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Newsletter Issue # 26

Real Time Automation's - Best Darn Newsletter 

OPC UA is the Bridge to the Enterprise
Fun Facts and Trivia

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September 2015
EtherNet/IP Big Data
September 2015
Modbus Conformance
August 2015
OPC UA Use Cases
July 2015
Industrial Ethernet Security



Practical tips and information for young engineers. This issue, featuring:

- Video Games




A Column of personal opinion by John Rinaldi, Founder and Owner of Real Time Automation.

It’s not often that I start these articles with a four-letter word, but it’s the topic for this month. Unlike those television ads with all the small print at the bottom of the screen, I’m going to give my disclaimer right up front and in readable text:

The content of this article isn’t pretty. It’s not going to be gentle, kind, soothing or relaxing. In fact, it’s going to be decidedly uncomfortable, painful and may be difficult to accept. You may wish to have a glass and a strong adult beverage close at hand while reading. I had one or two while writing it.

The nature of work is evolving. It’s evolving faster than ever. Faster than many of us can emotionally and psychologically manage. The range and scope of change in what we do and how we do it is transitioning at a rate unprecedented in human history.

We were an agricultural society for 12,000 years. We worked the land. That’s it. Unchanging and static for thousands of years. That changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was called the Industrial Revolution, and over three or four generations we transitioned from that agricultural society to an industrial society. Then, in the late 20th century, we hit the information age. In the space of a single generation, computers and the Internet vastly changed what we do and how we do it.

Now it’s happening again. But this transformation is happening even faster and with an even more significant impact on how we work and how we live. Robotics, Automation and the Internet of Things are driving this transformation, and it’s going to happen more quickly than ever - possibly within the next ten years.

Are you one of those people who believe there are jobs that computers can’t do? Your job, for example? You’re probably wrong. The Pepper Robot from SoftBank can sense and react appropriately to human emotions. Who ever imagined that? Robots are now not just assisting in surgery but performing the surgery. The first automated, driverless trucks are hitting the road this year with the potential to displace 2.9 million, mostly middleclass, mostly male, truck drivers. The largest segment of female jobs, the personal assistant, is also under assault from automation and technology. Add those jobs to the list along with travel agents, real estate brokers, and everyone else whose job has either been eliminated, radically transformed, or devalued.

Those of us in Industrial Automation aren’t immune to this transformation. Automation used to be about controllers, sensors and actuators. Now it’s becoming more of an IT job than a controls job. If you’re a controls guy under fifty-five and you’re not learning IT tools, techniques and skills, you’re not ready for the tsunami that’s headed your way. Approaching sixty or older? You’ve got a chance to skate through, but that window is closing quickly.

Look at Industry 4.0 in Germany. That effort is focused on eliminating all the effort to configure machines. The goal is to have self-configuring machines that talk to other machines and decide how they should work together. Can’t be done, you say? The same was said about computers playing chess, driving cars and translating languages. The first prototypes of Industry 4.0 machines are now able to work together to develop and configure the machining of parts no matter how those machines are ordered. We need to open our eyes to the future. It’s going to happen. And it’s not going to be pretty.

Many are asking the question, “What are the things that computers can’t do?” That’s the wrong question, it should be, “What work can and should humans do?”

When it comes to other areas of our lives, areas that involve highly personal and important matters, we want real, live, accountable humans to work with us. No one wants to discuss their cancer diagnosis with a robot doctor, no matter how knowledgeable or how compassionate the robotic face can be made to appear. No one wants to discuss your child’s problems in math or chemistry with a machine. Nor do you want to discuss the future plans for your neighborhood or city with a machine.

Humans are exceptionally good at leadership, social collaboration, goal setting, teaching, coaching, encouraging and selling. These are innate, very human skills that possibly could be replaced by automation but that we don’t want replaced. A robot can teach math. It may even sense the emotions of the children, but it’s not what we as a society want or, I think, will ever want. We’ll always want and value these soft skills.

There isn’t a lot of good news here for us engineers. We’re guys for the most part, and soft skills aren’t what we’ve specialized in. We like to take things apart and build things. Generally, guys like working with things, not people. Those jobs are still going to exist in the future, but a lot of that may get automated. What’s left may still be important, but it may not be valued as highly as the jobs that have personal interaction.

As men, we’ll do what we have to do. We’ll make the transition even though it won’t be comfortable. It’s our children that really worry me. Just as social skills are becoming more valuable, our children are becoming less socially capable than ever. Many spend less time in personal, human interaction than they do in electronic interaction. That’s not going to prepare them for a world where social skills like leadership, collaboration, selling and organizing are going to be the valuable skills to have.

So what’s the good news? That’s certainly a lot of bad news, especially for men, but for women too. The good news is that humans are nothing but adaptable. We’ll change. We’ll refocus. We’ll apply ourselves and conquer this new era of automation and robotics.

We actually don’t have a choice.


- John



· According to a national survey done by the Social Security Administration of 12,000 Americans what was the most common date of birth?

· What are the 3 Zodiac signs of fall?

· Prior to the 16th century, what was autumn referred to as?

· What language does the word autumn come from?

· True or False: September has twice as many summer days as June.



Answers located on bottom of page.

OPC UA is the Bridge to the Enterprise

If you’ve paid any attention at all to factory automation over the last few years, you’ve noticed the ever-increasing emphasis on connecting the factory floor to the Enterprise. There are many good reasons for this. Some of them are internal: efficiency, productivity, higher quality, and the like. Others are driven by external requirements.

