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A First Easy Introduction to the NOA Concept The NOA Concept – Making Data Easily Accessible

Author / Editor: Thilo Glas* / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Data forms the basis for any optimization strategy. In the framework of the NOA concept, Phoenix Contact now provides with the Cloudwriter an app, with which the measurement data recorded in the systems can be transferred simply, without retroactive effects and securely to a cloud for evaluation.

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(Bild: Phoenix Contact)

Most process plants are designed for a lifetime of thirty years or more. On the one hand, this results from the great technical effort involved in their implementation. On the other hand, a new installation is often not necessary because the product manufactured in the plant loses neither quality nor topicality over time. In a production line of the automotive industry, however, the situation is different. The frequent model changes of passenger cars result in a cyclic complete conversion of the plant. The benefit for the automotive industry lies in the possibility of integrating new technologies into applications at shorter intervals. Process engineers do not have this advantage. So it means creating other options to use new Industry 4.0 technologies in an existing process plant.

The first important step is to obtain data from the plant — securely and without retroactive effects. Since the existing application is not to be comprehensively changed, the familiar automation pyramid is extended by a side channel that allows horizontal tapping of process data at all levels: the so-called NOA concept (Namur Open Architecture). At this point, the symbolic data diode is used, with which data can be read from the plant, but access to the application is prevented.

Broader Basis for Optimization Approaches

The side-channel thus allows data, which is the basis for every analysis, to be easily extracted from the system. This data can then be collected on servers or in a cloud so that it is available to those responsible for the analysis. These can be internal specialists or external service providers who now simply access the data via a cloud. With the sum of the measuring points of a system, the possibilities to further optimize the application within the scope of investigations or to detect errors increase. Problems can arise, for example, from fluctuations in supply caused by a neighboring system. This reason is usually ignored if only one part of the system is considered. The analysis of all historical data recorded around the plant shutdown helps to avoid such disturbances before major problems occur.

Another buzzword is predictive maintenance. For example, an engine bearing is only replaced if it is actually worn out, and not at regular intervals. This results in a significant reduction of time and money. A vibration sensor attached to the engine provides the necessary data. Here another aspect of the NOA concept comes into play: the vibration sensor does not have to be connected to the control system; it reports its results via the side channel, for example to the visualization used in the maintenance department. The actual control system therefore remains untouched. Because the recorded system data is stored on a separate server or in a cloud, it is easier for service providers to evaluate it because it is more accessible. The previous method of data acquisition for such purposes, for example using locally connected data loggers or an intervention in the control system, is proving to be much more complex. This form of data storage also enables analyses from superimposed areas: A corporate group can now directly compare the energy consumption, performance or quality of several locations and thus obtain a broader basis for improvements.

Complete Decoupling of Systems

As already described, the new technologies and methods require that the process data of the plant be made available on a server or in a cloud. This first raises the question of security, which Namur’s NOA concept takes up in addition to freedom from retroactivity. IT security and the implementation of the data diode in real hardware are among the core topics of the working groups that Namur has founded in cooperation with ZVEI. Further security considerations must be made in the area of connecting the NOA side channel with external systems such as servers and clouds. Security routers will be used to establish secure tunnels between the systems. The task of the working groups will be to determine which standards are to be applied.

Alternatively, the systems can be completely decoupled. To record additional data, a separate compact controller can be installed with, for example, analog inputs in the field, which does not have to be designed as a heavy field transmitter for temporary use. The controller, which is in no way connected to the existing system, then sends the measurement data via a mobile router to a cloud. An important aspect of all new technologies is their ease of use. If the benefits can only be achieved through considerable efforts, the new approaches will not prevail. The fact that systems such as compact controllers have become so powerful that an OPC UA server can be operated on them is a step in the right direction. This also applies to the configuration for forwarding the measurement data to the cloud, which only takes a few clicks, which is a great relief.

Digital Marketplace for Control Technology

The PLC next Technology from Phoenix Contact, which already includes the listed functions, will soon be equipped with a further feature: Application programs that the user had to program in the past according to IEC 61131 can now be selected on an online platform and transferred to his PLC next Control. The rest of the configuration is done via a web interface of the controller. This solution was based on the smartphone and the webstore, which are known from the private environment. With PLC next Store, Phoenix Contact has created the first digital marketplace for industrial control technology.

The Cloudwriter is a simple app that fits perfectly into the NOA concept and is also available for all applications in which data must be recorded. When the user installs the Cloudwriter on his PLC next Control, he receives an application program that sends the measurement data of the four analog inputs to the Proficloud of Phoenix Contact. He can then access the data via a web portal, whereby the display can be configured as required and the values can also be saved as a csv file. The user connects the PLC next Control to the Internet, enters the ID code printed on it in the PLC next Store for identification purposes and can then select from the apps offered, which one he would like to set up on the controller. The app is downloaded and installed automatically. Then, for example, the inputs are configured via the web interface of the controller. Once the app has been installed, the PLC next Control can be disconnected from the PLC next Store again.

Problem-free Connection to Various Cloud Solutions

With the Proficloud, Phoenix Contact provides its own cloud environment. If the user has already opted for a different cloud, there is also a solution: With the MQTT app, the user can configure the PLC next Control connection to any cloud. Unlike the Cloudwriter app, the MQTT app is not a complete solution. It only connects the IEC 61131 program created by the user to another cloud, which is the next step into the NOA world. In this context, an additional app will be available in the future that allows connection to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

* *The author is Senior Specialist Engineering in the Industry Management Process, Phoenix Contact Electronics, Bad Pyrmont/Germany. Contact: Phone +49-5235-3-12000