OT-to-OT (Operational Technology to Operational technology) communications in factories are not as simple as they used to be. This can mostly be attributed to the IIoT, which has brought gazillions of sensors and machines to the Internet on a massive scale. These types of communications are not going to get simpler anytime soon, as the rise in connected IoT devices is expected to jump by 15% in 2017 to reach a whopping 20 billion, according to a new report from IHS Market. This surge to get connected is impacting factory floors in such a big way that M2M communications have evolved into communications between divergent operational subsystems to fulfill data collection and analytics. The snag, however, is that the heterogeneous systems that fall under OT, such as manufacturing executive systems (MESs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and the machines and sensors on the plant floor, all run their own protocols; consequently, the age-old issue of non-operability rears its head again and a multitude of protocol conversions are required.
A good example of where efficient communications between disparate OT systems on the factory floor benefit operations is having the heater, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system work in sync with the production system. When the latter’s workload increases, it alerts the former to start up to ensure that production will not be interrupted by overheating or freezing temperatures.
An Alphabet Soup of Protocols
The growing complexity of operations processes brings more and more heterogeneous systems into the equation. This means more devices and more protocols. Installation and setup require more time to plan the architecture and perform device commissioning. For SIs, it is all about saving time and costs. They don’t want to spend long hours on device commissioning and configuration, or on protocol conversions. However, it is not uncommon for them to spend hours on communication and troubleshooting programming when using communication modules or small PLCs. Thus, SIs want an easy way to simplify protocol conversions so that they can rather spend their limited time on their core tasks, such as programming.
So, more and more operators are now taking advantage of industrial protocol gateways to accomplish the mass configuration of devices and protocol conversions between different devices to keep operations running smoothly. For example, in an electricity room, bridging a large number of Modbus RTU power meters to a Modbus TCP network is usually extremely time-consuming due to the configuration of the slave ID routing table. A convenient solution includes an auto device routing function that automatically detects the commands from a SCADA system and sets up the slave ID routing table. With only one click, this configuration can be achieved within a minute. Furthermore, a ready-to-use protocol gateway that supports the multiple industrial protocols commonly used in OT (such as PROFINET, PROFIBUS, EtherNet/IP, and Modbus) simplifies protocol conversions, resulting in significant cost- and time-savings.