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Automatic over-the-air configuration of distributed industrial systems

IoT Use Case - Portainer & Softing
4 minutes Reading time
4 minutes Reading time

Softing and Portainer simplify the manual system configuration in large-scale industrial projects at remote sites where site-specific configurations are required for setup. Their innovative solution uses container technology to automatically configure the edgeConnector software over-the-air. This significantly reduces manual effort for Softing. In return, reliability increases, and the software becomes more scalable.

The challenge: Manual configuration of systems at distributed locations is labor-intensive

Many industrial projects are large and span multiple locations and buildings. Accordingly, industrial computers and device controls are also distributed. Site-specific configurations are necessary for each system and application. Manually configuring these systems and applications is time-consuming and impractical for large installations.

This also applies to Softing’s edgeConnectors, a leading European provider for networking production facilities. These are software modules that connect various industrial controls and devices with IIoT applications that collect data from the devices. There is a suitable edgeConnector for each common industrial standard, such as Siemens PLCs, Modbus TCP controls, and FANUC CNC controls.

The software is packaged in a Docker container, a modern IT technology that enables easy virtualization of applications. To minimize the operational effort of the containers, Portainer and Softing have developed an easy-to-use solution to install and configure the edgeConnectors over-the-air. This solution is scalable and significantly reduces the manual effort required for installing and configuring devices with Softing’s edgeConnector software.

The Solution: Automatic configuration with container technology

Portainer is a leading container and device management platform used industry-wide with over 3.4 billion downloads globally. It is the only platform that supports Docker, Docker Swarm, and Kubernetes, and is designed to reduce complexity for users. A successful combination of hardware and software contributes significantly to the easy and secure management of applications and devices, compatible with both OT and IT of a company.

How Portainer works

Portainer is an intuitive, centralized management interface used by both IT and OT professionals to transfer software from servers to edge devices. Edge devices can be grouped into application groups, referred to as Edge Groups in Portainer, to which software can be distributed. Since distributed applications may require configurations, Portainer also supports general or device-specific edge configurations, allowing the necessary files to be placed alongside the application on the devices in an Edge Group. All this can be done with a few clicks in Portainer, enabling industry experts to deploy and configure their application conveniently from their workplace without manual intervention.

The solution for Softing’s edgeConnector

A common use case for Softing customers is configuring the edgeConnector to communicate with the corresponding Softing license server and connect to an MQTT broker to transmit machine data. The edgeConnector allows users to create application templates that can contain this information.

Users can create edgeConnectors with a standard configuration that can then be imported into new edgeConnector instances. In this scenario, a user can deploy the edgeConnector using a prefabricated template through Portainer. Portainer only needs a deployment recipe for the application (also offered as a Portainer Stack template) and the corresponding configuration file.

The configuration files are stored along with the recipe in a shared Git repository. From this, Portainer can retrieve the information and corresponding configuration to forward it to the Edge Devices in the field. What used to be manually configured is now automatically done by Portainer.

All new devices receive the edgeConnector and the configuration as soon as they are started and connected to Portainer. By leveraging the power of containers and Portainer for edge management, Softing offers its customers a solution that reduces complexity and labor involved in deploying edgeConnector across industrial fleets

The result: Efficient, automated configuration and better scaling

The introduction of Portainer to manage Softing’s edgeConnector software in industrial environments simplifies system configuration and management. The solution enables automated over-the-air installation and configuration of the edgeConnector at various locations, thus avoiding manual effort.

By using modern container technology, the deployment and configuration of software on edge devices is greatly simplified. With the help of the intuitive user interface of Portainer, users can now quickly and securely manage applications and devices. This not only reduces time spent, but also improves the scalability and reliability of operational infrastructure.

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