In the world of automation, sooner or later we will come face to face with the concept of the automation pyramid, through some comment or reference about different levels in the automation universe. The worst of all is that these levels are numerical, but always refer to some equipment, set of equipment, field devices, software and everything that, together, constitutes an automation system.
This referencing is nothing more than an allusion to the organization of the devices and software that make up the automation system in the industrial organization in terms of its functions, capabilities and interactions with other equipment and software in the production chain.
In this sense, equipment that makes direct contact with the production environment constitutes the bottom of the pyramid, while software that prints reports and generates corporate data is at the top of the pyramid, as can be seen in Figure
It is important to note at this point that the pyramid also gives us a sense of the infrastructure prerequisites of the industrial network, since its interpretation allows us to understand the type and density of information that circulates at each level, as well as the data flow and the interactions that occur between each other at the level of data communication networks.
This allows us to define the types of technology and systems that should be employed at each level, as well as between them, in order to ensure interoperability and information security.
In general, we can define the different layers of the automation pyramid as follows:
Level 1 – Field devices
Level of machinery, equipment, devices and plant components. It has a low level of intelligence, but it can have sophisticated equipment that generates a large volume of data, as well as those that individually generate a low amount of data. Precisely for this reason, the communication networks used here are very heterogeneous, but generally have low bandwidth, as well as relatively restricted features, such as CAN, AS-i, Modbus, Profibus PA and Fieldbus Foundation H1 and on rare occasions, it is possible to find equipment that uses Ethernet technology.
Level 2 – Process control
It is the level where the equipment that automatically controls the activities of the plant is located. To this end, it must be equipped with equipment and devices with a considerable level of intelligence, so that the automation guidelines for the control system can be implemented, such as logic and activation conditions. Thus, the requirements regarding data communication are greater and networks at this level have a greater degree of sophistication, using protocols such as Profibus DP, DeviceNet, ControlNet, Modbus TCP and EtherNet IP, which have higher speed and provide control systems with the ability to respond to field information in real time.
Level 3 – Supervision of the process
It is the level dedicated to the supervision of the process. It has remote control and supervision tools, as well as a database for storing and querying historical system performance data. The solutions implemented at this level demand a large and constant volume of data and, therefore, the use of protocols that use Ethernet technology is widespread. It is also very common to find protocol converters that use OPC technology at this level, in order to guarantee interoperability between different systems.
Level 4 – Plant management
At this level, the responsibility is to plan the production and carry out supply control and logistics, which is accomplished by consolidating the data collected and stored at level 3, using tools such as MES and PIMS, which generate more reports advanced than those made available by the supervision tools. Due to the large mass of data used by the software solutions available at this level, all information travels on high-performance Ethernet-based networks, as well as using databases for historical information storage.
Level 5 – Corporate management
The last layer of the automation pyramid, corporate management detaches itself from factory tools and focuses on the administration of company resources, such as sales and resource management, with a focus on the financial results of the production process. Thus, these networks hardly have access to information and technical reports available at lower levels and are based entirely on Ethernet technology.
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