Industry 4.0: life on the edge

Posted on 21 Dec 2016 by Jonny Williamson

Understanding what the brave new world of Industry 4.0 looks like may help manufacturers with their first-step decision-making. Nick Peters reports.

The intellectual and commercial drive towards Industry 4.0 began in Germany, so it’s no surprise that the next phase of connected manufacturing should also come from there. The fact that it’s being driven by a US company, HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise), with a long and distinguished record of operations in Germany, adds a global impetus that will accelerate adoption.

HPE PQ - Dec 2016Industry 4.0 Phase 2 is the logical extension of what is currently happening. Companies are developing vertical solutions to their need for data collection and analysis to optimise their processes and develop new products through servitization.

The next stage of the process has to involve networking together factories in the same supply chain, exchanging data and information to slash lead times and accelerate planning, production and delivery.

This is not news, as OEMs are already making clear that supply chains must be connected if the full benefits of Industry 4.0 are to be felt. And yet, for every advance connected technology offers, it also creates a new question or problem.

Device, plant, network

At the device level, operators are being told they can collect data from sensor-monitored machines and use it to manage service levels, predict fail-points and optimise uptime. The issue for many manufacturers is not quite knowing what to do with all that data. It takes heavy computing power to turn it into information, which means they must look to the cloud to do it.

But inevitably, problems arise with the sheer amount of data that must be sent off-site, while network latency and bandwidth issues mean the information that comes back is not necessarily 100% useable. If a critical part is failing, the operator needs instant knowledge and control.

At a plant level, there is so much data being collected from a multiplicity of IIoT (industrial internet of things) connected devices on different platforms and talking different languages that a kind of digital ‘Tower of Babel’ evolves. Again, data is no good unless it can be exchanged, understood and turned into immediate information.

And at the network level, where manufacturers in the same supply chain network are expected to talk to each other, more concerns rear their head. What happens if proprietary IP-related data is somehow mixed in with operational data? How can it be kept separate? Are we opening a backdoor into our systems?

The answer HPE has come up with, and which it showed off at its recent Discover expo at London’s ExCel, involves a suite of products and services that not only accelerates the data-crunching process, but offers reassurance to companies concerned about data-sharing issues. HPE argues that this step-change in functionality should help remove doubts about 4.0 adoption.


HPE CPI Infographic - Dec 2016At its heart, the new HPE technology elevates Industry 4.0 into a platform that creates for manufacturers whole new ways of secure working and value creation.

Edgeline computing

The answer to the problem of crunching machine data off-site in far-flung data centres is most acute in environments that are either remote or hostile, such as in the energy industry, although the principles apply everywhere.

HPE solved this by taking power computing out of the cloud’s data centres and putting it right next to the machines being monitored. Processing is therefore done at blinding speed, and real-time control can be handled remotely, anywhere on the planet.

Built around as many as 64 Intel Xeon cores, the ruggedised Edgeline box receives data from sensors attached to a device, or series of devices, and translates it into a real-time picture of the plant’s health. Fail-times are predicted and faults immediately reported.

Technicians are deployed for the repair or service work, using tablets that pick up augmented reality representations of the moving parts, as created by the Edgeline computer. They can physically hold their tablet up to the machine to see what’s wrong and where. The tablet can then play an instructional video showing how to repair the part and get the machine back online as soon as possible.

Volkhard Bregulla, global vice president for Manufacturing and Distribution, HPE.
Volkhard Bregulla, global vice president for Manufacturing and Distribution, HPE.

Volkhard Bregulla, HPE’s global vice president for manufacturing and distribution, cautioned against on-site data processing being seen as reducing the importance of the cloud to the Industry 4.0 future.

“The amount of data is growing massively,” he said. “In a very short time we will create as much data (from the growing number of connected devices) as we have in the past 50 years. It is an exponential inflection point, so if anything, the cloud will become even more important.

