News & Knowledge

We’re your source for automation news. Keep up with the latest industry updates and E Tech employee spotlights, as well as tips and guidance from our manufacturing experts.  

Video Game Development Tools Meet Industry 4.0 Manufacturing Resulting in Digital Twin Innovation

Author contributor: Advanced Software Group Engineering Manager, Cole Switzer When a prominent manufacturer wanted to observe and interact remotely with their production line in real-time, E Tech Group software developers brought their 3D game development expertise to deliver an innovative digital twin of the line. The twin mimics the behavior of its real-life counterpart in real time, visible in a 3D environment via web interface. Following its initial success, E Tech Group engineers broadened the tool’s scope to be fully configurable and controls system agnostic. They have plans to further expand upon the digital twin’s capabilities Creative Tools are Born of Full OT Network Connectivity As the manufacturing industry continues to move towards digitalization and Industry 4.0 physical systems and digital technologies are converging, resulting in highly creative tools that facilitate and optimize all parts of the production process. Obtaining full OT network connectivity is foundational to the future of large-scale manufacturing, as it opens the door to a variety of data-driven tools. One such tool that’s gaining traction for a variety of use-cases are virtual representations of a physical system, popularly called ‘digital twins.’ This article discusses the development of digital twins and reviews some of the creative ways they can be used for monitoring production, troubleshooting and process optimization. What is a Digital Twin? A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world system. In the context of automation in manufacturing, the ‘twin’ that is created can range in size and scale from a singular piece of equipment, all the way to a full production line, or even multiple production lines. As a virtual counterpart, a most basic digital twin is set up to visualize the behavior of the physical system it represents in real time – a virtual display. Created by collecting data from sensors and … Continued

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Upgrading an Aging System for Modern Data Management

A client was struggling with a bottleneck caused by an aging data lake that was stifling their ability to scale operations. E Tech Group’s Mission Critical team implemented a new system with limitless growth potential and centralized reporting, improving efficiency and productivity. 

The Project: Apply a Scalable Automation Solution to a Shallow Data Lake

Our client had an existing data lake solution they quickly outgrew. As they increased the number of operational facilities and concurrent users accessing reports, the old design experienced an unanticipated bottleneck: with one API and one database servicing needs across the globe, adding more data and accessing the data in reports would take an average of thirty seconds per page, proving a barricade for future growth.

The client reached out to E Tech Group’s Mission Critical and Advanced Software teams to help with this issue; they trusted our long-standing partnership and expertise, giving us a small proof-of-concept budget for this new challenge.

The Challenge: Getting Toes Back in the Water of Systems Upgrades

Part of the obstacles to this aging data lake issue is that the client had already tried two existing solutions, both of which had failed. Understandably, they were gun-shy about undertaking a huge system retrofit with no surety of the result. Our Mission Critical and Advanced Software engineers would need a proof-of-concept solution that was foolproof at any scale.

Through this discovery effort, we identified that their current reporting practices were a pain point for them. They were using PowerBI reports and had thousands of single files, one per customer per report. Each one had to be manually managed and updated. We proposed a solution built upon a microservice architecture in Azure. This gave them data redundancy, fail-over, and a solution that scales horizontally with their business.

The Solution: Clouds, Communication & Consistent Reporting

The remedy designed by our automation and IT engineers was multi-pronged:

High-Performance Data Storage & Access

First, we started with the cloud solution. The team built an API in Azure using ASP.NET 8, InfluxDB, and a time series database instead of the traditional choice of SQL. Since their data is measured and consumed over time, the purpose-built InfluxDB served the previously defined client needs, having a proven record of high performance and availability.

Centralized Reporting & Management

The last piece was to replace their PowerBI reports with a single-page application using React and TypeScript. The team tied into their existing systems and authentication to automatically retrieve customer-specific data and dynamically update the SPA. This allowed standardized reporting to be managed in a single location, one time.

Organized Communication Without Data Loss

Second, the client needed a way to get their operational data from their machines and buildings into their cloud solution. They had several disparate devices from multiple vendors, some using different communication protocols.

The team installed KepServerEX as a middleware between the hardware and Ignition that enabled the collection of information from varying devices into a central system. Then Ignition polled the data at a high frequency and writing to a store-forward database before aggregating it and sending the reduced set to the cloud for long-term storage and retrieval by client reporting.

This solution enabled the client to have data redundancy in case of communication failure or outages while also having high data granularity at the location most critical to operations.

Each of these pieces were deployed per facility and architected in such a way that multiple installations can service a single location, while a central gateway in Azure controls routing to needed resources. Due to the horizontal architecture, the client can scale their solution indefinitely without hitting a ceiling that would impact performance.

The Results: Unlimited Applications, Unlimited Potential for Growth

The client was thrilled with the initial success and decided to move to full implementation of the proof-of-concept, especially for the high-availability and SPA report system, which represents a massive quality-of-life-increase for multiple departments in the company. Our automation team successfully delivered on E Tech Group’s “Zero Defects” promise, even in the proof-of-concept phase.

The most promising prospect for their future with this new solution is the elimination of scaling barricades. The client will be able to increase the amount of telemetry data collected, and the number of facilities supported, and deliver a single, standardized reporting experience to their users. This new solution is faster, more intuitive, offers better insights, and more importantly, has the intelligence to automatically adapt to their business needs.

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Cybersecurity Crash Course, Pt 1 of 2: The Case for Investing in Cybersecurity 

In an era of increased frequency and sophistication of cyber threats, any one defensive approach can be hacked. To be fully guarded, a secured network must incorporate several different components. A cyberattack on an exposed OT network is a looming security risk with potentially devastating consequences, including extended production downtime, system reformatting and possible hardware replacement. The costs of a cyberattack can be financially catastrophic, but can also hurt your reputation or cause compliance issues that result in hefty fines and even shutdowns. Part 1 of this 2-part blog series helps the reader to understand both the challenge of securing a network as well as the urgent need to do so. Part 2 of the series will discuss most of the OT network components and structuring strategies that collectively build a Zero Trust network architecture. Cyberattacks are a reality; no one can avoid them forever. The goal is to be sufficiently resilient to remain in operation in the midst of an attack. And to accomplish that, we must understand the whats, whys and hows of industrial security automation. Understanding the OT Network in an Automated Facility The Operational Technology (OT) space on a plant floor is a highly complex network environment with distinct characteristics from its Information Technology (IT) network cousin. The space has traditionally been used in a limited manner, connecting local devices that communicate with each other for production purposes and little else. While these devices may be of varying ages and vulnerabilities, as a group their network use patterns are similar, and distinct from typical IT network traffic. Devices on an OT network are generally setup to run all the time, requiring very reliable, and continuous communication as they control and coordinate the manufacturing process. The lifespan of OT devices is typically longer than IT devices, which means … Continued

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