The Industrial Internet is taking shape as a network of heterogeneous communication standards addressing different cloud platforms, be these platforms public, private or on-premise. This development, along with downwards compatibility of new solutions, means that the engineering and utilisation of device information is a persistent challenge when dealing with automation systems. The number of fieldbus technologies has not been reduced visibly, nor do we see initiatives that are likely to achieve this. So how can the integration of field devices in different networks during the engineering process of automation systems be improved?
Fieldbus organisations today put a lot of effort into providing device information to the users of their specific fieldbus technologies. Usually this will take the shape of a product catalogue covering some of the products which are available with the specific Fieldbus standard. Moreover, typically the Fieldbus organisations feel responsibility to highlight the number and variety of products available, but any further product related information is still with the product owner. These efforts are not synchronised over the different fieldbus technologies, however, and therefore, device vendors who offer different technologies are faced with the problem of addressing different initiatives that show significant dissimilarities in their approach. To bridge these gaps, Hilscher proposes a portal for uniform storage and provision of device information and device description files with free access to the stored information, the Device Information Portal.
The idea of the Device Information Portal is to support the process of device integration by offering a single resource where every relevant device description file can be found as well as additional device information relevant for engineers. The reasons to support this portal are manifold and depend on the role that any organisation or user has in the market:
In order to fulfil all the use cases mentioned for the Device Information Portal, Hilscher has implemented a modular software system consisting of four main components. A data base component provides the raw data storage and handling capacity needed for running the Device Information Portal. To visualise the device information and allow human machine interaction, the portal component offers a state of the art internet-compatible frontend. The process of data acquisition for the overall system is automated by the web crawler component, which is capable of automatically evaluating device description files and feeding the resulting information into the database. The fourth and most important component is the Web API. This component constitutes an integrated REST client that makes a connection directly to the DI-Portal API to save your time with easy API testing. It allows the easy development and transparent automatic connection between the own IT application and the Device Information Portal. The Web API is fully REST-compatible, meaning that regular web technology can be used to interact with the Device Information Portal.
The Device Information Portal is composed of functionally independent software elements. The core of the Device Information Portal is the database component. It stores device description files for different fieldbuses as well as additional information related to the described devices. The infrastructure of the database is scalable to address shifting data demands. The data storage components are run on secure web servers in the European Union, ensuring adherence to the strict data protection policies of the EU. Access to the database is possible through two additional components. The web portal allows direct access for users worldwide, who after a registration (for security purposes), are allowed free access to all relevant device information, including but not limited to current device description files that allow for easy integration of automation devices during integration processes. The web portal also offers registered device vendors the upload and management of their device information. An alternative access to the database can be done through a RESTful Web API. This API allows engineering software tools direct access to the information in the database. While maintaining proper security mechanisms, device descriptions can be automatically uploaded in bulk. Likewise, information about devices can be automatically retrieved, allowing for a seamless integration into engineering workflows. The API is fully documented and code examples can be generated on the fly. The API-Client holds the documentation of this bidirectional automatic interface. A final component of the Device Information Portal is the web crawler. This component is designed to automatically collect device description files and associated files from designated websites. The purpose of the web crawler is to make it easier for small and medium enterprises to integrate their product catalogue into the device information portal. Once consent is reached on the information distribution through the Device Information Portal, the web crawler can automatically fill the vendor-specific device list in the database.
The concert of the components of the Device Information Portal allows for an easy, robust and future-proof management and distribution of device descriptions and device information. Device vendors in the future shall not need to manage their own websites regarding device description files in addition to fieldbus organisation websites and engineering tools. All these data sources are to remain, but they can all share the database of the Device Information Portal, reducing the effort to maintain and sanitise the data. For engineers, the quality and up-to-dateness of the device description files they use shall increase, reducing the effort to hunt down current device description files in their engineering processes.
The Device Information Portal offers a wide range of services, many of which are provided by Hilscher free of charge.
The Device Information Portal allows searching and downloading of device description files through its website interface. Registered users can not only use the powerful search engine and the device description download, but can access additional information and illustration for all devices that are provided with this kind of information.
Device manufacturers can likewise upload, review and manage device information through a comfortable website. In addition, the Device Information Portal offers direct tool integration through its RESTful Web API. This easy-to-use, well-documented programming interface allows direct calls to data push methods for authorised users directly out of any information management solution. This will reduce data management efforts and ensure the quality and up-to-dateness of stored information.
Supporters of the Device Information Portal gain the opportunity to use the Portal as their customised front end for device information. This allows the use of the Device Information Portal as a catalogue or database for both device manufacturers and fieldbus organisations, adding filters and changing the appearance of the front end as needed. This eliminates the effort for generating and maintaining a singular solution for each of those parties.
For software tools with a need to process device description files or other device information, the RESTful Web API of the Device Information Portal allows the automated access to the stored information similar to the push option mentioned above. This allows a new generation of integrated engineering tools to display and process device information without confronting the user with description file handling.
The web crawler allows cyclical updates of the stored information even without specific tool support. Device manufacturers who maintain a web resource with their device information can agree on an update interval in which the information from their web resource is automatically accessed and updated in the Device Information Portal. This allows maintenance effort for those companies that cannot or do not want to integrate the Device Information Portal directly into their engineering workflows.
The netIOT Device Information Portal targets the entire automation industry and is supposed to provide access and connectivity for everybody.
Therefore Hilscher proposes a business model which targets high usage and complete product information rather than a certain level of profitability.
The data that device manufacturers or fieldbus organisations publish through the netIOT Device Information Portal remains the intellectual property of the device vendor. Likewise, responsibility for quality and correctness remains with the original developers. Hilscher merely offers the service of publishing the information. This service is offered indiscriminately to all interested parties. The use of this service through the Hilscher website is also completely free of charge. Uploading of information to the Portal is free of charge in general.
For fieldbus organisations, Hilscher offers to provide a customised website fitting the organisation’s corporate identity as well the technical filters relevant for the user group in question. Company-specific websites with company look and feel and appropriate filters are also offered for a fee.
Manual access to the netIOT Device Information Portal through the website is free of charge. Downloading information from the Portal through the Client-API programming interface is possible for an annual fee, to cover the cost for increased web traffic. Fees are structured according to the number of downloads through the Client-API.
The integration of engineering tools for uploading information to the portal, e.g. by device manufacturers, can be implemented into the software in question for a fee covering development costs.