The Internet of Things and its interface to production equipment — as well as “the cloud” and cybersecurity — made the headlines at the recent ARC Industry Forum held in February in Orlando.

Contingents were there from the largest automation vendors, including ABB, GE Digital, Groupe Schneider, Honeywell Process Systems, Siemens and Yokogawa. Staked out on the show floor were smaller technology and software companies, and even in some cases, what some might call startups. This was the 20th time the conference was held by ARC Advisory Group and President Andy Chatha.

As the culminating steps in the computerization of process production proceed apace, its advocates say the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) supports the forging of secure, flexible connections across the wary chasm dividing the peoples of the information technology (IT) from the peoples of the operations technology (OT). That is to say, it is as much about work personas and roles as about technical standards.

Cloud modality allows you to distribute computing intelligence to and derive instrumentation data from the device level. It is possible to bypass the intervening, historical integration layers instanced at the supervisory control, execution and enterprise levels among a group of production plants and their company headquarters.

As is well known, cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing sources.

More safe and secure

The industrial cybersecurity discussion at ARC isn’t new, but now the industry has product solutions. A number featured “gateways” to keep production equipment cordoned off from a corrupt world, while allowing it to receive instructions, report results, and be richly arrayed with electronic sensors for better asset planning and production intelligence. A gateway is a network point that acts as an entrance to another network using different protocols.

Cybersecurity solutions seen at the show included those from Waterfall, PAS, Mentor Graphics and Indegy. Telit, formerly ILS Technology, was one of the IIoT vendors present.

“Within an industrial company, you have layers of networks including for corporate, plant, DCS, device and safety,” said Andrew Ginter, vice president of industrial security for Waterfall. “At the IT/OT interface, it’s an appropriate strategy to use either a single or double layer of gateways to protect the data of your most vital physically deployed assets.”

As automation suppliers and others initiate remote asset management programs that allow equipment diagnostic monitoring, security is of greater concern because this information will reside in the cloud, said Fred Yentz, Telit president and CEO.

Its platform allows equipment using different protocols to interface to enterprise systems and applications without custom programming, using built-in standard device drivers and connections. The technology, for example, allows completing infrastructure mappings in two days instead of up to 18 months.

“Eighty percent of the data generated in a plant comes from the device level,” said Yentz. “Closely coupling those devices to a software application leads to stalled innovation.” As an independent supplier, Telit is not beholden to any particular automation protocol or framework, Yentz said.

Cyber serious

Wurldtech, a GE company, works with both device makers and system operators to help protect industrial assets, control networks and infrastructure against cyber threats. “The biggest challenge for process production is avoiding downtime, especially unplanned downtime,” said Paul Rogers, Wurldtech president and CEO. “Patching of discovered vulnerabilities is the standard approach, but it’s not working. In releasing the patch, the supplier announces the vulnerability to the world, but the patches may not be installed at the site for years because production never stops.”

It’s clear now how serious the cybersecurity threat is. Attacks are common. Some surveys say 70 percent of companies have experienced some form of intrusion attempt. “Yet just identifying the implications of an attack can be problematic,” said Nate Kube, Wurldtech CTO. In one power plant he was familiar with, power system peculiarities were diagnosed exhaustively until the company discovered the computing host itself was sending disruptive messages.

“We are still early in the OT/IT convergence evolution,” said David A. Vasko, director of advanced technology at the Milwaukee lab at Rockwell Automation. “The engineers as opposed to the IT people need to take the lead here because they are the ones with the expertise.”

It is clear, he said, that an industrial enterprise engaged in production needs a common data set for its machine and equipment. In light of increasing mobility, data needs to reside in the cloud. “Defense in depth as a security strategy looks at behaviors and then the physical and network infrastructure,” Vasko said. “User authentication, tamper protection, secure intellectual property and a design philosophy with security at its core are some important elements of that strategy.”