John Donne wrote the famous poem “No Man is an Island.” Personally, I’m thinking about writing a poem entitled “No Device is an Island.” We’ve long seen this trend in Industrial Automation – everything getting connected. First, it was the key devices like Drives and Controllers. Then it moved down the food chain to less sophisticated devices with I/O blocks and muxes for bringing connectivity to sensors and I/O devices. And now, the trend is for Ethernet connectivity for these low level devices. Not the IO-Link type connectivity but actually adding Ethernet to sensors. There is a lot of effort going into that right this moment.
It is apparent now that even devices that are only peripherally connected to control systems (fans, lighting, etc.) are being connected. It used to be that peripheral devices like these were just on. You installed them and forgot them. But that’s not the case anymore. Lighting especially is now much more sophisticated. Lights now integrate motion sensors, light, temperature, and humidity sensors, cameras and more.
There are sophisticated ways to program them. Do you want them on at half power during the day and a quarter at night? Turn them off if there is no motion in the area for five minutes? Turn the fan on at a certain temperature or humidity? There are all sorts of options and sophisticated ways to control these computerized systems. Some of these systems have sophisticated configuration tools and do alarming, texting, emailing, and everything else. We are now far beyond the old systems where the device was on whenever the building had power.
Some of these devices connect wirelessly using a mesh networking standard like Zigbee. That makes sense in a really big area like an indoor parking lot. Others are connected wirelessly to some sort of base station that has a physical Ethernet link. And others use a physical Ethernet connection directly to the device.
The connectivity is, of course, very important in these kind of sophisticated systems. In a factory, it’s now become important to coordinate these new sophisticated lighting systems with the programmable controller(s). That means providing an EtherNet/IP, Modbus TCP, or Profinet IO interface to these systems. In that case, the lights just become more I/O for the controller. Devices using these technologies are servers just like valves, drives, and other automation devices and must pass the same kind of certification that more typical automation devices must pass.
And, of course, these systems must also interface with the Building Management System (BMS) which typically uses the BACnet protocol to connect building devices to the BMS. The BMS is responsible for coordinating all of the building activities and managing energy, lighting, access, heating and cooling, and everything else needed in today’s building system.
Supporting all of these protocols gets both very expensive and complicated for the supplier of the lighting, fan, or other building device. There is engineering effort required to get those things implemented. There is an effort to test them, get them certified by the certification system, and then train sales and support staff. It’s a huge expense.
In the future, this will all go away as OPC UA will make it much easier for these systems to integrate and will provide a single interface that can be used for industrial control, building automation, and everything else a user might need at much less expense to the device provider.
For more information on how OPC UA can be incorporated into lighting, fans, or other kinds of building systems, fill out the contact us form or call the RTA Sales Team for more information. (262-436-9299).
P.S. If you’re new to OPC UA, it’s time to get familiar with this technology. A good place to begin is “OPC UA – Unified Architecture: The Everyman’s Guide to the Most Important Information Technology in Industrial Automation.” This book provides a deep dive into a lot of the technology behind OPC UA.