A primary challenge in developing industrial control systems, and an issue that is only amplified as we more fully embrace the Industrial Internet of Things, often centers on an ability to rapidly develop and deploy software applications. Software is the special sauce in networked automation, and the availability of easy to use, effective software tools has become a necessity in delivering software that is becoming ever more complex.
To help address these issues, ODVA has announced two technology initiatives focused on making industrial automation software easier to develop. An Integrated Learning Environment aims to jump-start EtherNet/IP engineering know-how and ultimately shorten new product development cycles for device vendors. A second major new technical activity is to develop standards and tools for its next generation of digitized descriptions for device data. Project xDS will focus on the development of specifications for workflow-driven device description files for device integration and digitized business models.
EtherNet/IP Development Tools
The ToolBoxILE PC-based software tool is comprised of a family of simple, integrated tools to help engineers learn the basics about EtherNet/IP needed to develop product specifications for implementation by an enabling technology partner, or to start an EtherNet/IP development project. Here is an overview of the major functions covered by the toolbox.
An EtherNet/IP ShortCourse is a training and instruction manual that walks developers through the basics of the EtherNet/IP specification, including hyperlinks to critical sections.
A CIPengine Reference Stack is a simple, compliant working example of an EtherNet/IP stack. It includes all source code and instructions on using it to develop sample applications, and is provided in the C programming language as open source under a modified BSD license.
Virtual EtherNet/IP example devices include a Virtual Digital I/O Module and Virtual Communications Adapter including source code, as well as development documentation.
A Virtual Lab provides hands-on development opportunities and the ability to build virtual EtherNet/IP devices using the reference stack. Users can produce an Electronic Data Sheets (EDS) using ODVA’s EZ-EDS software, and learn the basics of ODVA conformance testing using a network protocol analyzer.
Workflow-driven Device Descriptions
A parallel effort undertaken by ODVA is to standardize workflow-driven device descriptions and simplify the production and consumption of device data for device integration in Industrial Internet of Things applications.
Project xDS will define standards for new xDS device description files based on a common format and syntax. The goal is to define typical workflows that include network and security configuration, network and security diagnostics, device configuration, and device diagnostics.
The first phase of Project xDS consists of defining the overall roadmap for the project, and mapping native device data to device integration workflows. It will also focus on the reference architecture used for xDS-based device integration files, and the syntax and format to be used by device description files.
Phase Two of the project, expected to start in 2018, will focus on creating an xDS specification. Ultimately, the overall deliverables for the project will include tools to simplify development of xDS device description files and their consumption by device integration tools, as well as conformance tests for xDS files.
Looking Ahead to IoT Applications
Substantial engineering know-how is needed to specify and develop smart and secure devices in industrial automation, so these efforts are contributing to the overall goal of tools and technology that can shorten the on-boarding time needed for new EtherNet/IP developments. The new approach to device descriptions, in particular, will simplify the production and consumption of device data that will be increasingly important for IoT application development.