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IIoT, software top experts’ lists of future foci

Feb. 3, 2021
A look at the evolution of technological solutions with our panel of five experts discussing connectivity and how software affects hardware.

Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier heads R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic. He joined the German manufacturer of drive solutions in 2019.

Hainzlmaier studied mechanical engineering in Munich and Toulouse, France, and earned his Ph.D. in materials science. After completing his doctorate, Hainzlmaier spent several years with McKinsey before he worked for Webasto, where he most recently served as vice president, electric heating.

John Pannone is vice president of sales, HMI systems / key customer management, North America, at EAO.

Phil Marshall is CEO, North America, of Hilscher.

Josh Eastburn is director of technical marketing at Opto 22.

Rick Simer is technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive.

What are three key things that a machine builder, system integrator or manufacturer should know about your company?

Josh Eastburn, director of technical marketing, Opto 22: For more than 45 years, OEMs, machine builders, system integrators and IT and operations personnel have looked to us for reliable products that deliver cutting-edge innovation at an affordable price. Heard of Ethernet I/O? That was us. OPC? We co-wrote the spec as one of the founding members. How about PACs? Us again.

Today, we design and manufacture industrial control and IIoT products, such as grooc EPIC and groov RIO, which bridge the gap between IT and OT, following a core philosophy of open, standards-based technology (Figure 1).

Opto 22 products are deployed worldwide in industrial automation, process control, building automation, industrial refrigeration, remote monitoring and data acquisition applications through our global network of distributors and system integrators.

Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier, head of R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic: The three key words I would choose are: products, customers and innovation. Nanotec is an industry leader in smart brushless motors, motor controllers, linear actuators and motion control systems, located near Munich, Germany. Our customers can select the best system for the application from our standard product range using our online configuration tools, or we can provide a customized prototype for a first pilot run to prepare series production. As a fast-growing technology company, our focus is on innovation and excellent R&D, helping our customers create innovations themselves. We’re proud to have been ranked among the Top 100 innovative companies in Germany.

Rick Simer, technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive: SEW-Eurodrive is a technology leader, offering a wide portfolio of centralized and decentralized drive solutions from controllers and software all the way to the geared motors—shaft to plug approach. We offer products from simple shaft spinner drives to high-end highly dynamic servo systems. Applications range from simple conveyors to high-dynamic systems including robotics.

We are a system solution partner in a variety of industries for machine automation, monorail systems and also offer a line of automated-guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated mobile robots (AMR).

SEW-Eurodrive is a proud family-owned manufacturer with six U.S. facilities, including one state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and five assembly plants. Currently, we are expanding U.S. operations with an additional 440,000 sq ft of manufacturing and production space in South Carolina in 2021. At the same time, we are an international automation partner who can offer support and a wide array of service capabilities in 51 countries.

John Pannone, VP sales, HMI systems / key customer management, North America, EAO: The three things to know about EAO is that we are committed to providing convenient, safe and attractive HMI components and system solutions. EAO has a proud history of developing new technologies and HMI solutions that serve our global customer base. As a solutions-focused partner, EAO delivers a range of local engineering and manufacturing capabilities in each of our markets to help our customers solve their HMI challenges and needs.

EAO provides a broad spectrum of HMI solutions for machinery applications. This includes convenience features with indicators, displays or illumination, hardware or software, and safety functions with fool-proof e-stop switches that offer the highest safety standards. Machine builders and operators should know that EAO brings 75 years of experience in the development of machinery components and system developments.

