exOS, B&R’s latest Enhanced Cross-over Operating System, is a technology designed to connect the IT and OT worlds.
It offers machine builders a wider range of innovative design possibilities.
Digitization is the use of digital design, analysis, and operational tools to tap into the potential of production to improve quality, cost, and delivery capabilities. The demands of the market, the impetus of technology, and the internal drive for innovation of enterprises themselves have made the computing tasks for solving analysis, optimization, and strategy problems more intense. Moreover, these tasks must be effectively and tightly integrated with the field control tasks to form a larger closed loop. B&R is keenly aware of this need and started working on a technology that connects the worlds of IT and OT many years ago.
The need for fusion of control and computing is ubiquitous
In many equipment fields such as electronics and semiconductors, photovoltaics, lithium batteries, pharmaceuticals, and heat treatment, even without considering today’s so-called “digital transformation” trend, the demand for data in these fields has long existed.
A large number of computing software needs to run on IT systems. For example, for product design and engineering verification platforms, today, these software not only need simulation, but also interact with runtime software, like Interaction between MATLAB/Simulink and the control system platform. The production operation analysis software needs to provide data report support for the improvement of quality and production, and can issue improvement instructions to the OT real-time control system. The process analyst mines the optimal parameter combination from these data, which can be sent to the control system in real time. It is also hoped that AI will be able to find the ability to improve quality, reduce cost, optimize parameters in the large amount of data – and learn the experience hidden in the technician’s brain, make it explicit, and use it for knowledge reuse.
These “edge computing” tasks usually require sampling and transmission through OT, analysis and optimization through IT software, and then execution through OT, forming a large closed loop.
Figure 1 – Convergence of IT and OT systems is an urgent need
However, for a long time, there has been a big difference between the IT and OT worlds. First, in order to obtain real-time and deterministic communication, the industry usually adopts polling or token mechanisms such as POWERLINK, PROFINET, Ethernet/IP, etc., The IT network adopts the “best effort” design philosophy. In terms of operating systems, industrial tasks are based on the design of “isochronous” and use a real-time operating system (RTOS), while IT systems are based on preemptive multitasking general-purpose operating systems such as Windows. In terms of application development, OT usually develops control tasks based on IEC61131-3, or C/C++. However, for many IT systems, Java, Python, and Docker can better play their advantages. The codes, algorithms, and software accumulated in the business world are abundant available resources, which are like gold mines to be tapped and used by the industry.
These differences lead to a convergence barrier between IT and OT, not an inability to connect. However, it results in a lot of extra work, such as extra hardware translation and software interface engineering added to the system. Therefore, a standard encapsulated architecture is needed to “simplify” these complex tasks, to improve the efficiency of engineering development, and to form a synergy between the rich computing resources of the IT world and the control of the OT world to meet the needs of digital transformation.
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