Dr. Peter Martin of Schneider Electric is calling it a whiteboard moment. Time to get out the erasers and start over. And maybe he’s right – the models and metaphors that defined the industrial automation space for at least a generation are being challenged. The classic hierarchical Purdue reference model – level 1 for closed-loop control, 2 for human supervisory control, 3 for operations and MES, 4 for ERP, etc. – has served us well. But we may have taken its suggestions too literally – maybe we shouldn’t have insisted that its implied boundaries take physical form as independent, isolated networks, for example.

Now, though, the picture may be more like a fully interconnected mesh, or a horizontal service bus, or a cloud, or even a fog (does a Fog really have an Edge?). Advanced analytics tended to stay at the ‘upper’ layers of the Purdue model. Now they’re distributed up and down the mesh, cloud, fog or whatever. So maybe it really is time to redraw the boxes, reroute the lines, and think about a fully connected enterprise. At the 21st annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando this year, the theme for the event was “Industry in Transition: Realizing the Digital Enterprise.” And this time over 800 thought leaders and visionaries, skeptical end users and eager suppliers gathered to talk about where the industrial automation space is heading and what it might look like when we get there.

Here are some of the concepts and things that were on their minds:

IIoT – the Industrial Internet of Things

Lots of promise, vendor enthusiasm and press activity, but then reality sets in when someone asks about [1] cybersecurity – attacks against the ‘things’ themselves, or those using swarms of hijacked ‘things’ to attack other connected targets, [2] interoperability and protocols – OPC? OPC UA? MQTT?, or [3] organizational implications – who owns and maintains which things? OT folks are waking up to what should happen at the ‘edge’ of that big mesh too, especially when it comes to connecting legacy systems, PLCs, DCSs, transmitters and applications. Seems there’s a real opportunity for a simple, reliable, continuous availability platform for the smart gateways that will be required. And Stratus does offer just such an always-on platform that can be maintained by non-IT people.

ARC are setting up a practice area and offering their influence and insight to help guide us through this new solution space.


No, you can’t talk about the IIoT without asking about cybersecurity. No less than 11 suppliers in the Innovation Showcase were leading with cybersecurity – either in the form of hardware, software, or some sort of consulting services offering:


For some years now, ISA has convened a standards effort on industrial control systems security, the ISA99 standards project. Its members and contributors were visible and vocal at ARC this time. And they’re still open to hearing from vendor and user viewpoints:

And a very interesting observation came from Marty Edwards of the Department of Homeland Security. Marty runs the Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Emergency Response Team. And while he’s advising and assessing and implementing security technology, he still insists you should [1] sit down and identify the crown jewels in your enterprise – that critical workflow or asset or production unit that could put you out of business – and [2] UNPLUG IT. Because the hackers are pinging you and looking for that same asset and will find a way to hit it remotely if they can.

And again, since that asset still needs to keep running on its own, there seems to be an opportunity there for some simple, reliable, continuous availability platform to keep that asset running inside its own little bubble.

IT and OT convergence

There’s still quite a bit of jostling between the IT world and the plant floor OT folks. And this is most visibly happening at the edge of that IIoT/network/cloud/fog/etc. The real experts and veterans in the world of operations insist that if it involves process or personnel safety, it’s going to remain in the OT domain. We heard words to that effect from customer experiences with safety, security and availability in gas distribution systems, information integration in engineered products (rolled or forged metals), and in access tracking to critical tools and measuring equipment. One subject matter expert in MES and automation systems summed it up by saying that the closer you are to real-time, the further you should be from the cloud!

Augmented Reality

New startups and established suppliers are finding ways to put information from all those ‘things’ and the analytics and experts across their enterprise directly in your field of vision as you walk around a plant site. Look through a visor or down at a smart tablet view of a boiler, or a substation, or a warehouse, and see gauges and highlights and procedures imposed directly over the image. Interact with a remote expert whose video image or screen content is in the visor field there before your eyes, and who sees what you see as well. Augmented Reality may finally be delivering for industry what Google Glass tried to do for everybody else. Visit these sites to find out more: www.daqri.com, www.ptc.com/augmented-reality.

Procedure management

Some interesting work here grew out of customers trying to apply the recipes, process and equipment models from ISA88’s world of batch processes to the more continuous process environments of refineries, chemical plants and even nuclear facilities. Any time you do a major state change or product cutover – or deal with a big upset – in a continuous process environment, there’s still a procedure to follow. Most of those have been managed on paper or entrusted to the operators themselves. But those tend to make me nervous, especially when I think about running a nuclear facility in an ad hoc fashion. So ISA’s SP106 project has been busy on models and methods for Procedure Automation for Continuous Process Operations. We saw sessions on that standards effort, and even saw one vendor who’s developing a software product to handle mixed manual and automated procedures.

New models

And it’s not enough that the IIoT and the Cloud are challenging that revered Purdue hierarchical model. True to Dr Martin’s whiteboard moment observation, ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, and Saudi Aramco have convened some efforts through The Open Group to consider a whole new model for process automation that would be built around a broadly horizontal service bus architecture. Stay tuned as that develops (and be aware that they’re looking for volunteers to contribute to that new model structure).

Vendors: Innovation Showcase

In addition to the eleven vendors leading with cybersecurity offerings already mentioned above, a couple were bravely introducing [1] a new PLC / Process Controller hardware package, and [2] a new web-based SCADA offering with a pretty innovative licensing model. And both might also benefit from a simple, reliable, continuous availability, platform.

Key takeaways – observations from participants

ARC actually recorded a short video montage with snippets of key takeaways and impressions from people who were there. Check it out here.

“The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson

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