Schneider Electric recently asked me to contribute to an electric blog titled, "Is IEC 61499 the missing link for Industry 4.0?" The need for standard industrial automation programming languages should be obvious, but the big issue is vendor conformance and certification to the standards. The IEC has two programming language standards for industrial and process automation: IEC 61131-3 published in 1993, and IEC 1499 published in 2005.
The fundamentals of IEC 61131-3 have been adopted by a wide range of automation vendors throughout the world. IEC 61131-3 is supported by the PLCopen organization that extends the standard with special interest groups, standards, and certifications. These standards and certifications include motion control, safety, OPC UA, XML interchange, and reusability. Due to the task structure of a full IEC 61131 implementation, both event-driven and cyclical can be accomplished. There have been significant enhancements to IEC 61131 by the PLCopen organization, including OPC UA for enterprise communications, remote procedure calls, and controller to controller standardized data communication models.
IEC 1499 leverages IEC 61131-3 functions, adding new mechanisms for distributed control, but has had some false starts in with limited success to date. The current vision is that new controllers with more powerful embedded processors, and higher bandwidth deterministic networks may now make IEC 1499 practical. Schneider Electric states in the blog they believes IEC 1499 is the missing link for implementing Industry 4.0, and purchased an Austrian-based company centered around this technology in 2017, nxtControl, which was founded in 2007.
Industry Goals with Open Standards
Regardless of the programming methods, the goals are clear: manufacturers & process production companies must digitize or they will be caught in a strategic gap putting them at a large competitive disadvantage. Achieving the benefits of digitalization requires organizations to leverage Industry 4.0 and IoT (Internet of Things) concepts, technology, and architecture with open standards. Vendor compliance and certification to open interoperable programming standards will accelerate the digitalization of manufacturing, production, and process industries.
The lack of full conformance and certification of programming standards prevents users from reusing engineered control and automation programs and controllers from different vendors. The computer industry solved similar kinds of problems years ago and could serve as a lesson.
Users tend to desire systems that are fully multivendor interoperable, leveraging the software and hardware advances they enjoy with business systems and consumer products, which can offer greater ease-of-use at a lower cost, therefore delivering high-value. User integration of IT & OT is bringing to light the fact that traditional industrial automation systems are still relatively closed architectures, when compared to modern computing, IoT, and cloud technologies, which leverage the talent and innovation of open ecosystems.
The entire world of computing has learned the value of open standards making possible multivendor interoperability and portable programming. Industrial automation and DCS vendors can best serve industry by learning this lesson with full conformance and certification to open programming standards.
"As the world of production faces a perfect storm wrought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the accelerating climate emergency, raising trade tensions and growing economic uncertainty, manufacturers must develop new capabilities and adapt."
Francisco Betti, head of Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production for the World Economic Forum
What is an Open Ecosystem?
Completely open industrial & process automation systems will foster the kinds of ecosystems that delivers the kinds of benefits currently enjoyed by computer industry and consumers. These systems will include portable programs, apps, and interoperable systems which leverage the talent and innovation of a broad ecosystem of users and suppliers.
An effective ecosystem is only possible with vendor conformance and certification to automation programming languages.
Why Compliance & Conformance is Essential
Regardless of the programming standard, there must be strong vendor compliance and certification of products in order to effectively ensure program portability and multivendor interoperability. This is been an ongoing issue in the industrial and process automation industry. The lack of vendor full conformance and certification to open programming standards creates tremendous inefficiencies and architectural challenges that lead to isolated "islands" of control. Integrating these islands into an entire plant architecture requires a great deal of application engineering, extra hardware, and more software in order to build a coordinated plant automation and control system. The added layers of interfaces contribute to lower reliability, increased production downtime and potentially higher costs.
The Threat of External Disruption
I have a concern that, in the void of lack of strong conformance and certification to industrial automation programming standards, the industry may be preempted from outside. There are other open programming models and embedded runtime engines coming from the IoT world that could become new de facto standards. For example, Node-Red is an open source IDE and runtime environment, which I am seeing being used in embedded controllers from nontraditional suppliers to accomplish industrial control and automation. Traditional suppliers have argued that these solutions will never work in industrial automation. This is reminiscent of the arguments that ethernet could never be used for industrial networking…
In many ways traditional industrial automation suppliers are trapped in the, "Innovators Dilemma". The concepts of ‘open’ and ‘portability’ drive against the business models of traditional automation vendors, since it would significantly devalue their hardware and software investments. The same dynamics led to bad strategy and demise of several mainframe computer manufacturers who bundled software. Strategically, I suggest industrial automation suppliers need to reevaluate their unique value-add in this new environment, in order to remake their business. A similar example can be observed in the transition from pneumatic controls to direct digital control.
"The remains of the old must be decently laid away; the path of the new prepared. That is the difference between Revolution and Progress." Henry Ford