“Equally, it is important you process the data where it is created. In a factory with millions of devices, you cannot have every dataset connected to the cloud, so you pre-process it, and qualify it before it is sent to the cloud, where it is further processed to create value.”

Factory cloud

The rationalisation of data from multiple sources in a factory is the bottom line for manufacturers that are looking for a decent ROI for Industry 4.0 technologies. As described, gathering the data is one thing, understanding what it is saying is quite another. HPE has developed a factory-level platform called Converged Plant Infrastructure (CPI) that brings together all the IIoT device outputs using a common interface.

The CPI looks like a giant PC – it is literally the factory’s brain, and allows manufacturers that don’t otherwise have access to power computing, particularly SMEs, the opportunity to maximise the potential of Industry 4.0 in-house.

Supply chain cloud

The principles that drove the development of the CPI also lie behind Virtual Fort Knox (VFK), a collaboration between HPE and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation, with the support of the German State of Baden-Württemberg.

VFK is about creating a common networking platform for companies in the same supply chain, but uses HPE’s new ClearPass Universal Profiler to make sensitive data flows secure. ClearPass collects data from every device in a network, identifies it and gives the operator the power to choose who has permission to access which data stream.

HPE is addressing the cost, complexity and security worries of manufacturing firms looking to enable a new class of services - image courtesy of HPE.
HPE is addressing the cost, complexity and security worries of manufacturing firms looking to enable a new class of services – image courtesy of HPE.

This means only the data that is relevant to the supply chain collaboration gets through, and everything else is protected. In terms of protection from outside attack, ClearPass also recognises when instructions are coming into IIoT devices from unauthorised sources. It will allow the instruction in, but push it into a siding while the source of the fake instruction is detected and shut down.

The VFK platform borrows from the concepts first pioneered by Apple with its iTunes store. Participating factories can upload or access apps and programmes hosted on the VFK, improving collaboration and trust. The full expression of the VFK principle can be seen at

Kreatize is a start-up working with HPE to create the ultimate manufacturing platform, a fully-automated production cloud that puts B2B purchasers in touch with the perfect supplier, without anyone having to plough through catalogues or make dozens of phone calls. The purchaser simply enters a 3D CAD design, together with variables such as cost, delivery, time and location, and the Kreatize platform’s algorithms do the rest. They search for the right manufacturer with the right machinery and costings, place the order and the product pops out the other end.

It is a revolutionary step in manufacturing, bringing hosts of individual companies together into private clouds, helping to fill order books, keep costs down and improve productivity.

“Cost-prohibitive economics and the lack of a holistic solution are key barriers for mass adoption of IoT,” said Keerti Melkote, who is senior vice president and general manager, HPE. “By approaching IoT with innovations to expand our comprehensive framework built on edge infrastructure solutions, software platforms and technology ecosystem partners, HPE is addressing the cost, complexity and security concerns of organisations looking to enable a new class of services that will transform workplace and operational experiences.”

HPE PQ2 - Dec 2016The investment hurdle

Even though the lifecycle of some manufacturing equipment is becoming shorter, thanks to the pace of machine development, it is still much longer than that of IT systems, which are broadly governed by Moore’s Law, which states that computing power doubles every couple of years.

The new Industry 4.0 technologies, such as those being created by HPE and the companies it has partnered with, have to adapt to legacy systems to allow manufacturers to benefit from the opportunities they present without having to break the bank replacing existing machinery.

Volkhard Bregulla said HPE is confident that manufacturers will understand what these new vertical and horizontal integrations offer in terms of creating greater value right across the supply chain.

“You’d be amazed by the amount of talent in small manufacturing companies,” he said. “Of course, they need encouragement and you need to reduce the barrier to entry, but they can see what the technology can do for them, so if you lead them towards that, there’s actually much less of a problem.

“Some may rest on their laurels, but it doesn’t matter how big you are – 50% of the companies in the Fortune 500 in 2000 don’t exist anymore, so it is not just small companies who can get it wrong – it’s about leadership.”

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