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Gateways make it easier for automation and IT worlds to talk

02 March, 2016

The Swedish industrial networking specialist HMS has announced a series of “edge connectivity” gateways designed to make it easier for automation and IT specialists to communicate with each other’s networks. The gateways allow real-time data from industrial machinery to be presented to .Net-based IT applications, giving .Net programmers direct access to data from PLC systems, while automation engineers keep full control over what the IT side is allowed to do. The first of the .Net gateways are for the Profibus and Profinet networks.

A prerequisite for the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is that industrial applications are able to communicate with IT systems. However, the operational technology (OT) on factory floors uses fieldbus and industrial Ethernet networks which are designed for real-time communication and are, by default, separated from the IT infrastructure.

The new Anybus .Net gateways act as translators, sending and receiving data between Profibus or Profinet networks and IT platforms using .Net as a framework. The communication is set up in a couple of minutes, thus offering a quick way to achieve IIoT.

HMS says that the gateways will give IT systems “unprecedented” access to real-time data from the factory floor, which can be used for predictive maintenance, machine analytics, data mining, big data processing, production statistics and more – without interfering with the industrial processes.

They are suitable for applications ranging from simple transfer of KPI values, to advanced messages with structured data types, or for the fast transfer of I/O data needed for big data applications.

HMS' "edge connectivity" gateways are designed to make it easier for IT and automation specialists to communicate with each other's networks

As well as connecting data from industrial processes to IT systems, the gateways also make the data understandable on the IT side. The information exchange between the OT and IT sides is defined in a spreadsheet which defines how the data is mapped, tagged and presented to IT applications. The spreadsheet is uploaded to an HMS code generator which automatically creates a customised high-level C# API that is said to be easy to integrate into a .Net application. It also generates a customised GSDML file for the PLC.

“The Anybus .Net gateways represent a very fast and easy way to realise the Industrial Internet of Things,” says HMS product manager, Markus Bladh. “For more than 20 years, HMS has been offering industrial communication solutions between different standards on the factory floor, and we now use this experience to offer a gateway to .Net.

“This is truly an ‘edge gateway’ in the sense that it creates a bridge between the IT and OT side,” he continues. “.Net programmers get access to data from industrial machinery, while PLC programmers can rest assured that the data access does not interfere with their critical systems.”

From the PLC perspective, the gateways are based on HMS stations/slave nodes on the Profinet/Profibus network, giving automation engineers full control over what the IT side is allowed to do. A special function block takes care of heartbeats and data consistency flags. There is no direct IP connection between the PLC and .Net applications. The gateway transfers the information to be exchanged, but no other traffic.

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