In the old days (ten years ago?), the production department was a completely separate entity from the rest of the corporation. There was little to no electronic data transfer between the production machines and the company’s business systems. Production was a black box. Labor and raw materials went in one end, and finished product came out the other end. Most of the communication was carried out using paper: paper production reports, paper inventory levels, paper raw material usage, paper quality reports, etc.

Today, the aim is for instantaneous closed-loop communication. As units of a product are consumed in the field, that information gets reported back to the machine that made it. The production machine checks its raw material inventory levels and on-hand finished product and schedules more production. It automatically transmits orders for any raw materials it needs from supplier machines. All automatic. All without human intervention.

That’s the plan anyway. In practice, it’s pretty hard to get there. We don’t have the luxury of ripping out all the production machines and replacing them with new, fully integrated machines with high-speed communication mechanisms. Instead, we have to do piecemeal implementations: upgrading and replacing systems one by one as time and funds allow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, to the goal of fully automated systems.

The distinction that many people miss is that there’s a key distinction between the systems on the factory floor and in the Enterprise. This is the difference between what is called “loosely-coupled” systems and “tightly-coupled” systems. These aren’t new concepts, but I don’t think they’ve been examined in the light of the current trend toward the integration of factory floor and Enterprise systems.

Factory floor systems can be labeled tightly-coupled. Systems that use Profibus, Profinet IO, DeviceNet, EtherNet/IP, or any Modbus version have a very strict architecture. These are really just I/O producers and consumers, despite what the folks at the ODVA and PI (Profinet International) would have you believe.

Let’s look at the main characteristics of these Tightly Coupled systems:

A Strictly Defined Communication Model – The communication between these systems is inflexible, tightly regulated, and as deterministic as the communication platforms allow.

A Strictly Defined Data Model – The data (really I/O for most of these systems) model is predefined, limited and inflexible.

Strictly Defined Data Types – The data types transported by these systems are limited, predefined and supported by both sides. There is no ability to send data in an open and universal format.

Tightly-coupled systems provide much needed, well-defined functionality in a highly specific domain. Expanding operation to other domains or trying to provide more general operation is difficult. Making more generic data and functionality available requires significant programming resources that result in a very inflexible interface.

That’s why tightly coupled systems are wrong for Enterprise communications. Which is why I continue to be amused by the proponents of EtherNet/IP and Profinet IO as ways to exchange data with Enterprise systems. Can they be made to work for a specific application? Yes, but to get there requires a whole lot of effort and results in a difficult-to-maintain, inflexible system that is extremely fragile.

Loosely-coupled systems, on the other hand, provide exactly the right kind of interface for Enterprise communications. Loosely-coupled systems decouple the platform from the data, the data from the data model, and provide a much more dynamic mechanism for moving data.

Loosely-coupled systems have these kinds of characteristics:

A Widely Used, Standards-Based Transport Layer – Messages are transported in loosely-coupled systems with open, widely-implemented, highly flexible transport layers: TCP and HTTP.

An Open, Platform Independent Data Encoding – Data is encoded using an open standard data encoding like eXtensible Markup Language (XML) that can be processed by any computer platform.

A Highly Extensible Operating Interface – The interface between loosely-coupled systems is flexible and extensible. SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is the main interface, and it provides a highly flexible mechanism for messaging between loosely-coupled systems.

Essentially, what I’ve described here is Web Services. Web Services is the backbone of everything we do on the Internet. It is extensible, flexible, and platform independent – all required for the ever-expanding Internet.

The challenge is how to best migrate the tightly-coupled factory floor architectures with the loosely coupled Web Services architecture of the Internet. Right now, because of the discontinuity between the factory floor and the Enterprise, opportunities to mine the factory floor for quality data, interrogate and build databases of maintenance data, feed dashboard reporting systems, gather historical data and feed enterprise analytic systems are lost. Opportunities to improve maintenance procedures, reduce downtime, compare performance at various plants, lines and cells across the enterprise are all lost.

The solution? It’s OPC UA. OPC UA can live in both the world of the factory floor and the Enterprise.

OPC UA is about reliably, securely and most of all, easily, modeling “Objects” and making those Objects available around the plant floor to Enterprise applications and throughout the corporation. The idea behind it is infinitely broader than anything most of us have ever thought about before.

An OPC UA Server models data, information, processes and systems as Objects and presents those Objects to Clients in ways that are useful to vastly different types of Client applications. Better yet, the OPC UA Server provides sophisticated services that the Client can use, like the Discovery Service.

OPC UA is the future and the perfect technology to bridge the chasm between loosely and tightly-coupled systems.






Fun Facts

·According to NASA, autumn is “aurora season” because geomagnetic storms are about twice as frequent as the annual average the rest of the year.

·According to superstition, catching leaves in autumn brings good luck. Every leaf means a lucky month next year.

·According to seasonal patterns of relationships in Facebook profiles, autumn is the time when more singles change their status to “In a Relationship” or “Engaged” than the yearly average. More breakups occur during the summertime.

·Research suggests that low levels of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) can lead to weight gain during autumn and winter. Lack of vitamin D reduces fat breakdown and triggers fat storage.



  Trivia Answers: October 5th; Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius; Harvest; French; True

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