Emerson’s Darrell Halterman presented on edge controllers and how they enable you to future-proof your control and automation strategies at the 2022 Emerson Exchange conference. Here is his session’s abstract:
Edge controllers represent an exponential capability increase over traditional PLCs and PACs, so it makes sense that many developers are trying to understand how to incorporate these powerful new tools into their automation designs. Learn from automation experts from the Machine Automation Solutions group about tips, strategies, and best practices so users can continue to build upon their OT knowledge base while extending applications into the IT realm for better insights, operational efficiency, and productivity with Edge controllers.
Darrell opened by showing the current automation architecture. It has been a very heterogeneous architecture with an I/O based that’s wired, bussed-based or wireless, a control layer, an HMI/SCADA, and other visualization applications layer. As expertise is lost to retirement, the people coming in have different skills, such as Python, C++, Java, and not the traditional automation languages.
What data is hardest to get into a centralized location? One attendee mentioned that they had ROC SCADA systems and needed to replace them with their onshore oil & gas applications. Modbus communications are insecure, so they look at more secure communications such as MQTT and OPC-UA.
Another attendee said they had standardized on PACSystems as their RTU. Their challenge is that their organization wants greater accessibility to data they didn’t previously have. OPC-UA has become an industry standard with secure communications, broad adoption, and how to configure for secure & efficient performance properly. OPC-UA has a Secure Deployment Guide. PACSystems have run in critical infrastructure applications for over a decade and focused on security.
What’s nice about the Edge is that it can layer on existing systems to consolidate data from the underlying control systems, perform analytics to reduce the volume of data, and provide it to applications across the enterprise. In PACSystems, the Edge computing device is separate from the deterministic control system, and they communicate through a virtual encrypted network. The physical separation between the Edge computer & deterministic control system provides security to increase security from gaining access to the underlying controls.
A question was asked about which business driver was pushing a look into the Edge architecture. As you convert data to contextualized information, OPC-UA with a standard data structure enables the contextualization to be done at the lowest layer and transmit it to where it is needed across the architecture. Having a common data structure as close to the source of data as possible helps eliminate mistakes in representing the data at higher levels.
On languages for controllers, Darrell highlighted that ladder logic remains popular, especially where the person doing it has a background in instrumentation and electrical. PACSystems support ladder logic, C programming, and parallel computing with the Edge computers. In this environment, machine learning and AI applications can run. Python programs can run in this Edge environment. It’s not a language well suited for the deterministic control environment.
Visit the PACSystems section on Emerson.com for more on Edge technology and its capabilities.