Phil Marshall, CEO, Hilscher North America: Hilscher develops communications solutions for users across all three spaces: machine builder (OEM), system integrator, and end-user Manufacturer. Machine builders rely on Hilscher netX chips and embedded comms modules to add multi-protocol support for any and all industrial communication networks required by their machines. These include all popular fieldbuses, real-time Ethernets, IoT protocols, such as OPC UA and MQTT, and even time-sensitive networking (TSN). System integrators deploy Hilscher edge gateways, such as netFIELD Connect, as data collectors at the network edge, aggregating and delivering device data to cloud-based and higher-level applications. And end-user manufacturers utilize Hilscher protocol convertors, gateways and edge devices to bridge any network combination found on the plant floor, such as Profibus to Profinet or EtherCAT to EtherNet/IP (Figure 2). Each of these product portfolios relies on Hilscher’s own netX chip technology to deliver a communications solution that is packaged with multi-protocol support, common tools and driver software and next-generation security functions.
Flow-controller connection

Figure 2: An automation services company uses a Hilscher netTAP 151 gateway to provide a simple way of connecting EtherCAT-networked thermal mass flow controllers (MFCs) to its standard Ethernet/IP networks.
(Source: Hilscher)

What new technologies are driving your product development and why?

John Pannone, VP sales, HMI systems / key customer management, North America, EAO: First and foremost, the COVID-19 global pandemic is fueling the need for higher hygiene standards in every industry, especially HMI. This not only impacts machinery applications, but any kind of application where a human touch is the fundamental basis for interaction between man and machine. EAO is committed to the development of higher safety and hygiene standards that improve the customer and end-user experience.

Secondly, the evolution of every technical solution travels from mechanics through electronics toward the software solution. We believe that HMI for machinery applications follow this path, and we are driving this kind of development with our innovative, intuitive and reliable components and systems for the machinery industry.

Josh Eastburn, director of technical marketing, Opto 22: Traditional industrial communication systems address data processing from an hierarchical perspective, as with the classic Purdue model. One good feature of this hierarchy is the clarity it provides with regard to where data can originate, be stored, undergo processing and be delivered. However, the task of transporting data and processing it in context is often quite difficult, because so many layers of equipment and software are required to connect devices and applications.

Industrial edge computing is changing the relationship between field assets and the systems that collect and use their data. Edge computing provides general-purpose computing, networking, and storage in the field that offloads central processing, preserves data fidelity, improves local responsiveness and security, and increases data transfer efficiency into other systems. A distributed system based on edge computing can process and report data directly to SCADA systems, databases, cloud services and business applications.

Complementary to this, MQTT/Sparkplug B is gaining traction as a potential standard for large-scale interoperable IIoT communications. MQTT can provide communication that is 80-90% more efficient than traditional poll-response protocols because of its lightweight format and brokered report-by-exception communication pattern. And because client connections are outgoing (device-originating), edge device firewalls can completely block outside connection requests while still providing bi-directional communication. Building on top of this, Sparkplug B defines an interoperable data exchange format for MQTT communications with a data-rich payload structure that supports a unified namespace where IIoT communication can happen across the organization.

Together edge computing and MQTT/Sparkplug B are laying a foundation for widespread IIoT.

Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier, head of R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic: In general, we want our customers to become innovators. In the fast-growing market for automated-guided vehicles (AGV), we were one of the first companies supplying prototypes of integrated wheel drives. Now we are following our customers into series production. Also, the technology of functional safety has a significant impact on our product development, and we are working on new products for the robotics, industry-automation and medical-engineering markets.
Phil Marshall, CEO, Hilscher North America:  The automation industry has seen a great deal of technology convergence in the past decades, from the incorporation of commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) solutions—think Unix, PCs, Windows—to the bridging of IT and OT operations. These convergences are driving new product approaches at Hilscher, for example, the convergence of communications with added functionality, such as security, IT and motion control. Hilscher’s latest netX 90 communications controller chip supports all the popular industrial networking protocols with added MQTT and OPC UA, and it builds in hardware-based security, such as secure boot and an on-chip accelerator to handle cryptology. In Q2 2021, Hilscher will deliver motion control functionality for the netX 90, called netMotion. Ideal for makers of motion-control devices, such as encoders, motors and drives, netMotion is a firmware-configured communications solution with built-in motor control for applications in networked factory and process control systems, assembly, packaging, robotics and more. With netMotion, developers get real-time Ethernet connectivity and general-purpose motor and motion control in a single-chip solution, which simplifies designs and reduces material costs.
Rick Simer, technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive:  Our easily configurable, parametrizable software modules, MoviKits, are developed for single- and multi-axis automation all the way to machine-level solutions for added value—OEMs, integrators and end users. They are part of our Movi-C automation platform and integrate nicely with our drive portfolio. We operate under the assumption that our customers look for solutions and not only for products.

