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How OPC UA can help with the Challenges of Brownfield Industrie 4.0 Implementation


Today’s discussions on Industrie 4.0 and smart factories are usually centered on next-generation machines, contemporary business models, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT). These discussions generally play out without much thought about where the industry is coming from and brownfield integration. This shows that too much emphasis is being placed on where we are heading without thinking about carrying legacy facilities and equipment along.

At the Smart Industry Summit of 2017, Nestlé’s engineering manager summed up this obsession with the future and overlooking the past. Rauf Hagen stated, ‘with every one or two greenfield plants added each year… there are also 430 brownfield plants to deal with.’ He went on to state that some of the machines at Nestlé’s brownfield facilities have been in operation for more than 50 years. This is why data is still being pulled out of these plants using the manual process, and the task of enhancing productivity in brownfield plants is still a challenge.

Nestlé’s example is just one of many detailing the number of brownfield facilities that need to overcome the challenges involved with implementing Industrie 4.0 concepts. The major challenges include:

  • Collecting data – This focuses on collecting the data required to assess overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in real-time
  • Pre-processing and storing data – The challenges involve getting the machine to organize and provide temporary storage for collected data before communicating with a central database
  • Dealing with static layouts
  • Integrating the collected data into Industrial Cloud platforms

This article will discuss:

  • The challenges of implementing Industrie 4.0 in brownfield facilities
  • The role of industrial edge devices and Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) play in mitigating these challenges
  • How edge hardware and industrial software can be used to implement Industrie 4.0 in brownfield factories


Understanding the implementation challenges that brownfield facilities bring up

Although Nestlé’s example highlights some of the challenges, it does not describe them in detail. In terms of integrating a data-driven plant performance optimization approach in brownfield facilities, the best metric to monitor is overall equipment effectiveness. While this data is readily available for smart equipment, the data collected from legacy equipment generally centers on machine capacity and its final output. This data is collected manually, and extra information – such as production time per item, the speed of individual equipment units or relationships between material supply and production timelines – is difficult to collect.

The ability to collect data in real-time and plan for equipment downtime helps reduce resource waste and enhances time management. In brownfield facilities, collecting real-time data from assembly lines and sending it to a central database ecosystem is difficult. This is because the interconnected process generally uses control systems and processes from different generations. Thus, a communication gap springs up which the average protocols used in smart factories cannot bridge due to the obsolete – XP, NT – systems on legacy equipment.

The static layout of workstations in brownfield facilities is also a challenge that must be considered when planning to implement Industrie 4.0 concepts. This is because, in these facilities, moving legacy equipment and production lines ends up doing more harm than good and costs too much. Other challenges include securing the data collected from these facilities and dealing with integrating legacy equipment in digital ecosystems due to a lack of networking ports.


Overcoming these challenges with Industrial Edge Computing Technology and custom software

The challenge of collecting data from brownfield facilities and the legacy equipment in them can be met with the use of industrial edge  computing devices and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) technologies. These devices can be attached to this equipment without having to modify the legacy control system in the equipment. An example of an industrial edge computing technology is EXOR’s JSmart family of HMI field devices.

These devices are industrial-grade devices that are capable of collecting external machine data as well as the more important data in the machine’s control system. Other features that prove their resilience in brownfield facilities include integrated IP67 protection against dust, water, and moisture ingress.

Smart edge HMI solutions can also successfully mitigate the challenges the static nature of brownfield facilities bring up when implementing Industrie 4.0 concepts. With features such as motion and environment sensors, edge solutions can be used to map out the layout of facilities and integrate them into diverse applications. An example is when attempting to create a Digital Twin of a brownfield factory. The edge device can help with providing the data needed to design a digital representation consisting of all the assets within the factory. Once this is done, simulating production processes and carrying out predictive analysis will become possible.

The digital transformation or the use of a Digital Twin to implement Industrie 4.0 also highlights the role of smart edge devices and software solutions in receiving business insight from brownfield factories. If properly executed, the digital environment can be used to test the effects of implementing IIoT and smart devices in these environments before embarking on the physical implementation process.


How OPC UA Pub/Sub over TSN can unify data streams and communications in brownfield facilities

OPC UA Pub/Sub provides a framework for integrating Industrie 4.0 in brownfield facilities as well as connectivity and communication across multiple production sites with differing technological capacities. The integration of OPC UA and time-sensitive networking (TSN) also makes it possible to collect and send the data securely and with guaranteed latency across production facilities with greenfield-level technologies and brownfield (obsolete or outdated) equipment or technology. An example of this is the use of OPC-compliant technology to connect, manage, and securely exchange data across LNG plants, refineries, and utility facilities.

In this scenario, Industrie 4.0 can be implemented in brownfield facilities, and OPC UA Pub/Sub over TSN makes it possible to communicate and share data with other facilities or service stations through their control systems. This process ensures data is securely shared while respecting the security policies of all stakeholders and drastically reducing the resources that would be spent doing this any other way. Other advantages of integrating OPC UA include eliminating the possibility of data loss when downtime occurs and the use of encryption which protects transferred data from cybersecurity threats.


Implementing Industrie 4.0 concepts in your facilities

As stated earlier, the challenges of implementing Industrie 4.0 concepts in brownfield facilities include data collection, communication, and security. To successfully navigate through these difficulties, thoroughly investigating the benefits of integrating industrie 4.0 business models and its related technologies is the way forward to a successful implementation. This is where industrial edge computing technology and their corresponding software, coupled with integrating OPC UA standards, have roles to play. Although choosing an implementation pathway to follow and executing it is the system integrator's responsibility, HMI devices can help simplify the process.


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