Connecting legacy OT equipment to IT systems
Talk about two extremes. Consumer electronics, such as smart phones, have a life cycle of 1-2 years; a mobile phone brand bought this year will be replaced by a new version next year. Industrial automation products, such as PLCs and HMIs, have a life cycle of 7-10 years. The machines these automation products are integrated into, though financially depreciated over 5-10 years, are often used for 15-20 years. Yet, the technology that was used to build industrial machinery ten or more years ago has improved greatly since.
Though Ethernet-based communications have been the norm in enterprise or traditional computer networks for many years, there are plenty of industrial devices that are still using serial-based communications such as RS232, RS422 and RS485. Why? Because these protocols are good enough.
Many older industrial machines were designed around proprietary technologies and protocols – serial- or Ethernet-based. Like most industrial machines, they were designed to last many years. For many of the owners of these devices, this machinery is still working well. There is no obvious reason to scrap or replace these devices. However, the protocols supported by these can limit their participation in more modern applications, specifically data sharing and analytics.
An opportunity to gain a competitive edge
Industrial equipment, often referred to as operational technology (OT), has a wealth of information that can be of benefit to those looking to change business models, improve processes, reduce costs, and minimize outages. Collecting that data and getting it to the information technology (IT) systems for analysis is becoming critical in today’s competitive environments.
The BoX2 from Beijer Electronics is an ideal and affordable Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) device that brings older, legacy equipment to the modern IT world. It does this by collecting machine data, storing the data, and through protocol conversion, communicating this data to the IT system for analysis. With the addition of acirro+ cloud service addition, ease of use and out of the box security can be achieved.
The IT systems can be local to the production facility; e.g., factory, or remote to the facility; e.g., a server farm, private cloud or public cloud. These IT systems, when given accurate and timely data, can enable machine learning (ML). ML can be used to improve how a machine or collection of machines interoperate, how to improve resource utilization, and improve availability by enabling better preventative maintenance procedures.
Enabling communication of OT data to IT systems
There are hundreds of OT protocols; most are proprietary. Many of these are from very large, well-established manufacturing companies like Rockwell, Siemens, Schneider and Mitsubishi. However, most IT systems cannot handle those proprietary protocols. They require an intermediary that facilitates the communication of the OT data to IT systems. For example, the most common protocols that IT systems can understand from the OT world are OPC UA and MQTT.
The BoX2 enables legacy OT devices to interact with the modern IT world. The BoX2 is non-discriminating – it allows older, perfectly fine, industrial equipment to share its data with IT systems and to participate in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Thus, the lifecycle of legacy OT machinery is prolonged by the introduction of a simple BoX2 IIoT gateway.
by Jeff Hayes, Regional Product Manager, Americas
This is BoX2
BoX2 is a series of protocol converters, IIoT gateways and edge controllers that combine clever connectivity with smart functions such as local data base storage, alarm servers, data exchange, reporting, C# scripting, etc. BoX2 is easily configured with just a few clicks and smart functions are configured via iX software.