Industrial automation – an integral part of production
Just as multimedia has now become an integral part of any home, so there is some form of industrial automation in any production site that involves continuous or batch processes and measurement or control of the pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical or whatever other system is installed. In a production environment, automated digitized systems facilitate data exchange between the various posts in order to provide equipment control, functional safety and the varying relevant measurements.
In a recent IEC Global Visions interview, the Chairman of a manufacturer of automation systems said that "the transformation of IT connected manufacturing to optimised plant and supply network" was the "most important trend in manufacturing today". Indeed, his point of view is generally accepted by all leading manufacturers of automation systems in the world today. The interview states that automation is motivated by three drivers: "global competitiveness, an agile supply chain and sustainability". Because resources are finite, so the environment is a very hot topic for many customers. As a result, "an information-enabled factory increases plant safety and enhances product reliability and quality. Sustainable process improvements help manufacturers meet and exceed regulatory requirements and increase their competitiveness in the global market".
In an industrialized environment where certain production lines rely on an uninterrupted exchange of data, it follows that systems need to be able to continue transmitting and receiving their information without a break. As with any automated system, the lack of human intelligence whenever there is a glitch can have significant repercussions and the economic effects can be high. The risks incurred can affect not only employees and production output but also the environment and safety, with pollution and uncontrolled chain reactions occurring as a result.
The IEC SC (subcommittee) that has the most links with ISO TC 184, its SCs 1, 2, 4 and 5, but in particular the last-named SC, ISO 184/SC 5: Interoperability, integration, and architectures for enterprise systems and automation applications, is IEC SC 65E: Devices and integration in enterprise systems. This SC, created some five years ago, looks at the digital representation of device properties and functions, methodologies and applications used in engineering automation processes, including diagnostic and maintenance techniques, and the links they have with existing applications.
Speaking the same language leads to sharing competencies
The experts from the relevant SCs of IEC TC 65 and ISO TC 184 are highly conscious that they not only need to speak the same language, but that when they are able to share their competencies, it adds much greater value.
Similar environment, different application
Both IEC TC 65 and ISO TC 184 deal with industrial automation. However, the areas in which they apply it are different. The IEC committee deals more with the system aspects of industrial automation, how it is set up and the equipment that is installed. ISO concentrates more on how automation is applied, for example in managing production unit resources and the planning and archiving aspects of industry.
A common self-appointed mandate
IEC TC 65 deals with the production work floor and its components whereas ISO 184 concentrates more on how the business deals with these. Nevertheless, the distinction between the two is not quite so clear cut.
Deciding to review both IEC and ISO committee standardization work and to harmonize their efforts, cutting out the overlap between the two, was motivated by the strong ties they both have with industry. Indeed, all the TC Officers have an industrial background and they realized that by converging their work and combining their efforts they can give it added value which in turn will benefit industrial automation as a whole.
As a first step, the joint IEC and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) ad-hoc group has decided to map out the International Standards each has produced to date on industrial automation. They have labelled this task as "Refining the Digital Factory".
Common understanding in industrial production
Today, the majority of manufacturing plants and production units around the world are putting into place systems that will make them more efficient, both in terms of the energy they use and the output they generate. Increasingly therefore they will have introduced some measure of automation in their processes.
In a Digital Factory production facilities have to be able to function seamlessly and continuously. There is greater need for standardizing the data that is dispatched from one production unit to a management service elsewhere. This implies a common understanding between the hardware – i.e. the equipment and the systems on one hand – and the software – the data – that is exchanged and drawn from the administrative services on the other. The information needs to be clearly understood so that it can be used equally well by both sides.
In the same way that data needs to be exchanged and understood between the different services, so the language needs a common basis. To connect systems together in a safe and useful manner you will almost certainly need to describe the needs for current. If, however, you use the termutilization voltage while others refer to it as nominal voltage you are likely at some time to have an unresolved contradiction in your data exchange!
While the two standardization committees might have a common understanding of the notion of the data they are describing, if the terminology they use is different, ultimately they will effectively be speaking a different language.
Ruling out errors in data exchange through standardization
Until very recently, data exchange was carried out on the basis of non-standardized properties that were simply written down and passed between users. Now, thanks to the work of TC 65 in determining standardized definitions for equipment, systems and applications, that data no longer needs to be retyped and entered into each partner system with the attendant possibilities for error. Suppliers and users, resource management and production facilities alike have gained in terms of time, interoperability and their use of common data.
Drawing up the big picture matrix
The ad-hoc group set up on IEC TC 65's initiative is paying special attention to ensure that any new NPs (New Work Item Proposals) relating to the scope of the Digital Factory are included in their matrix. They are also identifying potential gaps, problems and associated risks.
They are structuring their approach so as to class all their publications according to a pre-agreed system. This takes into account the object of each International Standard, where it emanated from, the level of its genericity, [note: taken from the word generics to mean "parameterized types", a mechanism commonly used in Java databases to describe specific types of objects], and so on.
The ad-hoc group has analysed the terms used in each publication. Each International Standard is classified according to its genericity, i.e. whether its use is generic, partial or totally implemented. They are referencing the content on an explicit relationship basis: is it referenced directly, or mentioned? Is the element used or made use of? Each standard is being listed together with the WG (Working Group) responsible for its development. They are covering technicalities such as the degree of impact it has on the committee's universe of discourse [note: in logic-related fields the universe of discourse, or universe is understood to cover entities or ranges of objects, events, attributes, relations, ideas and so on, so that in future iterations it is no longer necessary to re-specify the relevant variables].
In their process of harmonization, drawing up a big picture matrix, where they have positioned all the standards issued by the various IEC and ISO TCs, represents the first step for the ad-hoccommittee.
Once each SC has finished positioning their standards in relation to the common table, the experts in the ad-hoc group have agreed that they will go ahead and put into place new tools that will then enable them to use the information they have gathered.
As a result, industry will benefit greatly from a streamlined set of International Standards on automation. It will help connect information systems that are based on different models and, in the future, with this common understanding of the Digital Factory, make the technical interrelationships between the factory and the workshop more transparent.