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The Challenges of Equipping Legacy Infrastructure for the IIoT

As household appliances like refrigerators and thermostats become wirelessly connected and controllable anywhere, there is a push to apply this advanced functionality to operational technology in process industries. This technology, sometimes known as the industrial Internet of things, or IIoT, has immense promise for helping monitor equipment and avoid issues. However, there are some obstacles preventing wider implementation of IIoT in industrial equipment, including a gap between existing systems and available technologies.

The IT/OT Gap

Operational technology, or OT, has generally not kept pace with the speedy developments that have characterized other technology in the past decade. Many plants are using instruments and other technology that is antiquated or otherwise not up-to-date. The gap between information technology (IT) and OT exists on many levels. The basic vernacular used to describe overall infrastructures is different, as is the data representation. A gap exists on the level of security as well. And, most importantly, there is a lack of deep understanding of existing device protocols and the applications that speak these protocols.

Companies in the process industries should give serious consideration to the many advantages offered by IIoT solutions. This means both companies and their vendors need to develop migration strategies. Existing legacy infrastructures and devices will in all likelihood be in place for the next decade, because they are expensive to replace and already deeply embedded in process operations. But this legacy infrastructure can start to participate in IIoT solutions and gradually transition to being fully compatible.

Two Technologies Bridging the Gap

There are a few solutions that are being developed to address this gap. MQ Telemetry Transport, or MQTT, was developed over 17 years ago to address some of the issues with communication between IT and OT. Over the last five years it has become one of the dominant IIoT message transport technologies and is used to connect with Message Oriented Middleman (MOM) infrastructures. It can be used in SCADA, DCS, and ICS infrastructures.

Another technology that is working to bridge this gap is the HART Smart Transmitter protocol, which has been around since the early 1990s. HART is still the primary protocol for most 4-20ma instruments in process control industries today. But much of the information it can provide is not being utilized—instead, it is left stranded in the field. The operational, diagnostic and asset intelligence that HART protocol provides can assist operators in better understanding their plants, and is an excellent example of how emerging technologies can be applied to existing infrastructures.

Recently, Magnetrol® co-hosted a webinar about bridging this gap between IT and OT. The webinar addressed the challenges that currently exist and discussed how technologies like HART and MQTT can help equip legacy infrastructure for the IIoT. To learn more about this important topic, you can download the webinar.