invocation of remote methods, and diagnostics, all using familiar IEC 6 1131-3 integrated development environments.

Use Case Standards

PackML is a great example of leveraging existing standards to create a use case standard. PackML defines a common approach for automating packaging machines. The primary goals are to encourage a common "look and feel" across a plant floor and to enable and encourage industry innovation. PackML was adopted as part of the ISA88 industry standard in August of 2008. PackML has been implemented by users and machine builders on a wide variety of control platforms. Those companies that implement PackML are realizing cost benefits of higher reliability, better supply chain integration, reduced engineering and training costs, and shorter project cycles.

Thoughts & Observations

The vision of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things requires building blocks to create new architectures using open interfaces based on worldwide standards. The industry needs to get beyond tightly coupled systems that lock hardware and software together and create function-limiting dependencies. If the Internet maintained multiple incompatible standards like the automation industry does today you could not send an email to everyone on the Internet.

Industry 4.0 is a systems approach. I have been closely following it for more than 4 years. It is gaining momentum in Europe, Asia, and is now getting attention in North America. In February, I was in Berlin, Germany and discussed this with people from around the world. Companies are introducing hardware and software products that support Industry 4.0 concepts. Industry 4.0 has already embraced OPC UA (IEC 62541), ISA95 (ANSI/ISA-95/IEC 62264), and IEC 61131. The use of these standards exemplifies the openness of Industry 4.0. Europeans have a track record of both creating and adopting standards that become world standards. In recent years, the Asians have also embraced these standards because they understand that they deliver more efficiency.

It would be great if we can avoid standards wars between vendors and trade organizations. They are counterproductive, and do not serve the best interest of users or industry. I hope, as a mature industry, we can work towards convergence and harmonization. The alternative is a standards dogfight where users pay the price, just as they did with the fieldbus wars in the 1990s.


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