What is the technical icon of the industrial revolution? There is a clear answer: the steam engine. And of the digital revolution? My answer would be: the connected computer!
Industrial IoT: Combines the Digital Twin…
The connected computer has two main perspectives. The first is the capability to run algorithms and process data – from digital business process execution to artificial intelligence. The connected computer thus becomes the basis for the digital twin, i.e. the digital image of the real processes. This digital twin virtualizes the implementation and management of the factory of the future.
…and Digital Connectivity
The second component is communication capability and networking. Connectivity is essential in order to feed data from different sources into the algorithms and transmit the results back into the systems on site. Connectivity must be understood to mean much more than simply the network in this context – the Industrial Internet of Things means the connection of all relevant objects, including things that cannot communicate themselves (tools, containers, products, etc.).
From Automation to the IIoT
The connected computer as basic concept requires a modified architecture of the factory systems. The familiar automation pyramid, in which data is processed and forwarded hierarchically from one layer to the next, is replaced by a layer model which offers a high degree of flexibility and integration. First of all, the “things” in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are required – i.e. the information sources from smart objects with corresponding communication capabilities. Alternatively, technologies such as RFID are used for connection to the IIoT.
The second layer – Connectivity – refers to the actual networking as infrastructure, either wireless with WLAN and in the future with Industrial 5G, or with wired communication. Layer 3 is the platform for aggregation, storage and processing of data, as well as the runtime environment for the applications (or apps) that realize the actual usage as Layer 4. And at the very top, Layer 5 is about how actual benefit for companies can be generated from this architecture.
What is needed?
There are a large number of technical innovations and options here that each have their value. Three examples:
- RTLS – i.e. real-time locating systems – enable the position and identity of moving objects to be fed into the IT systems at any time. Each of these objects – containers, transport means, tools etc. – are equipped with a transponder. There is also a variant with display here, which can show various information to employees depending on the position and object status – for a new form of interaction.
- SIMATIC CloudConnect7 is the right solution when it comes to connecting existing plants. A lot of data is present in the SIMATIC S7 controllers, because the sensors are usually connected to the controller. With CloudConnect7, this data can be made usable for digitalization – also with systems that still use PROFIBUS, and usually without changing the STEP 7 project.
- Thirdly, devices such as power supplies can provide important information for the IIoT. One example is the SITOP PSU8600. It offers an OPC UA interface and can regularly transmit the power consumption, for example. If, for instance, a DC drive generates increasing power consumption, this can be detected and a maintenance technician can be sent to the site in good time – i.e. before a failure.
What’s in for me as a user or customer?
An example for the use of IIoT is the ongoing transformation of factory management. In the traditional concept, manufacturing orders are sent from IT via the various layers of the automation pyramid to the manufacturing cells. However, with this model, it is difficult to react flexibly to deviations or problems at the field level, for example when the material is not present. When IIoT technologies such as RFID and RTLS are used, the planning and production data is organized around current information from the field level. For example, a manufacturing order is only started by real-time localization once the material boxes equipped with RTLS transponders have actually arrived at the manufacturing island.
How can you generate added value from this or even develop your own business model further? On the one hand, it is important to develop a realistic understanding of the technical possibilities. What can be done now, what will be possible in the medium term, what is unrealistic? On the other hand, it is important to view the technical possibilities in a business context: technology must always create economic value for companies. It is crucial to understand the digital transformation as an agile journey to create real value for companies and customers.
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