Robustness is a term that has long-time been synonymous with the industrial market. Manufacturers of integrated circuits are familiar with the need to meet the high demands for robustness in this market. Edel Griffith, Industrial ASIC Marketing Manager at Dialog Semiconductor explains the need for security in the Industrial Internet of Things.
Even now, as increased levels of functionality are added to the smart factory floor, these requirements for robustness have not changed.
As the smart factory moves from a secure closed box industrial setting to one where everything is connected and more open, with communication happening right at the field level up to the automation level and then onwards into the cloud, security is also an important consideration.
In fact, the need for secure systems that will not have unplanned downtime is crucial. Recent stories in the media such as the oilfield in the US that was shut down as hackers managed to access valves in the system, highlight the need for having security at all steps in the process – not just the last line of communication.
System weak spots
When we consider the many advantages of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and what bringing connectivity to the factory floor is about, we can see that the underlying drivers are cost savings, increasing efficiencies in the system and preventing unplanned down-time.
We need to be able to monitor, communicate, and control what is happening on the factory floor at all times. Monitoring, to make sure that there are no issues which could result in unplanned downtime of systems.
Communication, so the information being gathered from the systems can be transmitted back to the control level, where trends in performance can be analysed and subsequent decisions on the data can be predictive rather than reactive in nature.
And then control, so that appropriate actions can be taken based off the monitoring and communication from the data. These actions might be as simple as turning on a fan on or opening a valve or may extend to taking portions of systems offline for maintenance and repair without shutting half the factory down.
Building these additional requirements and intelligence into IIoT systems can mean increased costs and the addition of more components.
The cost, while perhaps not ideal, can be offset by the advantages the increased functionality is bringing to productivity, robustness and security of the system.
Adding more components to achieve this improved functionality, however, can have a contrary effect on robustness and security.
So why could having more components potentially affect the robustness and safety of an Industrial system? Consider a typical Printed Circuit Board (PCB), which is full of components that are all connected to each other in some way.
The more components on the board, the more connectivity paths and thus more paths that can potentially be insecure to outside attacks. With the addition of extra components to meet the functionality requirements, you are often over engineering, as you cannot get the extra performance that you require.
More components on a board means more links in the system where failures can occur and a greater potential for placement issues when building the boards – all of which can influence the robustness of the system.
A better solution
What is the best solution to solve this demand for increased intelligence in devices while meeting the robustness and security requirements of the system?
How can systems be developed so it is possible to pick the correct solution for the system while being able to maintain machines based on their actual state, having active monitoring of their degree of use, having motors with 3D accelerometers – so you can listen to the noise and know maintenance is required? And lastly, how can we ensure more up time and no unplanned down-time?
The answer lies in a custom solution. An Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) will meet all of the performance requirements, but also meet a system’s robustness and security demands with a single piece of silicon.
For robustness and security, you can develop the ASIC specifically to meet the demands of your system. These specifications are highlighted in the discovery stage and thus become part of the design process.
Need higher temperature specifications? No problem. Need greater robustness to ESD and EMI? No problem. Need lower power solutions? No problem. With an ASIC, you are selecting the best technology process for the manufacture of your device, and thus can take into account the voltage, protection, and temperature requirements as part of the design flow.
It is also possible to easily integrate calibration systems into your ASIC so if something goes wrong, it is easy to calibrate and move on, without affecting the whole system. With an ASIC, you are also greatly reducing the number of components on your boards, as they are being integrated into the ASIC solution.
This means less paths so less links in the system where failures can occur. Also, in a noisy industrial environment, less paths means less interference between components and thus better EMI performance.
From a security point of view, you can integrate onto silicon various security protocols and encryption algorithms. Having a full solution on one chip makes its more secure than having multiple chips with connections between then.
Taking all of this into account, it is not surprising that IIoT device manufacturers are looking at ASICs in the development of their Industrial solutions. The all-in-one approach means you can design in robustness and security from the beginning and with far few components on the board, with less risk of failures occurring, and less paths opens to the outside world.
By creating an ASIC for your industrial product, it is possible to ensure the exact technical functionality that you require is achieved.
The final solution, because of the level of integration, is in a smaller package and all while meeting the stringent requirements needed for robustness and security in the Industrial Internet of Things.