Expert Panel Addresses “How to Prepare Legacy Systems for IIoT”

At the recent Smart Industry 2016, held in Chicago Sept. 26-28, Phil Marshall, CEO of Hilscher North America, Inc., joined other experts on a panel to address “Preparing Legacy Systems for the Industrial Internet of Things.”

A key focus of the lively discussion centered on connectivity and interoperability of the millions of devices already installed across the industry. Noted Marshall, “Right now, a typical plant may have hundreds of 20- to 30-year-old PLCs—so how do we migrate? Most plant owners don’t want to touch what’s working.” However, he added, “IoT is an extension of what SCADA has been doing for years.”

 

 Smart Industry 2016 panelists discuss how to prepare legacy systems for IIoT
(Phil Marshall shown far right)

 

“At Hilscher, we have developed an IoT solution that leverages ‘promiscuous mode’ technology for brownfield applications. Our netIOT gateway acts as a dumb device on your existing plant network, gathering data without having to reprogram the PLCs,” said Marshall.

 

Standards was another key issue, with Tom Burke, President of the OPC Foundation, noting, “The OPC standard is being used to bridge legacy systems into the IIoT space. More than 4,200 companies have created OPC solutions, and they are being used in more than 17 million applications—a clear indicator of its success.” 

 

Arlen Nipper, President and CTO of Cirrus Link Solutions and a co-founder of the MQTT standard, said MQTT (developed originally as an IBM messaging technology) has been used in SCADA systems in the Oil & Gas Industry for 19 years. To migrate legacy systems, Nipper suggests using “edge of network” gateways that support multiple protocols, are secure, and layer in communications strategies, such as MQTT, over TCP.

"MQTT has been used in SCADA systems
in the Oil & Gas Industry for 19 years."

When asked about how Information Technology (IT) can work with Operations Technology (OT), Nipper said, “For 15 years, we tried to sell these solutions from the top down. It never worked. To be successful, we must prove to operators that the new system is far superior to what is already installed.” And he noted that it’s important to show both IT and OT that the solutions are safer, more redundant and secure.

 

Added Burke, “There was a wall between IT and OT—a physical wall, network wall and political wall. Those walls are coming down. Fifteen years ago, the OPC Foundation board was comprised of typical automation companies. Now, IT companies like SAP and Microsoft have also joined the board.” 

"There was a wall between IT and OT—
a physical wall, network wall and political wall."

On the IT/OT divide, panelist Paul Sereiko, Director of Marketing for the FieldComm Group, noted, “There needs to be a balance between putting an Ethernet port on every device, and security.”

Asked “what’s next” for IIoT, Hilscher’s Marshall said, “We can now save everything. GE collects more data in a day than Facebook does in a year. Data scientists can analyze this data, looking for trends and patterns to improve the process.”

"We can now save everything. GE collects more data
in a day than Facebook does in a year."

Hilscher’s netIOT Edge gateway uses analyzer technology to “listen to all” on the wire, pre-processes the data and serves it to higher-level cloud applications. “In effect, our gateway becomes a firewall, as it’s impossible to write from the cloud to the legacy installed systems.”