Part two: Challenges associated with IIoT applications and platforms
Once the business model is in place, it’s time to look at the technical challenges associated with establishing IIoT solutions – a broad field with a central task: creating a comprehensive link between machines, systems and devices as well as the cloud, while embedding everything in a stable, clear and rapid architecture at the same time. The second factors plays a crucial role in particular, because a large number of central “players” are involved. The data transport, its protocolling and transformation as well as ultimately its processing into an IIoT application call for very clear structures.
What needs to be said straight: The practical problems arising from a large number of networked machines are underestimated. Firstly, no two factories are alike. Is the production facility fully automated or are there predominantly semi-automated processes? Do many of the machines used have similar processes and interfaces or is each of them an individually designed unique product? These and similar questions influence how Industry 4.0 networks are established. Plus it is often the case that the machines are up to 30 years old and not available to any OPC-UA server (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture). The jungle of words conceals a collection of standards for communication, data exchange, data transport as well as the structure of data, interfaces and security mechanisms. The original OPC specification appeared as early as 1996, although it only took a crucial step forwards in 2006 with publication of the first version of the OPC UA – the reason: The machine data are no longer just transported but also described in machine-readable form. In this way, OPC UA enables communication between the products of various manufacturers. This is the cornerstone for a comprehensively controlled smart factory.