The Industrial Internet of Things Is All About the Data

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A look at how the industrial application of the Internet of Things concept makes for a very different use of data than the consumer Internet of Things and how Profinet sources the industrial data needed via an open standard.

It should have been called the Industrial Internet of Data. It’s the data that gets saved and analyzed to provide the benefit of improving industrial processes. That data originates in devices like buttons and switches, in complex sensors and actuators, in vision systems, and drives. The data gets manipulated, logic is applied, and control algorithms completed in controllers like PLCs, DCSs, and PACs. From there it emerges in organized fashion to be displayed, stored, and analyzed.

As a result, the use of this data is very different for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) than it is for the consumer Internet of Things (IoT). For starters, the “things” are obviously different—it’s refrigerators, and smart phones for IoT, and industrial devices like drives, vision systems, and robots for IIoT. IIoT data is put to much more rigorous use and its analysis impacts the very efficiency of the process being controlled.

It’s critical that the data be available through open standards. At last count there were no less than half a dozen organizations, associations, or consortiums promoting Internet of Things connectivity.

Traditionally, organizations create standards, and users pick the winners. IIoT-related associations, however, are not creating standards—they’re recommending them. This makes sense because the protocols for industrial automation are already well established and don’t always involve Ethernet like the IoT. And there will always be non-Ethernet networks in industry because it is economically infeasible to add Ethernet to inexpensive devices. For example: devices on networks like AS-interface for simple switches and actuators; and IO-Link, though not a network, which is used to connect intelligent sensors and actuators. HART, though not a network, connects intelligent process instruments. Then there are networks like Profibus PA and Foundation Fieldbus, which are suitable for hazardous environments where Ethernet is not. Plus there are more than 100,000,000 nodes of legacy non-Ethernet networks already installed.

1s-0s-PROFINET (feature)This is where Profinet and the IIoT converge. Profinet gathers data from simple and complex devices; new and legacy devices; and devices that will never have an RJ45 connector. Profinet does this through proxies. A proxy is like a gateway in that it connects two disparate networks, but the mapping is defined in the standard.

Newer devices from I/O blocks and controllers to complex motion control systems and robots support Profinet natively. With proxies integrating legacy and non-Ethernet devices, Profinet provides a data backbone for gathering IIoT data.

So, although standards for IoT are a work in progress, the IIoT already has the open standards needed, and Profinet is the open standard that can provide data from both new and legacy devices.

This article originally appeared in Automation World magazine.