From vision to reality: an innovative combination of automation and cloud technology

25 May 2016

For many, the Internet of Things (IoT) is, still a far-off vision. While productivity is set to improve with the increasingly networked, Internet-capable smart devices and the data they provide, specific details on implementation as well as fully developed business models are generally unavailable or have not yet been fully fleshed out. Arno Martin discusses a cloud-based solution which opens up new use cases in the area of system automation.

A combination of forward-looking standards gives rise to innovative solutions that cut costs and, in turn, enhance competitiveness. The Proficloud technology from Phoenix Contact, a cloud-based concept, opens up new and easy-to-implement use cases in the area of system automation.

Profinet and the Internet
The Profinet Industrial Ethernet standard enables a variety of solutions to be implemented – from mechanical engineering and production engineering, to process and building automation – to the entire spectrum of drive technology. The Proficloud technology now connects the Profinet networks of automation technology with the Internet.

A standard Proficloud application consists of at least one Proficloud coupler, one Proficloud device, and one Profinet controller. The Proficloud coupler connects the local Profinet network with the Proficloud via two Ethernet interfaces. While one of the interfaces is used for linking to the local Profinet system, connection to the Internet is established via the second Ethernet interface. Subsequently, the coupler automatically initiates a connection with the Proficloud and is ready for operation after a short period of time.

The same applies to Proficloud devices, which are also easily linked to the Internet and automatically connect to the Proficloud. Then, the user must only register the Proficloud devices with the UUID (Universal Unique Identifier) in the Proficloud and assign them a Proficloud coupler. The UUIDs are used as clearly identifying information in distributed systems. After registration, the Profinet system begins communicating via the Proficloud, with communication secured by Transport Layer Security (TLS).

New concepts
The Proficloud makes it easy to network I/O assemblies or connect any Internet-capable device. Such devices include smartphones and smartwatches, with an app running on the device that establishes communication with the Proficloud. This expands the interaction between human and machine, as status messages and other alerts now appear directly on the machine operator’s smartwatch. In the next step, he or she can respond using voice control functions without being at the respective control panel.

Aside of the integration of smart devices into the cloud, the sensors and actuators can also be linked directly via Proficloud controllers to the solution. The machine then sends the sensor data to the IT-based big data infrastructures, where it is analyzed and triggers the appropriate responses in the application. The operators or users require smart analytical systems that consistently deploy big data applications. Virtual Proficloud devices, created specifically for the relevant system, could conduct the analysis in such cases. The data from the system would be captured by the virtual Proficloud device via the Profinet protocol. This would then be analysed in the cloud, after which the (recommended) actions would be reported back to the system and its operator.

Any Internet service as a Proficloud device
There is then the matter of how to transfer data from the Proficloud devices to the analytical systems and protect it from unauthorized access. The Proficloud device sends its process data to the Proficloud as soon as a connection to the Internet – and thus to the cloud – has been made. The limitation to ‘outbound connection’ ensures that nobody from the Internet can initiate undesired communication with the Proficloud devices. Once the devices are connected to the Proficloud via the Internet, a Profinet instance of every coupled Proficloud device is generated in the Proficloud coupler. All Proficloud devices now receive their own IP and MAC addresses, which are mapped in the local Profinet network. The user can then program any Proficloud device as though it were a local Profinet device.

Comprehensive protection
Because data transmission by the Proficloud coupler and devices is protected by TLS encoding and the connection can only be established by the Proficloud device, two fundamental aspects of Proficloud data security are observed. Even the Web application for parameterization of the Proficloud is forwarded to the user through HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure), making it safe against unauthorized access.

In summary, users can easily integrate the Proficloud into existing systems because the solution is based on the Profinet protocol established in automation technology. In this way, Phoenix Contact makes integrating automation solutions into the cloud as simple and secure as possible so that the user can take advantage of the many options provided by Internet technology.

Arno Martin Fast, B.Eng is control technology product marketing manager at Phoenix Contact Electronics GmbH, Bad Pyrmont in Germany

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