As information technology and automation technology continue to converge, use of cloud-based communication services is growing in industrial automation projects. As a result, PC-based control technology is gaining in importance as well. TwinCAT automation software from Beckhoff supports relevant communication standards in this area, such as OPC UA, MQTT and AMQP, simplifying the implementation of cloud-based manufacturing concepts.
Pioneering automation solutions available today can extend the scope of conventional control systems through the implementation of big data, data mining and advanced measurement technology. Industrie 4.0 and IoT strategies, however, create new challenges for communication among devices and services. In terms of the classic communication pyramid, a large-scale data exchange between sensors and higher-level layers is involved. Moreover, horizontal communication between devices continues to play an important role in all modern production facilities.
PC-based control provides key technologies for advanced communication scenarios and today has become an integral part of countless automation projects. The cloud is increasingly assuming the role of an IoT project enabler. Cloud service providers deliver their services in an abstracted manner for users globally, minimizing system configuration complexity.
Such cloud services can provide basic storage functions such as SQL or noSQL databases in addition to machine-learning algorithms as executed by the cloud provider. When communicating with services in a public cloud, a message broker is frequently used for data ingestion. The message broker represents a secure and standardized method to distribute messages to the cloud, and serves as a means to access cloud services.
The IoT communication protocol: MQTT
The underlying transport protocol is the common denominator for all of these platforms. The Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol was established early on and has been widely adopted by all major public cloud systems. Simplicity and low overhead make MQTT attractive even for small embedded system applications that exchange data over unstable communication lines.
Unlike conventional client/server applications, MQTT is based on the publisher/subscriber principle. Therefore, integration in existing IT infrastructures is simplified because of the purely outbound data connections. Established security mechanisms such as TLS can be used to secure the transport channel and implement device authentication mechanisms.
Seamless integration of IoT protocols
The TwinCAT automation platform is enriched with the TwinCAT OPC UA and TwinCAT IoT supplements which deliver standardized and secure communication paths for the cloud. The platform provides both MQTT publisher/subscriber and OPC UA functionalities, historical access, alarms and conditions, as well as various mechanisms for communication with and access to control logic contents.
Communication can be carried out using popular cloud systems, such as Microsoft Azure™, Amazon Web Services, IBM Watson, Google IoT, as well as private cloud scenarios. Beckhoff systems can securely connect to the cloud in this way using OPC UA and via third-party systems.
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About the author:
Sven Goldstein is a TwinCAT Product Manager with Beckhoff Automation at the company’s world headquarters in Verl, Germany. He is highly active in automation software development, particularly in the areas of IoT and Industrie 4.0. Goldstein is also involved in the development, testing and presentation of new technologies for industrial cloud connectivity, such as for Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and more. His technical focus also extends to standard communication protocols for cloud communication, such as MQTT and OPC UA.