IT/OT Convergence Delivers a Growing Range of Benefits

IT/OT Convergence Delivers a Growing Range of Benefits
IT/OT Convergence Delivers a Growing Range of Benefits

As digital technologies for process industries have evolved, they’ve brought a growing number of benefits to process plant operations and operators. The pace of change started picking up in the 1990s when distributed control systems (DCSs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems began to switch from proprietary operating systems to general-purpose environments such as UNIX and Microsoft Windows. This made it possible to shift to commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) products and to store large amounts of data over long periods on large-capacity hard-disk drives.
Powerful Windows-based software platforms, borrowed and adapted from the commercial domain, made it far easier to create reports and analyze data. This made it possible to create applications including plant information management systems (PIMS), along with manufacturing operation management (MOM) and manufacturing execution systems (MES). Tools became available to capture operational data, store it for long durations, process it, analyze it, and utilize the improvements it yielded in daily operations.
Expanded networking capabilities combined with COTS software created hazards in the form of a larger potential cyber-attack surface, but this software also provided new types of tools to protect networks and harden applications and platforms.
By using the combined effects of the network technology improvements, process plants and facilities can now be monitored over a wide area. SCADA systems are used to monitor far-flung oil and gas wells, extensive pipelines, and other assets (Figure 1). As a result, it is possible to share information with multiple functional areas simultaneously:

  • On-site operators.

  • Field specialists, regardless of their location.

  • Engineering specialists (process, mechanical, electrical, etc.).

  • IT and OT (information and operations technology) software and networking specialists.

  • Business divisions.


Figure 1: New networking capabilities make it easier for SCADA systems to cover far-flung assets.

Maintenance tasks have also evolved through this time. In the 1990s, communication standards for field equipment such as FOUNDATION Fieldbus and HART were born, providing new ways for maintenance and operations to obtain data through the networks. Maintenance data are now used in plant equipment management (PAM) software applications. PAM captures, historizes, and analyzes data from field instruments, control systems, and various sensors—making it possible to predict potential equipment failures.
The ways in which plants and companies use the tools and embrace the benefits resulting from this evolutionary process varies widely, although the direction industry-wide is positive. Knowing the extent to which these benefits can be effectively utilized occupies an important role in plant operations, and the tendency toward their utilization is expected to become even stronger in the future.
Yokogawa provides software and services that utilize data handled by DCS and SCADA platforms. These are built on the FAST/TOOLS software for CENTUM VP and SCADA integrated production control systems. We think that their importance will continue to increase as they not only provide significant benefits but also address connectivity and cybersecurity concerns.

Digital transformation

Let’s think about several developments of the last decade or so and see how they work together.

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and its industrial version (IIoT) have added millions upon millions of devices connected by the Internet.

  • Countless terabytes of operational data can be easily stored in the Cloud.

  • Functions using artificial intelligence (AI) are now operating in industrial environments.

  • Software is increasingly supported in the Cloud and utilized as a service rather than purchased.  

When those changes are brought together and used in concert, we call it digital transformation (DX). This has become a crucial issue for many companies as they explore how to utilize these new digital technologies. Such discussions often have a high sense of urgency stemming from a belief that companies unable to make sufficient progress will lose competitive strength and business continuity.
So how can DX be realized in a process manufacturing environment? Often a first step is using the IIoT to connect all the equipment to plant networks for mutual communication among all nodes. By installing IIoT sensors for maintenance on all equipment and manufacturing assets in the plant, it is possible to acquire data such as vibration, surface temperature, pressure, and a wide range of other variables. Based on this acquired data, equipment condition can be determined, which delivers multiple benefits. It reduces the need for manual inspections, and it helps detect equipment abnormalities early, thereby avoiding downtime due to unexpected equipment failures.
Many industrial plants and facilities are also actively looking at other new digital technologies such as virtualization, moving more functions to the Cloud, creating digital twins, and using AI as a data analysis tool. However, according to a report by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, many companies have not quite been able to finally realize transformation using these new technologies alone.
The key to successful DX is to not only utilize plant operation data with digital technology but to also apply the results obtained. Data must be analyzed on a continuous basis to improve plant operations, and the results must be fed back for digital processing, with continuous improvement resulting from this feedback loop structure. The key to making it happen is the convergence and fusion of IT and OT.

Collaborative information server

To facilitate this fusion Yokogawa has launched its Collaborative Information Server (CI Server) as a new product that achieves IT/OT convergence. The CI Server is a software platform (Figure 2) that applies plant operation support technology, which was cultivated through the development of Yokogawa’s CENTUM VP DCS and FAST/TOOLS SCADA systems. The CI Server was developed to create mechanisms so plant operations can effectively utilize digital technology.

Figure 2: Yokogawa’s CI Server is a practical platform to build IT/OT convergence.

The platform comprises several key elements:

  • A web server that acts as a data server for sending and receiving data to and from external applications and systems.

