Mobility technology secures open automation

25 October 2021

Find out how FDT 3.0-based solutions can help industrial personnel work smarter, faster, safer and more effectively. 

Mobility technology, along with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 initiatives, are transforming today’s smart manufacturing environment, empowering an intelligent enterprise through a smart, connected automation ecosystem.

Flexibility is critical on the modern manufacturing floor, and mobile platforms can provide the support needed by industrial organisations and their customers.

Experience has shown that mobility enhances the ability to:

•  Improve service efficiency
•  Reduce maintenance costs
•  Increase equipment uptime
•  Extend asset life
•  Enhance the bottom line

Continuing to evolve its open standard for enterprise-wide network and asset integration as a data-centric platform the FDT Group is dedicated to meeting the requirements for mobile device connectivity on the industrial shop floor and in the field. Its goal is to enable automation end users to employ the functionality they appreciate in the FDT integration standard on all of the leading mobile platforms. This mobility integration will provide access to additional data – at anytime and anywhere – with flexible deployment options.

The FDT 3.0 standard, including the FDT IIoT Server (FITS) platform, was developed to provide a bridge between the current FDT installed base and next generation solutions. 

At the core of FDT Group’s digitalisation approach is the new FDT Server, which natively integrates an OPC UA Server for enterprise-wide IT/OT data access and a web server mobilising remote operations. This solution transforms asset management practices and business system integration for both automation suppliers and end users in the process, hybrid and discrete manufacturing markets.

The FDT Server provides a standardised mobility environment for FDT 3.0. This modular, flexible and scalable architecture is now web server-based, and the clients are web browsers, which enables plant or factory workers to employ a standard web browser to perform a variety of duties in the field using smart devices.

The big difference
A big difference between the earlier FDT 1.2 standard and FDT 3.0 is separation of the graphical user interface (GUI) and business logic, since the current technology platform is Web User Interface (UI)-based.

The FDT IIoT architecture works with any major web browser and requires no changes to installed devices, the programmable logic control (PLC) or distributed control system (DCS) to access real-time plant floor data. However, the use of web browsers for mobile functions does come with a number of security issues which mean that the FDT architecture needed to be secure by design due to the use of robust multi-layered security and industry standards such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) enabling Web Sockets Secure (WSS) and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). This security strategy encompasses encrypted communications using TLS, role-based user security, X.509v3 certificates for device authentication, and on-the-wire-security for enabled industrial control protocols.

The key driver of FDT’s support for mobility functionality starts with its DTMs which are essential for the visualisation of smart devices across the enterprise. They contain the business logic software that defines online and offline parameters, the device model, and bus mapping for each automation device.

FDT 3.0 DTMs follow a common style guide and employ stylised, responsive touch screen features, which are mandatory for use with tablets and smart phones. 
With the FDT 3.0 standard and its updated style guide, the approach to the DTM interface includes a design focused on mobilising secure remote access independent of the device, system, browser, phone, operating system, etc. The style guide describes elements of the automation interface in the HTML5 JavaScript world.

FDT 3.0 enables a device vendor to support simple to complex devices with custom parameters to meet the engineering needs of their customer base. The vendor has complete control of parameterisation while the style guide provides the consistent and uniformed approach to represent relevant data at a glance. The user experience is the same, no matter the DTM.

These new generation DTMs automatically make device data and health information available via an OPC UA Server embedded on the FDT Server used in the FDT 3.0 architecture. As such, asset management is now deployable as a cloud service as part of an IIoT or Industry 4.0 initiative. This architecture ‘flattens’ the automation pyramid so that any application requiring data from devices can retrieve it directly from OPC UA through the DTM.

All FDT 3.0 DTMs comply with the NAMUR NE-107 recommendation, which stipulates that operators need a view of the process including the status of the instrumentation in a simple and uniform way, regardless of source device, to support predictive maintenance strategies.

The Web UI with FDT 3.0 allows DTMs to be opened in any browser, including mobile devices. It also provides a standardised mobile access approach utilising apps, standalone applications, or anything else capable of interfacing via web sockets. Manufacturers can utilise the technology’s standardised mobility platform as part of their service functionality, helping site engineers solve problems with remote assistance.

Flexible communications 
The FDT 3.0 standard, the FDT Server is a distributive architecture that offers the option to utilise either an OPC UA Client/Server environment or the OPC UA Publish-Subscribe (PubSub) communication model depending on the application and the needs of the end user. The FDT 3.0 OPC UA Server supports a Client-Server-based request-response communication mechanism between the OPC UA Client and generic client applications, which makes the full range of information model access available via services. It follows the design paradigm of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), in which a service provider receives requests, processes them and sends the results back with the response.

Going forward, the PubSub communication model will provide an alternative mechanism for data and event notification with FDT 3.0. While in Client-Server communication each notification is for a single client with guaranteed delivery, PubSub has been optimised for on change-only, one-to-many configuration. This approach is essential for secure multicasting, one-to-many publishing, machine-to-machine communication, dynamic network relations, and several additional scenarios.

Enabling the FDT OPC UA Server with OPC PubSub communication will significantly reduce communication traffic between asset health monitoring applications and the server application, improving performance and making the solution scalable to IIoT requirements. Remote monitoring applications will be able to monitor asset health on a different network in real-time, using bridging protocols like AMQP and MQTT.

Remote access with Web Services will enable 24/7 observation of devices. Any mobile device authenticated by the FDT Server and operated by an authenticated user will have full access to the topology with a tunneling capability to manage assets on any network. These features will result in the development of new apps to optimise asset management, preventive maintenance and other critical functions at modern process plants.

Thanks to the FDT standard, the ability to integrate diverse plant and factory information enables personnel to mitigate process upsets and instrument malfunctions. The combination of measured values, valve openings and device diagnostics helps identify specific deviations in operation and instrument performance. This level of interoperability and true advanced diagnostics is optimising modern plant and factory operations.

Industrial end users can also create mobile apps to meet their operational requirements and access specific information from individual DTMs. This might include an operational-type app showing any devices with a ‘Needs Attention’ status, or a management-type app providing hourly production results from a given line or facility. These tools can be developed independent of the DCS or PLC application. FDT’s open interface makes it possible to extract data from devices and report it in the app without the need for any additional coding.

The latest advancements to FDT technology are mobilising the monitoring of industrial facilities and processes, as well as specific networks and devices, as part of modern asset management strategies. Lifecycle monitoring and maintenance can now be done with FDT’s new standardised mobile interface or via web browsers through smart devices in a way that’s fully integrated with DCSs, PLCs and other control assets.

From the simplest to the most complex operations, FDT-enabled mobile applications will empower plant personnel to work smarter, faster and more effectively to keep assets in top operating condition. They will gain the ability to complete tasks and record notes directly at the instruments they are maintaining and repairing. In fact, field workers who use mobile devices to access equipment maintenance data will report more frequently and with higher accuracy.

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