Smart Extension For Legacy Process Plants

Moving openly and securely into the future with the NOA concept

As the digital transformation takes hold of the process industry, many companies are facing the challenge of reconciling innovation and continuity. At first glance, the process industry and information technology seem to be developing at different speeds. While process plants remain stable and reliable over long periods of time using the traditional architecture of the automation pyramid, the IT world changes fast, as evidenced by buzzwords like Internet of Things, Industrie 4.0, cloud computing and big data. How can plant operators use modern IT models to optimize their processes without compromising the high availability, real-time capability and redundancy requirements of their operations? 

In response to this challenge, NAMUR (the User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries) has developed the NAMUR Open Architecture (NOA) model, which brings plant optimization through IT/OT integration within reach for the process industry. NOA supplements a plant’s existing automation structure and offers open interfaces between classic process automation and modern IT. Data can be extracted from the automation pyramid and securely transmitted into it without jeopardizing the availability and security of the installed process plant. NOA builds largely on the existing OPC UA standard for easily integrating fast-changing IT components into the overall application.

What does this mean for process plant operators? With the right products, you can extend your plant in compliance with NOA to directly reap the benefits of modern IT applications. Softing offers a number of products that meet the special requirements of the process industry and are based on our extensive expertise in industrial communication and OPC UA.

Leverage Device And Sensor Data For Monitoring And Optimization

The products in our smartLink family (smartLink HW-DP and smartLink SW-HT) enable you to access your field devices independent of the controller in order to use device and sensor data in comprehensive IT applications. This applies to existing plants with HART or fieldbus installations as well as new projects using Industrial Ethernet. Data is exchanged either through a pure software solution or via a hardware gateway depending on the type of communication.

smartLink products run parallel to the controller and can be installed during continuous operations without modifying the network. smartLink uses the open industry standards OPC UA, MQTT, HART IP and FDT/DTM to make the collected process data available for use in monitoring or optimization applications, for example.

The advantages: 

  • Minimal installation and wiring requirements
  • Complete functionality provided exclusively through software in many cases
  • Fast, secure installation thanks to simple configuration and small footprint 
  • Easy integration of new functionalities or future data exchange technologies based on free firmware updates

smartLink is a cost-effective and future-proof solution for digitalizing legacy and new plants and meeting forthcoming industrial IoT challenges without affecting communication in the core process.

Flexibly Integrate Control Data In The NOA Application

Legacy plants can be integrated into an NOA environment using the container applications in the edgeConnector product family. These lean software modules provide precisely defined functionality for accessing the data in SIMATIC S7 or Modbus TCP controllers, for example. They contain a library of all necessary components so they can run independent of the specific environment. Using the OPC UA and MQTT standards, data can be integrated into the NOA architecture and further processed for monitoring and optimization purposes.

This solution gives you access to control data using cutting-edge technology. Containers offer the benefits of low resource use and universal deployability on different computer platforms, as well as practical isolation, encapsulation and portability.

Use Aggregated Production And Machine Data For Efficient Monitoring And Optimization

In addition to products for easily and securely accessing data from the field level, Softing offers solutions for the aggregating server that is the central component of an NOA implementation. This enables you to abstract the OPC UA interface between the worlds of process automation and IT, and to aggregate data from different sources in an OPC UA server. Your IT application then only needs to access a single server, enabling you to enjoy a simplified and manageable communication structure that can be configured with very little effort.

Softing’s Secure Integration Server makes it possible to load an OPC UA Companion Specification with the information model it contains in order to simplify the specification of the aggregating server. The properties can be used for different objects, such as variables or alarms (e.g., their unit or the available methods and services), thus ensuring their compatibility on the semantic level. NAMUR has developed an OPC UA Companion Specification especially for use in the process industry. But device interfaces can also be abstracted manually using Secure Integration Server. The solution enables you to easily realize the convergence of highly innovative IT technologies and existing automation systems as required by NOA. Changes or extensions on one level do no require modifications on the other level. The process world is thus decoupled from the IT world, allowing you to make change and investment decisions in both environments largely independently of one another.

Secure Integration Server also brings together all the mechanisms needed for managing, regulating and monitoring a comprehensive security model in a central location in the overall solution, thus implementing key functionalities of the NOA diode. You can use filters to define your data access in detail and further restrict it for individual OPC UA client applications. The security standards implemented here are state of the art.

Implementing A NOA-Compliant Overall Solution

You can combine various Softing products as needed in a complete solution that complies with the NOA model. By using the products as docker containers, you can also manage a complete solution for NOA-compliant data integration using the appropriate tools and services.


Softing Inc.