Data as the basis for digitalisation

22 August 2022

There can be no question that data and networking between machines will lead to new business models and services. Jan Kiehne explains how industrial owner/operators of all sizes can participate and why they can gain from digitalisation.

A comparison of plant owners’ top goals from 30 years ago to today would yield fairly constant results – productivity, cost efficiency and plant availability. 

But new additions to these goals – made possible by new technology in this fourth industrial revolution – include flexibility, networking, transparency, and support in using artificial intelligence. 

This duality is clearly reflected in current recommendations, for example, from NAMUR, the interest group for automation technology in the process industry. The NE 175 NAMUR Open Architecture - NOA Concept, for example, describes how the data from smart field devices can be transferred to a monitoring and optimisation domain without repercussions, while retaining the generally accepted advantages of traditional automation structures and enabling new use cases. 

In addition, there are countless areas in the digitised automation world where data plays a fundamental role. Three general developments of this role - the ‘triple jump’ of digitalisation –include: 

1. The generation of increasingly comprehensive data in the field thanks to smart field devices.
2. The transmission of data at ever-lower margin costs.
3. The use of data in networked systems, both in the field (edge) and in the cloud, in such a way that they contribute to value creation.

Let's take a more detailed look at these three areas of development below.

Smart field devices
Intelligent field devices or actuators can process data digitally and can record (analogue) process values, but also generate additional vital data, e.g. service, quality and production-relevant information about themselves and their direct environment. By transmitting data such as the quality of echo signals in radar-based level measurements or the wear of valves, they create a significant plus in transparency and traceability. 

It is therefore difficult to understand why this data remains unused in many places in the field. Intelligent, often platform-based field devices are flexible in terms of the desired form of communication. For a cost-effective entry into the digitalisation of automated plants, the widely used 4-20 mA devices without any communication can be replaced by those with an additional HART protocol. 

Existing industry standards such as Profibus also provide easy access to vital data. However, digitalisation will then receive an enormous boost with new standards such as Profinet or Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (Ethernet APL), as these will increase the transmission bandwidth many times over. 

But there are other developments – devices now use wireless connections (including Bluetooth) for safe parameterisation and monitoring from a distance. All that’s needed for this is a commercially available mobile device (e.g. smartphone) and the download of a corresponding app. 

What does this mean for field devices? If control buttons and large displays are eliminated, they can be manufactured much more cheaply. The device operator also gains increases in convenience and safety – maintenance technicians no longer have to work on the physical device itself but can conveniently connect to the device from a short distance away. 

This technology is already standard in some Siemens devices, such as those in the Sitrans LR1xx radar level line and will soon be available as an option for the Sipart PS100 positioner or the Sitrans Probe LU240 ultrasonic level transmitter.

Data transmission 
The second development phenomenon of digitalisation that makes Industry 4.0 possible are reduced costs. Today, it is possible to transport and store data at marginal costs and in such a way that the main task of automation – safe plant operation – isn’t impaired. 

In modern process plants using control technology from Siemens, this functionality is already integrated. The Simatic PDM Maintenance Station can be used to efficiently monitor the status of intelligent field devices. Existing plants can also be retrofitted with the system, regardless of the automation and control systems used. Even in plants with no communication infrastructure, access to vital data can be opened for individual plant components – the Sitrans CloudConnect 240 industrial gateway, for example, can integrate up to 64 HART devices and convert and pass on their data in a harmonised data model based on NOA. 

However, one important aspect must be highlighted. More data does not automatically mean more knowledge. It is important to select the 'right' data as early as possible and, ideally, to actually transport only this data. 

In addition, data today differs from instrument to instrument and from manufacturer to manufacturer. In order to be able to use them sensibly despite this, standardisation is required, For example, on the basis of the NOA Information Model (NOA-IM) based on OPC UA or PA-DIM (Process Automation - Device Information Model), an object model in which all devices are to be mapped in the future. 

Measuring points that are still isolated today can be accessed and networked securely and cost effectively with the help of connectivity elements with the cloud or an on premise solution.

The use of data
After generating data and making it available in a standardised way, we generate added value from it. Diagnostic data is provided in addition to process values. With the vital values of hundreds of devices, which do not have to be read individually on site, users can set up completely new strategies in maintenance and servicing. 

Even in plants that do not have their own maintenance crews or operators on site, plant availability can be increased. This requires systems that aggregate and analyse this data and relate it to parameters, tools that provide algorithms, and visualise information in a user-specific way. Siemens can offer a growing number of apps for harnessing data, which are developed jointly with co-creation partners – the possibilities are manifold. 

Process sensor technology and instrumentation play a central role in digitalisation efforts. Data generated in the field by intelligent field devices, collected consistently by connectivity elements and passed on in a standardised manner, and then processed and visualised in an integrated manner via apps in an IoT ecosystem, will become the new oil of the 21st century. 

Processed and systematised appropriately, data contributes to greater productivity, improved product quality, higher plant availability and more efficient maintenance strategies. Agile development environments in which operators, users, IT and OT specialists work together on solutions will open potential in the future and enable new business models. 

 Jan Kiehne is product manager Digital Solutions and Tools at Siemens.

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