23 Jul 2024


Project shows how to link legacy sensors to IT systems

The IIC testbed explored how operators of established plants could connect their sensors to IT systems using existing cabling infrastructure

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has announced results of a testbed project which has been looking at how operators of established manufacturing facilities can connect their sensors to IT systems using existing cabling infrastructure, without affecting real-time operations. The testbed was run by TE Connectivity and SAP, with support from the OPC Foundation and the sensor-maker ifm electronic

“In discrete manufacturing, the real-time manufacturing sub-systems are generally managed by PLCs that make use of data provided by various sensors,” explains Dr Michael Hilgner, manager of consortia and standards at TE Connectivity. “However, PLCs in most brown-field facilities are outdated and can’t handle more work beyond the original automation task, such as processing a high volume of data required for added value services. So we replaced the existing I/O module with a Y-gateway to pull sensor data from real-time control systems and sent it directly to IT systems via an additional channel.”

The Y-gateway re-uses the existing physical cabling and provides easy integration using an OPC UA data model for IO-Link sensors which is currently being standardised by a joint working group of the IO-Link Community and the OPC Foundation. Data is transferred to the IT system via OPC UA and processed further in either Manufacturing Data Objects in SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP MII) or SAP Cloud Platform.

“Being able to exchange information between the shopfloor and IT systems offers many benefits to manufacturers, including monitoring, controlling and simulating manufacturing processes,” adds Erich Clauer, vice-president for industry standards and open-source at SAP. “Advanced analytics helps to optimise processes, minimise consumption and reduce downtime. In particular, machine-learning algorithms require a high volume of data to reduce the teaching time and to generate reliable models.”

The results of the Smart Manufacturing Connectivity for Brown-field Sensors Testbed have been published in a downloadable paper.