Monthly Archives: November 2019

Industrial IIoT Specifications Taking Shape

Doug Sandy |

Two new industrial IoT Specification from PICMG

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the fastest growing segment of Internet of Things with annual revenues expected to be larger than the commercial segment of Internet of Things through the first half of next decade.  Within this segment are many traditional embedded markets including: defense and aerospace, transportation, energy and industrial automation.  Among these markets, Smart Factory (industrial automation) is the fastest growing vertical (24% CAGR) as factory automation seeks to deploy intelligent factory equipment, tightly couple factory operations and backend processes, leverage IT skillsets, and improve overall efficiencies through analytics.

At the 2019 Embedded Technology Conference, I had the opportunity to present to a room of long-time industry professionals about the state of Industrial Internet of Things.  In part of the discussion I told the fictional story of how Mary, a director of operations at a smart factory, was faced with the monumental task of bringing up a new factory line while upgrading the factory equipment; however, she needed to leave the existing software infrastructure intact.  To do this, Mary’s new hardware would need to plug-and-play with existing infrastructure and interoperate with disparate equipment at levels so far unachievable in industry.  Mary moved forward with her plans, confident in positive results.  Her upgrade was a huge success. Mary got a large promotion, and everyone lived happily ever after. The question I posed then is just as relevant today: “Is this a fairy tale, or could this really be possible?”

At PICMG, we believe the answer is: “Not only is this possible, it is achievable today.” With collaboration between our member companies and other industry consortia, we are targeting open specifications to address the need for interoperable industrial computing solutions at the sensor plane.  This paper outlines the first two of these specifications which were launched earlier this year and are expected to be released in the first half of 2020.

Sensor Data Model and Network Architecture

If sensors in an IIoT deployment are to plug-and-play with the rest of the automation infrastructure, there must be agreement upon how the devices communicate with the network, how they report their features, and how they can be interacted with from higher layers of the network.  With IIoT, the first of these challenges, how to communicate, is largely taken care of by internet technologies: Ethernet, HTTP, JSON and the like.  The second problem – how the sensors report themselves, and how they interact with the rest of the network requires the standardization of data models and network architectures.

The first IIoT specification underway by PICMG addresses just this need.  Key elements of the architecture under discussion today are a low-level binary data model definition that enables lightweight sensor nodes, a gateway architecture (for converting binary coded data models to DMTF Redfish), methods of synchronization of multiple endpoints, and security recommendations.  

This specification will enable an ecosystem of new smart sensor vendors to create sensors that interoperate seamlessly within the Redfish/PICMG sensor-domain network architecture.  Existing vendors of Com Express and CompactPCI Serial will also benefit as potential gateway suppliers into the network.

This proposal is expected to have two primary outputs.  A DMTF Redfish-compatible data model, and a specification that documents the system architecture of the sensor-domain network. 

New small Form-Factor Module

The second specification currently underway proposes a new microcontroller-agnostic ultra-small form-factor module for the enablement of smart sensors.  This module, which is expected to be no more than 30mm squared, will provide a hardware platform for traditional sensor vendors wishing to quickly create smart sensors.  When combined with the PICMG sensor domain network architecture and data model, sensors will seamlessly integrate into the network with plug-and-play interoperability.

We envision that this specification will benefit the industry in three specific ways.  First, it will enable sensor vendors to create smart sensors without having to manufacture the control circuitry and/or software by purchasing these components from PICMG-compliant suppliers.  Second, it will enable controller suppliers who wish to create smart sensors or smart-sensor components to do so in a way that is interoperable with other suppliers. And lastly, it will accelerate the uptake of smart-sensor technology through open-specifications and interoperability.

Joining the efforts

At PICMG, we are excited about these two new contributions aimed at accelerating the adoption of standards-based IIoT.  Together we are working on moving “plug-and-play” at the sensor domain from fantasy to reality.