We are introducing our new MoviLink DDI single-cable technology to the market. It reduces wiring effort, offers automatic motor startup via the digital nameplate and allows for the digitalization of motor sensor data. Overall, it enables a cleaner machine design. The direct data access to the drive system will be used for a preventive/predictive maintenance approach. We will be able to monitor vibration, temperature and drive performance, such as currents and voltages, and display these values based on customer requirements.

One of our main goals is to spread the use of permanent magnet technology in warehousing automation. End users can take advantage of highest efficiency drive solutions to dramatically reduce their plants’ energy consumption.

Our portfolio of automated-guided vehicles (AGVs) provides maximum flexibility and scalability. It helps end users transform their logistical processes. AGVs are ideal helpers for autonomous logistics tasks.

SEW-Eurodrive’s product and system strategy is based on realizing energy savings and efficiency gains, easy integration of industrial communication protocols and automation solutions that enable the creation of demand-oriented, scalable and flexible production systems.

How does the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) figure in your business strategy?

Josh Eastburn, director of technical marketing, Opto 22: We have positioned ourselves to be at the forefront of IIoT in automation and control devices, and our flagship products, the groov EPIC edge programmable industrial controller and the groov RIO edge I/O module, are aimed squarely at addressing the needs of that growing market.

Groov RIO combines traditional I/O sensing with IT-compatible tools for connectivity, data processing and security in a single device. Its 10 I/O channels are software-configurable, supporting 13 different signal types and more than 200,000 I/O combinations in a single device for rapid integration of I/O networks and stand-alone equipment. Groov EPIC expands on this, combining full PLC control and modular I/O with a built-in OPC UA server capable of integrating third-party PLC data and bridging disparate automation networks.

Both products provide an embedded version of IBM’s open-source IoT engine, Node-RED, for local data processing and connectivity to cloud services and databases. And all of this is backed by standard IT security features like SSL/TLS data encryption, certificate management, centralized user authentication with LDAP and secure remote connectivity with VPN or MQTT.

We also seek out strategic partnerships with other vendors, such as Inductive Automation, Cirrus Link, Canary Labs, and HiveMQ, who are supporting powerful, open technologies for IIoT. Our goal is to build up an ecosystem of scalable, interoperable technologies that engineering professionals can choose from when building IIoT systems.

Phil Marshall, CEO, Hilscher North America: The IIoT figures strongly in Hilscher’s business and solution portfolio strategies. Two main ways come to mind. First, Hilscher continues to develop gateway solutions that serve as edge devices in an IIoT architecture. Two new products include the netField Connect gateway and the soon-to-be-announced sensorEdge gateway. Both solutions will figure heavily in brownfield installations. Both can be used to aggregate and collect data from devices and sensors—sensorEdge via IO-Link—and serve that data directly to the cloud. There is no need to completely reprogram the installations’ main controllers or PLCs. These Hilscher gateways work in tandem with the main control processes, ideal for adding IIoT functions, such as predictive maintenance, in a brownfield situation.

The second impact of IIoT for Hilscher business strategy is the development of solutions for greenfield installations. In a greenfield installation, you have the advantage of starting from scratch and building in to your devices, from the get-go, the functions and services needed for an IIoT architecture: communications, security, diagnostics, cloud connectors, data transparency. Hilscher’s newest communications chips, such as the netX 90, incorporate these functions and services so device manufacturers can design truly IIoT-aware and future-proof automation products for next-gen control systems.