  • An HMI that supports HTML5 and various work environments.

  • Connectivity between the data server and the HMI.

  • Cybersecurity functions to control access and detect unauthorized network activity.

The CI Server supports redundant configurations and provides a reliable and highly stable environment. Wide-area communication is possible, as well as integration of distant plants and remote monitoring of their operations.
It comes with communication protocols such as Modbus and IEC61850, communication drivers for controllers such as major PLCs, and an MQTT interface that is growing in popularity for supporting data gathering from IIoT sensors. Therefore, not only can process data and alarms be acquired from the control system, but also data from the facilities and systems that manage various other equipment and devices.
The CI Server supports OPC UA, which is also gaining attention as a versatile communication protocol. OPC UA enables efficient interconnection and information linkage between a control system and external systems, applications, and devices. Compared to conventional OPC Classic, the information-model function is greatly improved.
The information-model function takes operations data, which was previously treated as grains of individual numerical values or character strings, and handles it as a collection that is organized and structured through mutual associations. Deciding in advance on the information model to be used eliminates the work of associating address numbers and I/O numbers. Previously, this work was required for interconnection, but now OPC UA enables connectivity among external systems, applications, devices, and other entities with very high efficiency.
Building an information model reduces the subsequent cost and labor spent on organizing information. This makes it possible for IT to handle OT-specific information in a mutually shared format, where previously this was difficult for IT technology to address. It improves efficiency and brings benefits obtained on the IT side back to the OT side.
The CI Server realizes IT/OT convergence through highly efficient cooperation between the two sides via OPC UA. It is now possible to provide the right information to the right person quickly to support more effective decision making. Companies can respond rapidly to market changes, optimize costs, improve quality, and improve operational efficiency.
Protection against cyber intrusions is provided with a combination of strategies to provide defense-in-depth. First, networks have compartmentalized access, balanced to provide information to those who need it while limiting unnecessary access. Second, new software platforms have more protections built in. Third, network traffic is monitored to detect suspicious activity outside of normal operations. Industrial networks generally have routine patterns of activity, and when odd things happen, they may signal unauthorized access.

Fusion of the CI Server with digital technology

New value is created by fusing the data collected on the CI Server with new digital technologies such as the Cloud, digital twins, and AI. As an example, consider a digital twin Mirror Plant based on the Omega Land dynamic simulator developed by our Yokogawa group company, Omega Simulation.
A Mirror Plant acquires process and operations data in real time from the control system of its corresponding actual plant and uses this information to perform a dynamic simulation (Figure 3). Because all the state quantities of the Mirror Plant’s model are calculated, one can determine the flow, temperature, pressure, level, and composition in the equipment and piping. It is then possible to visualize state quantities that have not been measured in the actual plant and to create alerts.

Figure 3: A Mirror Plant responds just like the real counterpart, allowing operators to test process changes and adjustments.

Similarly, when an action is difficult to perform in an actual plant, or when it is necessary to change a specific parameter and check its effect, a high-speed simulation can predict the outcomes. Information obtained from the Mirror Plant can also be incorporated into the HMI of the CI Server.
A Mirror Plant makes it possible to visualize things inside the process that are not normally accessible, predict future behavior of the plant, reduce operator load, and promote stable operation. In this way, the CI Server has the potential to create new value by fusing with new digital technologies from a variety of providers.

Looking ahead

With the evolution of digital technology, plant control has begun to shift from traditional industrial automation systems, such as DCS and SCADA, to autonomous control. This change to industrial autonomy means that all processes, from start-up to stop, are controlled by the judgment of the system itself, with greatly reduced need for operator intervention.
As autonomy advances, the routine work that humans have traditionally done can be reduced, with saved time and effort allocated to working on higher value-added tasks. Automating tasks that are difficult for humans to perform also leads to improved health, safety, and environmental results.
Two critical elements are required to reach these goals: proving the autonomous judgment of the system, and the development of robots that can perform the actual work in place of humans (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Robots are rapidly improving and taking on tasks too dangerous or repetitive for humans.

 Yokogawa is promoting industrial automation to industrial autonomy as a roadmap to realize this major advance. As a step towards reaching this goal, the CI Server helps improve the autonomous ability of systems by fusing plant data and digital technology, while simultaneously enabling IT/OT convergence.
All figures courtesy of Yokogawa. 
For more information, please go to this website.

About The Author

Masaru Yamazaki is the system business and products planning manager for Yokogawa Electric Corporation. He was a system and sales engineer for integrated control and systems for more than 30 years and is now responsible for system business and products planning. Yamazaki graduated from Seikei University with a master’s degree in Information Engineering.
Chigusa Akana has worked at Yokogawa for 10 years as the person in charge of web digital content for the marketing of products such as PLCs, DCSes, and other automation system. Akana graduated from the University of Rikkyo with a degree in Economics.

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