MAY-JUN 2019

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able thin-client devices, which are rapidly re- placed and redeployed if necessary. As with commissioning, being able to deploy mobile vi- sualization and computing clients on laptops or tablets gives maintenance crews more options for troubleshooting problems. Who owns industrial edge computing? At this point, it is relevant to examine who owns the industrial automation computing structure and how that definition concerns industrial edge and thin-client rollouts. Traditional industrial computing solutions have been heavily based on commercial information technology (IT) infrastructure, and rightly so. Many comput - ing technologies used in industrial applications have trickled down from the commercial world, including PCs, servers, Ethernet wired and Wi-Fi networking, virtual machines (VMs), thin clients, and certain redundancy schemes. However, manufacturing and process indus- tries are built around the always-on world of operational technology (OT). OT requires much of the computing infrastructure described above, but adds mission-specific hardware, software, and communications methods. This includes PLCs, HMIs, smart instrumentation, and industrial Ethernet protocols. combined with local "edge" computing elements in the field to support visualization and control. With the right pieces in place, organizations attain maximum value. Data from smart field systems has a reliable path to flow to the core, while opera- tors can access the key information required to run the factory in the best way (figure 1). Standard commercial solutions have often been used to achieve these industrial comput- ing goals. However, a better way is to use redun- dant hardware and thin-client software opti- mized for industrial applications. These products help users scale and locate their automation ele- ments anywhere they want with flexibility and high reliability. This article examines why it is compelling to use thin clients at the industrial edge for improving visualization and control. Industrial edge not an isolated case Visualization and control computing at the indus- trial edge is applicable and beneficial to almost all operations. Most edge-located systems, devices, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors have become "smarter" and able to provide exten- sive data. Improved SCADA and HMI connectivity at the field enables access to this data. Plants and processes can operate more effi- ciently when more HMI functions are deployed on the production floor, at field locations, or wherever operators need them. This includes basic process monitoring and control, where operators need an immediate real-time picture of production that is accurate and comprehensive, along with the abil - ity to make adjustments and changes. But it also involves providing visibility into more detailed analytics performed on the big data obtained from field devices. Analytics reveal longer-term trends that may not be addressed by directly observing real-time data, but which informed operators can act upon to improve efficiency. In addition to operational improvements, other stages of the project life cycle can take advantage of the industrial edge. During design and development, proven edge computing archi- tectures are a structure that can be reused from project to project, leading to design efficiency. The modular nature of edge computing means original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and system integrators (SIs) can do programming and testing development work on an in-house development platform, and then quickly deploy the results to new and existing field production systems. Fast HMI deployments and mobile ca- pabilities make it far easier to commission new systems and to update existing ones. Ongoing maintenance is simplified by reli- FAST FORWARD ● SCADA and HMI visualization that are installed closer to the plant floor get information where it is needed, improving monitoring and control. ● Converging IT and OT business units is not the end game, but indus- trial edge deployments must successfully coordinate both groups. ● Thin-client technology is the preferred way to reliably deploy and manage distributed HMIs and virtual machines throughout a facility. AUTOMATION IT INTECH MAY/JUNE 2019 31 Figure 1. Computing power located at the "industrial edge" occupies a critical region for improving operations by efficiently gathering data and providing visualization when and where it is needed, often by using thin clients.

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