Rick Simer, technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive: To make machine builders and end users IoT-ready, SEW-Eurodrive provides intelligent drive components that inform IoT processes. The real-time status of field level devices, such as motors, is used for predictive maintenance functions and allow a detailed “view into the machine”. By analyzing motor and drive sensor data in the cloud, the status of process steps and the equipment itself become transparent. The automation system can inform the user about its health condition, estimate the next service interval and show causes for device failures. Preventive maintenance plans to increase the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and to reduce downtime can be developed based on real-time insights.

SEW-Eurodrive’s DriveRadar together with the Movi-C automation platform enables us to integrate IoT services across our wide automation portfolio.

From a development and design perspective, SEW-Eurodrive equipment allows for the simulation of automated systems and robotics. As a result, we provide a robust proof of concept, ensure quality software and reduce startup time dramatically.

Drive technology products need to be compatible with many fieldbus and communication protocols, such as OPC UA, in order to integrate into different architectures and plant ecosystems, allowing for openness, flexibility and modularity.

Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier, head of R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic: The Industrial Internet of Things will change the shape of the industry, that is for sure. We are really excited about what this change will bring along, and we have prepared ourselves for it. As a result, we are able to support all relevant fieldbuses with our controllers/drives, even some exotic ones. We understand that IoT will bring new challenges and requirements for our customers’ facilities, too, and have prepared to support them with our online knowledge base and our applications hotline.

How will machine automation and controls alter the way companies staff their operations in the future?

Rick Simer, technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive:  Future operations staff will take on different roles that include higher-level problem solving, new soft skills and the need to work physically closer to their machine counterparts.

By routing status information of edge devices into the upper-level control architecture, diagnostic capabilities can be developed therefore facilitating troubleshooting measures. Predictive product insights will drive preventive maintenance. This will streamline maintenance processes, reduce downtime and increase reliability and plant profitability. We regard intelligent drive components and machine modules as crucial building blocks for intelligent production systems. Intelligent automation technology allows organizations to rethink their production processes and to fundamentally redesign operations.

Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier, head of R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic:  Qualification levels will go up in our industry. Machine automation requires an increasingly profound understanding of technology, electronics and controls. Hence, the demand for manual and physical skills will decline, and the demand for technological skills will rise. To help our customers adjust, we are developing “plug and drive” products, following our vision to make the use of a new drive or actuator as convenient as possible.

How is the development of software solutions impacting your requirements for hardware?

John Pannone, VP sales, HMI systems / key customer management, North America, EAO: EAO has released its first CAN-based product to support customers that require products that interact with CAN Open, J1939 and CAN Open with functional safety. This brings a new level of operator-interface design options to engineers. Our Series 09 product line offers the ability to allow increased levels of intuitive feedback to the operator to increase efficiency, safety and overall user experience.
Dr. Christian Hainzlmaier, head of R&D, production and quality at Nanotec Electronic:  Software and hardware always go hand in hand at Nanotec. Our R&D department includes both a strong embedded development team and a team focusing on client applications, such as our well-known and established Plug & Drive Studio. These teams work closely together with our testing and hardware development units. Quite naturally, this results in interdisciplinary project teams that are staffed individually according to our customers’ requirements.
Rick Simer, technology manager, machine automation, at SEW-Eurodrive:  In recent years, we have observed an increasing importance of software as a differentiator in the market.

Advancements in software shorten the design iteration cycles for hardware, as well. Essentially, by integrating software functions into hardware products, the drive technology can be further tailored to specific application needs. The use of software to customize hardware provides an incredible increase in design flexibility and product differentiation opportunities. With SEW-Eurodrive’s Movi-C automation platform, we are able to fully integrate drive software with the physical drive products and enable compatibility across the whole platform.

Added value for a machine builder is often only achieved when the automation supplier provides hardware products that easily integrate with the drive software to simplify and shorten engineering efforts. Also, the integration of the drive systems into different upper-level control architectures is of highest importance. This way, OEMs can create innovative machines with reduced development time while providing added value and new features to the end user.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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