On-Premise IIoT for OPC UA | Automation.com

On-Premise IIoT for OPC UA

On-Premise IIoT for OPC UA

By Bob McIlvride, Director of Communications, Skkynet

Much of the conversation in the industrial automation and control press has been about IIoT, Industrie 4.0, smart manufacturing, digitalization, and similar topics. Suppliers of hardware and software talk about gateways to the cloud, edge processing, Big Data, and artificial intelligence. Early adopters of the IIoT are starting to report successes, and case studies are beginning to appear that demonstrate what is working.

In this rapidly-changing environment, some engineers and plant managers are understandably cautious. The benefits do sound plausible, the ROI could be significant, and the technology is available. But this whole idea conflicts with a long-standing practise in many companies: keep the data on-premise. Sending data to the cloud is seen as simply too great a risk. What happens to the data en route, and where does it get stored when it arrives there? Company policy often dictates that the data will not leave the plant, or at least, will not be stored or managed off the company premises.

Does that rule out participation in the IIoT? Not necessarily. For certain applications and industries, on-premise IIoT is an option. By on-premise IIoT, we mean the ability to bring data from the Internet of Things (IoT) into the plant, and integrate it with an industrial automation or control system. The IIoT is all about connecting data sources, integrating their data, using it to power analytics, and possibly doing supervisory control on selected equipment or systems. There's no reason that can't be done on-premise.

For example, many of the IoT offerings available for industrial applications use MQTT as a messaging protocol. At the same time, OPC UA stands out as a secure and reliable protocol for in-plant data communications. Bringing these two protocols together for IIoT applications, a number of hardware and software vendors have created different kinds of OPC UA/MQTT gateways. These gateways are intended to connect to your plant equipment with OPC UA, and send the data to the cloud via MQTT. Instead, why not pull in MQTT data and keep all the data on-premise?

As MQTT grows in popularity for cloud connectivity, we may expect to see more and more devices supporting it. MQTT was originally designed for monitoring pipelines, by providing efficient anomaly detection over low-latency connections. This makes it ideal for devices in remote field locations with limited bandwidth connections.

Integrating MQTT with OPC UA may become more common as IIoT, Industrie 4.0 and other smart manufacturing initiatives drive hardware suppliers to support OPC UA for in-plant systems and MQTT for remote devices. This kind of integration can be done locally using real-time middleware that supports both OPC UA server and client connections, as well as acting as an MQTT broker.

"But wait," you may be saying, "This is starting to look a lot like SCADA." From a 30,000-foot level, that does seem to be the case—integrating data from field devices and in-plant equipment. In fact, you could keep it at that, an adjunct or plug-in to your SCADA system that integrates MQTT data with your OPC UA data. On the other hand, this could become the basis for an on-premise IIoT solution, where the data gets integrated, stored, analyzed, and fed back to operators and engineers using the latest IIoT technologies and gadgets. Other protocols could be integrated, as long as they are either supported natively by the system, or converted. Legacy and proprietary systems could be connected as well.

Given the amount of innovation and new initiatives in the realm of IIoT and Industrie 4.0, there is every reason to believe that on-premise IIoT is not a pipe dream. Once you are able to integrate MQTT and OPC UA at your location, you have the basis for IIoT—without sending your data to the cloud.

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