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An enabler for smart operations

19 May 2017

The FDT Group is currently working on the development of an FDT IIoT server to empower the intelligent enterprise and simplify the ecosystem exchange. Control Engineering Europe finds out more.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is one of the most significant trends in automation technology today. A melding of innovations in the fields of computing and communication, IIoT and its ‘smart’ devices look set to change the way users and machines interact as well as way that machines engage with each other.

IIoT requires standardised, open and interoperable standards to ensure that new measurement and control assets are able to communicate and work together as needed in smart industrial operations.

To advance its support of IIoT and Industry 4.0, and meet the demands of the automation end user community, the FDT Group has developed a solution known as FITS (FDT IIoT Server) with the aim of making the IIoT a reality via a broad ecosystem that spans the process, hybrid and factory automation markets, and involves controls and instrumentation suppliers, end users, and standards organisations. FITS is intended to protect legacy investments in the FDT standard through advanced business logic, well-defined interfaces and common components, while also providing the foundation for a modern, integrated automation architecture.

FITS can be deployed as a cloud, fog, local server, or standalone platform, and can scale to suit the needs of a single manufacturing facility or an entire industrial enterprise. It is a solution that enables sensor-to-cloud, enterprise-wide connectivity in industrial control systems. It allows sensor, network and topology information to permeate the enterprise – including mobile devices, DCSs, PLCs, ERP systems, the cloud, the IIoT and Industry 4.0.

For industrial organisations, FITS will be delivered as an open, standardised architecture concept to empower the intelligent enterprise and simplify the ecosystem exchange. The server’s core FRAME and DTM components are surrounded by three primary interfaces: 

• FDT/OPC UA information modeling enabling information to be shared between higher-level applications and the FITS architecture.

• Web Services supporting operating system (OS) agnostic platforms, along with a standardised mobile access approach to the FITS architecture for browsers, apps, standalone applications or anything else capable of interfacing via web sockets. 

• Control capabilities allowing operational management and maintenance for industrial automation networks and attached devices. 

FITS’ robust layered security addresses all the aforementioned components of the server architecture. It makes use of vetted industry standards and encrypted communications, with transport layer security (TLS) utilising secure HTTPS and WSS communication protocols.

FITS users will be able to switch standard protocols for any level of their backbone architecture. The technology currently supports more than 16 automation industry networks, and its open architecture makes it possible to add networks to meet changing industry demands. This includes cloud connections enabled by new IIoT/Industry 4.0 networks such as Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), Virtual Private Network (VPN) to firewall, and Azure Advanced Message Queueing Protocol (AMQP). Any other cloud method is simply a different FDT Communication DTM. The ability to seamlessly nest or tunnel through a myriad of networks to transparently communicate with the end device is key in a smart, connected enterprise.

New features announced at the FDT Group press conference at Hannover Messe 2017 in April 2017 include enhancements to the Web Services portal focused directly on the needs of facility operations and maintenance personnel to ease troubleshooting efforts. Users can now take advantage of standard browsers to gain access to device DTMs and FRAME-enabled systems, while developers can write custom apps and programs that benefit industrial maintenance departments through cloud-based enterprise data access and mobility. This includes solutions enabling troubleshooting to be performed remotely and monitoring of instruments’ critical operating parameters to ensure they are functioning according to specification. Additional maintenance benefits include the ability for field technicians to take pictures or scan bar codes with their secure, authenticated smart phones or tablets to provide a host of device-specific information. Programmers will have the option to write algorithms to simplify reporting. FITS also supports the use of augmented reality via Microsoft’s HoloLens computing device for real-time and analytic data in a hands-free operation for a virtual view of content. Devices utilising Web Services can be connected through wired media, fibre optics, or wireless networks.

Plants and factories employing FDT-enabled systems are already benefitting from open access to the Industrial Internet.  In the future FITS will simplify the move to IIoT, providing OPC UA integration, Web Services, mobility, and control to enhance connectivity and information sharing.

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