Smart phones, tablets and the industrial interface

Aug. 5, 2014

It’s been proven more than once that when it comes to IT-based automation, if commercial off-the-shelf technology can do the job, that’s the way industry will go.

It’s been proven more than once in industry that when it comes to IT-based automation, if commercial off-the-shelf technology can do the job, then that’s the way industry will go.

The latest case in point is the immense amount of innovation being put into industrial uses of smart phones and tablets. Tools are increasingly available that let industrial users create mobile interfaces to equipment and systems, says automation supplier Opto 22 in a recently released whitepaper. One such is Opto 22’s groov18 for developing and using mobile interfaces.

Perhaps you know Opto 22 already. The Temecula, California-based company, started in 1974 by a co-inventor of the solid-state relay, also developed the red-white-yellow-black color-coding system for I/O modules and was instrumental in the adoption of Ethernet-based I/O. 

When PCs were first introduced onto plant floors, many people thought the way to go was to build hardened enclosures that kept the dust and dirt away from the computer. And there are a lot of cabinet-mounted PCs out there today. But for the most part what happened was the realization that it was cheaper to simply replace a PC when one did go down than to go to the trouble and expense of designing, building and installing enclosures.

Something the same is happening today, descriptively characterized by acronyms like bring-your-own device (BYOD) and commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS). We want our emails on our smartphone and our pdfs on our tablet. We know about Ethernet and TCP/IP and WiFi and cellular networks.

A 2013 survey cited by Opto 22 indicates that engineers, operators and managers already were carrying around on their mobile devices such things as flow calculators, conversion charts and simulation drawings; standards; sensory tools from GPS to accelerometers; cameras; and PLC monitoring and control software.

It’s nowhere near ending, says the automation supplier: Increasing interaction of people with machines and machines with people; the merging of IT and automation; and a closer relationship between design and production will all keep our heads in the interface, even as we still transport our actual persons to the scenes of greatest interest.

But stop and think first. Protective cases for phones and tablets are readily available; keep it out of hazardous areas; have end-point protection and limit mobile device access. Opto 22 says ways of doing this last might include pattern swipes, fingerprint scanning, facial recognition and “gesture on a picture.”

Additional detail steps begin, but do not end, with the list below, cited by Opto 22, and suggested by network device manufacturer Moxa, as follows:

·      Segment industrial automation from the rest of the company

·      Segment subsystems and key equipment

·      Disable unused ports on networked devices

·      Filter incoming MAC addresses to allow access only to authorized devices

·      Use a deep-packet inspection firewall to identify suspicious use from authorized sources

·      Monitor passwords for strength and force periodic change

·      Always change default user names and passwords on networked devices.

·      Use a virtual private network for remote access

To view the whitepaper in its entirety, click here.