Where Is the Edge of the Industrial Internet?

I’ve recently read a number of blog posts and articles talking about the Edge of the Industrial Internet of Things, including Vibhoosh Gupta’s blog post titled “Industrial Edge Node: The iPhone of Industry.” They made me think about where the edge really is.  I’ve heard “edge” defined differently by different people. This is my attempt to define it for the industrial space and show where PROFINET fits.

IT, may define the edge as the last Ethernet switch before the Ethernet cable disappears into the factory.

The Ethernet-centric factory network expert may define the edge as the last device reached that has an RJ45 connector.

Unlike the above scenarios, in the industrial setting many devices don’t connect to Ethernet. But PROFINET can still integrate them into the Industrial Internet of Things. Some of those devices are easy to bring in because they are electromechanical switches and actuators that connect to an I/O block. The I/O block is on the PROFINET network—so problem solved. But what about devices on non-Ethernet networks?

Ripping and replacing them with PROFINET devices is probably not an affordable option. And some networks cannot be replaced with any Industrial Ethernet—like those in hazardous environments (where a spark can cause an explosion). No Industrial Ethernet is approved for landing in a hazardous environment. Fortunately, there are networks that are designed for that: PROFIBUS PA and Foundation Fieldbus H1.

And there are proxies that can integrate these and other busses into PROFINET. Proxies are like gateways with one important difference: they’re specified in the PROFINET specification! A PI (PROFIBUS and PROFINET International) Working Group convened with experts from the networks on both sides of the proxy. The Working Group developed the standard which is now part of IEC. So proxies are governed by open standards and are not the design of a single company. Open standards are a critical requirement for the Industrial Internet of Things and PROFINET is based on open standards even to the point of integrating non-Ethernet networks and devices.

So you see, no matter where the edge begins, it can end up with a smart connection thanks to PROFINET.

[Cross posted at GE Automation blog: http://www.geautomation.com/blog/where-edge-industrial-internet]

–Carl Henning