Communication cooperation continues apace

30 January 2017

Suzanne Gill reports on the latest networking and communication protocol developments.

The CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) used the SPS/IPC/Drives to announce the completion of the promised interoperability specification between CC-Link IE and PROFINET and to launch CC-Link IE Field Network Basic. 

Basic Mode is the latest addition to the CLPA family of network technologies, bringing CC-Link IE to 100Mbit devices through the implementation of software at both master and device level, without the need for hardware changes. The principal aim of the new technology is to increase the accessibility of CC-Link IE to vendors whose devices do not support gigabit connections. Basic Mode is compatible with TCP/IP and UDP/IP based Ethernet technology, which helps maximise the interoperability with other Ethernet-based devices and services. 

“Basic Mode takes the gigabit capabilities of CC-Link IE and offers them to devices that operate at 100Mbit. We are broadening our solution, offering the choice of gigabit or 100Mbit” Typically, when developing devices for a network it is necessary to use special chips or develop some hardware. Basic allows everything to be developed using just software,” explained John Browett, general manager at CLPA Europe.

Building on the initial announcement during SPS/IPC/Drives 2015, the interoperability specification for CC-Link IE and PROFINET was launched at the latest event. The new document has been produced by a joint working group within a year of the original announcement. The specification will provide users in both Asian and European markets, increased levels of transparency. “I was very surprised that we achieved all of this work in just one year!” said Karsten Schneider, Chairman of PI (PROFIBUS & PROFINET International.” Over the past 12-months a working group has been drafting a specification to provide interoperability between the two protocols. The specification centres on the functionality of a ‘coupler’ device – which allows transparent communication between CC-Link IE and PROFINET, allowing, both networks to seamlessly share information, increasing transparency and integration. The first supported products are expected to come to market in 2017.

OPC-UA developments
At an OPC Foundation press event, the initial results of a joint collaboration between Leuze electronic and Microsoft, to develop a sensor solution with Industry 4.0 capability, were discussed. The resulting Smart Sensor solution is based on the BCL 300i bar code reader from Leuze electronic. Its process data and metadata can be transferred directly to the Microsoft Azure Cloud via the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) of the OPC-UA interface without the need for an intermediate gateway. The data is recorded by the IOT hub and made available to the Azure Cloud Services for analysis and visualisation. The data in the Cloud can be visualised using an external device.

OPC UA is also being embedded at the chip level making Hilscher netX Chips IIoT-ready. Hilscher's strategy to support key technologies in the race towards IIoT architectures means that OPC UA is now fully operational in the stacks used in its netX 51/52 and netX90 slave chips. This means that a simple firmware change is all that is needed to enable slaves to communicate with Edge Gateways and the Cloud. The recently released netX 90 system-on-chip (SoC) boasts this capability from the start so both present and future generations of slave chips are now fully IIoT-enabled and can offer greater flexibility for a variety of industrial slave/device applications.

The FDT Group announced the release of an annex to the FDT standard for OPC UA, which will enable sensor-to-cloud, enterprise-wide connectivity in industrial control systems used in process, hybrid and factory automation applications.  The FDT Group and OPC Foundation have been working on this initiative since 2011 to provide greater access to critical information throughout the enterprise. 

The FDT standard is the hub of critical information from FDT/DTM-enabled devices, while the OPC UA standard provides an infrastructure to make this information available to even more applications and platforms. Together, the two solutions allow sensor, network and topology information to permeate the enterprise, including mobile devices, ERP systems, the cloud, IIoT and Industry 4.0. 

The FDT/OPC UA annex is intended for implementation by automation system manufacturers in FDT Frame Applications (FDT/FRAMEs). System suppliers with an FDT/FRAME embedded in their DCS, asset management system, PLC or other system have the ability to include an OPC UA server in an application accessible from any OPC UA client application. 

Tom Burke, OPC Foundation president and executive director said: “We are pleased with the completion of the OPC UA annex for FDT Technology. It is an important milestone for standard integration of information provided by Device Type Managers (DTMs) into the OPC UA information model – a key capability for device diagnostics, configuration and remote asset management, as well for integration with manufacturing execution systems.” 

The combined FDT/OPC standards create a single system infrastructure that standardises the connection of industrial networks, automation systems and devices. OPC provides a uniform interface for many different client applications, whereas FDT provides network/device configuration and access to devices. This approach enables unification of system engineering, configuration and diagnosis in Industry 4.0, and supports Industry 4.0 devices, but is also able to build a bridge to legacy networks and devices. 

Most recently, work has been undertaken to integrate the FDT/OPC collaboration results into a developer tool known as FDT/FRAME Common Components. Use of the Common Components enables automation suppliers to immediately begin developing FDT-enabled solutions while maintaining backwards compatibility to previous versions of the standard. Implementing the FDT/FRAME Common Components is said to provide for a quicker product development time and allows suppliers to focus on the value-added features of their own product rather than on new software code. 

More about FDT
The FDT Group also used the SPS/IPC/Drives event to introduce the FDT/IIoT Server (FITS) for mobility, cloud, and fog enterprise applications. The FITS solution protects industry investments in FDT through advanced business logic, well-defined interfaces and common components, and enables operating system (OS) agnostic implementation of the technology while supporting existing integrated automation architecture. 

To facilitate its commitment to its new tagline ‘Connecting the Intelligent Enterprise,’ the FDT Group developed the FITS solution to be deployable as a cloud, fog, local server, or standalone platform – allowing it to scale to suit varying needs. FITS also takes advantage of an OPC UA annex, enabling sensor-to-cloud, enterprise-wide connectivity in industrial control systems used in the process, hybrid and factory automation markets. 

According to Glenn Schulz, managing director of the FDT Group, the FITS solution represents the key architectural role that FDT plays in an intelligent enterprise. “The FDT Group is working with the various IIoT initiatives around the world to ensure that our new architecture meets their emerging requirements,” he said. “In addition, the FDT platform is being enhanced to include operating system agnostic support for standard browsers, fit-for-purpose apps, and general web services for any potential expansion.”
In yet another cooperation agreement the ODVA and FDT Group have been working together to create a Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) to the FDT standard that supports seamless tunneling through all of the networks and in combination with any other network supported by the FDT2 standard. One of the benefits of the recent enhancements to the FDT standard is that providers of EtherNet/IP products, as well as DeviceNet, ControlNet and CompoNet products, can now supply FDT DTMs to support their products regardless of the FDT/FRAME or network interface cards involved. All of the latest FDT/FRAMES can then immediately support CIP and the network adaptations of CIP. 

“When FDT is used in combination with CIP and its network adaptations, the resulting system provides users with a feature-rich, interoperable environment for configuration, command and control,” said Schulz. “The on-going collaboration between ODVA and the FDT Group will help optimize the exchange of configuration, diagnostic and production data between field devices and higher-level systems.”
Advancing process adoption
ODVA is also working with NAMUR, an international user association of automation technology in the process industries, to advance the adoption of industrial Ethernet in the process industries. The focus of this collaboration will be to continue to refine formal requirements for an Ethernet communication system for the process industry. NAMUR is formulating its strategy and requirements to adopt industrial Ethernet in process automation where possible, said Sven Seintsch, chairman of NAMUR Working Group 2.6.  “NAMUR welcomes the opportunity to partner with ODVA, as the organisation that develops and manages the EtherNet/IP technology and standards, to help accelerate adoption of industrial Ethernet in the process industry,” he said.

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