Opportunities at the Intersection of Industry 4.0 and the Edge of the Industrial IoT

By May 23, 2018 January 23rd, 2019 Blog, EdgeX Foundry

The integration of physical industrial equipment and machinery with software defines Industry 4.0.

The intersection of Industry 4.0 with the Industrial IoT (IIoT) adds sensors, connectivity, cloud, applications, big data and analytics, and intelligent systems, brings to life real time automation and management across dispersed deployments. This is where real business value is being created.

The instrumentation of machinery using software has changed the nature of manufacturing. It has led to the redesign of production lines and the rethinking of the role of humans as large enterprises continue to look for ways to improve yields, ensure safety, and to save money leading to higher profit margins.

For things to run like clockwork in the manufacturing plants and factories, it’s critical to look at strategy systematically, and build hyper-intelligent capabilities that will provide sustainable improvements.

A big challenge in rolling out the combination of Industry 4.0 and the networks required to fully manifest the opportunity to “command and control” massive and multiple factories with fewer people and more predictable, positive results is getting all the moving parts to move together.

Mastering the intelligent machines is important and great progress is being made there every day. Machines are rolling off their own product lines and legacy machines are being retrofit with sensors to extend the ROI without having to rip and replace. The connectivity of these intelligent machines, including ones from different vendors, integrating software from different control systems, and securing the sessions against cyberterrorism or other attacks is a challenge. It can be very expensive with a lot of “hidden risks” if not architected and implemented wisely.

Controlling the edge of massive intelligent machines so they can be efficiently and securely registered to a private network to send data into cloud applications – where does that data becomes actionable? This may be the hardest part of all, which is why so many companies, including government agencies and critical infrastructure providers, are coming together to orchestrate standard approaches, through open source and other initiatives including EdgeX Foundry.

EdgeX Foundry is an important enabler for interested parties to freely collaborate on open and interoperable IoT solutions built using existing connectivity standards combined with their own proprietary innovations.

Last year, EdgeX Foundry formed an alliance with the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) given a shared vision for a highly organized and efficient development effort at the intersection of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT. The two groups work in parallel to bring top companies and organizations together to address fragmentation in two fast growing areas, to make development, testing and commercialization go faster, with less risk in service of the holy grail: commercialization.

It’s an extraordinary and balanced relationship. IIC has successfully built a healthy, active community spanning the entire world of the Industrial Internet, while the EdgeX community has remained 100% focused on solving for challenges at the edge.

EdgeX Foundry is busy working to solve for everything from security (not easy when there are potentially millions of endpoints, including multiple sensor types on the same machine), speed (compute at the edge is different from compute in the core or cloud), and sustainability (long battery life, ruggedized form factors). Additionally, above all else, economics (the edge usually brings with it a subscription business model, and with growing numbers of end-points, the related dollars can add up fast).

Beyond the basics, EdgeX Foundry is also a creative community. The members look to innovate beyond just monitoring and measuring and predictive maintenance.  Essentially, they look at one-way polling into more sophisticated applications that include “remote control,” “automated resets,” and “over-the-air updates,” which is dragging Industry 4.0 into the world of real time communications.

Being able to control millions of machines, or a smaller number of machines with mission critical functions and being able to do securely is money for enterprises and governments. When mundane tasks can be done better by software than people who may be less effective and make more mistakes than a well-designed system that runs beautifully.

This is already seen in the telecom world, where networks have moved to virtualized functions and virtual machines have taken the place of traditional bespoke hardware. The administration of those networks has become easier and far less expensive with automation built in.

We will continue to see massive improvements and cost savings when Industry 4.0 becomes more pervasive. This will only happen, however, when the community comes together to work through all the moving parts, literally, and forge partnerships that enable all the contributors to a given system to build and maintain systems coherently.

IIC and EdgeX Foundry are pioneering together, and are tackling everything from open, human machine interfaces and visualization technologies, business driven smart factory applications, analytics, artificial intelligence, security innovations including blockchain technologies, secure APIs for software and networking, augmented reality for field service, and so much more.

Together with the IIC, EdgeX is rolling forward under a common vision, that no longer will vendor specific or proprietary systems be acceptable, and that creating the environment for open interoperability between connected systems, networks and machines is an imperative.