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The IoT journey

27 October 2015

Rahman Jamal, National Instruments global technology and marketing director, talked to Control Engineering Europe about his views on the Industry 4.0 journey.

The term Industry 4.0 was introduced by the German Chancellor at Hannover Messe 2012 to push the German manufacturing sector forward. More recently at Hannover Messe in 2015, Plattform Industrie. 4.0 was introduced to more clearly define a platform and create a reference architecture, with concrete deadlines to produce results.

At about the same time, the US-based Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was created to accelerate the growth of Industrial Internet, and this seems to have created a competitive situation, which is not helpful. One of the pillars of IIC is the smart factory and Industry 4.0 is completely focused on the smart factory concept so there should be a natural affinity between the two associations.

It is important that the different groups communicate to make the idea of Industry 4.0 a global initiative and to ensure that the end user is able to gain productivity and efficiency gains.

Both groups have already presented reference architectures, but, at some point, I predict that it will be necessary for their platforms to merge. The most important building block for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is an adaptable platform and essential elements for this will include modularity, customisability and software definability. The goals of the two existing platforms are the same – to enable intelligent, vendor- and device-independent systems to talk to each other. 

NI focuses on the test and embedded control and monitoring markets and fundamentally both of these areas are required for IoT and IIoT applications because it is not possible to build an IoT application without testing it and it cannot be built without embedded systems. So building such applications involves a platform-based approach that we at NI call Graphical System Design: a single flexible hardware architecture deployed across many applications removes a substantial amount of the hardware complexity and makes each new problem primarily a software challenge. The same principle must be applied to software tools to form a powerful hardware-software platform that creates a unified solution. An effective platform-based approach does not focus on hardware or software but instead on the innovation within the application itself. 

Geoffrey Moore, a US organisational theorist and management consultant, explained in his book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ that ‘platforms now come in the clothes of applications.’ A good example of this is 5G.  The power provided by the 5G bandwidth is needed to connect ‘things’ so, NI has introduced a LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite which combines software defined radio (SDR) hardware with a comprehensive software design flow to help engineers prototype 5G systems. It uses the standard LabVIEW platform but with additional clothes that are suited to use with 5G.

Traditionally, wireless prototyping has been undertaken by separate design teams using disparate design tools. The LabVIEW Communications environment enables the entire design team to map an idea from algorithm to FPGA using a single high-level representation. This approach empowers designers to focus on innovation instead of implementation, helping to increase the rate and quality of prototyping.

Moving closer to the edge
According to VDC Research, the IoT will impact 75% of engineers in the next three years so we do need to be ready. The IIoT brings with it a huge amount of big analogue data – terabytes every hour – which will require us to find new ways to handle and process data and turn it into useful information, closer to where it is generated. This is often referred to as edge processing. Each edge processing node is able to pass on this intelligent information effectively creating the IIoT. With NI’s software offering, engineers can develop pre-processing and control algorithms to be deployed on various NI hardware and take advantage of computing capabilities to perform local decision making processes and reduce the amount of data that must be sent to central servers and cloud data aggregators. 

IIoT adds stricter requirements to its local networks for latency, determinism and bandwidth. Industry consortiums are working to address this challenge using a standard called TSN (Time Sensitive Network), a real-time Ethernet solution that will become part of the OPC UA architecture in the future. Its development was originally created for in-car applications that required fast real-time communication. The IEEE has now adopted it as the IEEE802.1 standard. This development brings real-time Ethernet capability to chip level to enable cost-effective edge processing solutions to be added to instruments and devices to give them real time Ethernet capability. 

Currently we don’t know the end point for IoT, so flexibility and adaptability are vital.  We are in a period of transformation and I believe that we will know we are starting to achieve the goals of Industry 4.0 when users begin to make statements about the gains they are making, independently of the vendors.

We are still very much at the start of this journey which is about more than just the smart factory. The day that the IoT seamlessly talks to Internet of Services, business analytics, ERP systems and talks to social web then we can truly say we are entering the fourth industrial revolution. 


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