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Conventional automation systems have always used controls running a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) as they are primarily responsible for handling various time-critical and real-time applications. On the other hand, OEMs have deployed Industrial PCs with a general-purpose operating system (GPOS) for data acquisitions, SCADA systems, or DCS. This segregation helped factories manage updates, overcome security issues, and deploy and integrate with the factory IT and cloud platforms. Over the years, Linux made its way to the Operational Technology (OT) area, especially in machine and factory automation. The rise of Industry 4.0, Industrial IoT, and other digital transformation projects only fueled the need for IT and OT convergence.The IT and OT convergence intensified cyber-attacks on manufacturing facilities that used software and hardware with less sophisticated security capabilities, and they became soft targets for hackers. These factors lead automation vendors and OEMs to explore Linux for use in their products as integrating security capabilities along with all the new age use-cases meant the need for a more sophisticated operating system.

Power of open-source systems

Open-source technologies were well-known and widely used in the IT area of a factory or office environment. However, these were not well received in the OT areas, i.e., on the factory floor. However, factories soon realized that their existing setups needed more flexibility and interoperability. Digital transformation exposed these issues further, where factories looked at gathering field data by converging their IT infrastructure with OT to leverage various benefits from their transformation projects. Automation vendors, OEMs, and factories all realized the power of open-source systems, and the industry witnessed a rise in the adoption of open-source solutions. Open-source connectivity solutions too started gaining prominence with end-users/factories requesting and demanding OEMs and automation vendors to supply products with OPC UA / MQTT and OPC UA over TSN.

Rise of Real-Time Linux

Linux, a widely used and trusted open-source solution, has been around for decades, but its application in the manufacturing landscape has been limited.One of the primary reasons for this is that Linux or for that matter any general-purpose operating system by design is not real-time. A general-purpose operating system is designed with the goal of doing many tasks efficiently and not necessarily in a time-bound fashion. For example, if you launch a browser or click on the play button of a video, you don’t expect it to happen within a sub-millisecond deadline.  On the other hand, when it comes to industrial automation, there are use cases where you must promise time boundedness. This triggered the launch of the open-source project to integrate real-time capabilities into the Linux kernel. Today,real-time Linux (RT-PREEMPT) is available is a feature available in the mainline Linux kernel.Applications that need a deterministic and real-time response time can now be built on a standard Linux operating system with the right configuration tweaking. Depending on hardware, max latencies of less than 20micro seconds are a reality.

Need of the hour for automation vendors and OEMs

Today, some big players and early movers in the automation market provide communities for Linux development and app stores in manufacturing. Many automation vendors and OEMs are exploring solutions for integrating Real-Time Linux or OPC UA, MQTT, or OPC UA over TSN. It might look easy to anyone to implement such solutions as these are open-source solutions with their entire source codes easily available. However, implementing these solutions needs expertise, resources, and time for any organization. In addition, apart from development, it needs good test automation systems to that product works as desired. Usually, these factors act as slow down decision making and and many organizations delay their technology adoption projects.

Way forward with Kalycito

Kalycito helps automation vendors and OEMs with on-time delivery of secure, reliable, and interoperable IIoT solutions. With our expertise, we provide complete implementation services for firmware development, Linux integrations, and OPC UA. We are trusted partners for various automation vendors and OEMs globally. We are pioneers in creating a global open ecosystem through our initiatives in the open-source OPC UA TSN space. Kalycito is a perfect partner providing end-to-end software solutions & services for various digital transformation projects using Industry 4.0 and IoT technologies.

Read: OPC UA for Embedded

Watch: OPC UA PubSub | NodeOPCUA – open62541 interoperability

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