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Originated in Germany, Industry 4.0 translates as “a holistic automation, business information, and manufacturing execution architecture to improve industry with the integration of all aspects of production and commerce across company boundaries for greater efficiency”, according to Automation ISA.

From this starting point, the source article delves into the history of Industry 4.0 initiative. The Industry 4.0 initiative is part of a 10-point high-tech German strategic plan, created in 2006 and continued in 2010 by introducing the High-Tech Strategy 2020. Science and industry need to cooperate, in order to turn knowledge into skills.

Creating networks that incorporate the entire manufacturing process and convert factories into smart environments involves linkages. Linkages such as “smart machines, warehousing systems, and production facilities that feature end-to-end integration, including inbound logistic, production, marketing, outbound logistics, and service”.

Real-time data, a key element in the Industry 4.0 chain of operations

Real-time information enables strong decisions, based on insights. When it comes to production, it enables a superior reactivity and responsiveness in what production chain materials and operations are concerned.

Also, Industry 4.0 is based on asynchronous manufacturing.  This requires that the components in the production flow are able to use “auto identification technology to inform each machine and operator what needs to be done to produce the customized end product at each step of the production process.”

Based on real-time field data, the machines can be rapidly configured so they would adapt to customer specifications and other commands inherent to the production operations.

The collected data also serves as prime material for a range of analytics. These provide a bonus post real-time advantage to those in charge. By analyzing the data, such systems provide recommendations on improving performance and productivity.

Using embedded intelligence at all levels, the advanced cyber-physical systems (CPS) save “significant cost, providing greater flexibility and improved reliability.”

What binds together this new, developing industrial landscape is a series of software solutions that allow for the data to be collected and processed. Furthermore, the insights become recommendations. The decisions then turn into commands that go back into the cycle, driving modified, optimized operations.

 

Standards emerge, as well as a worldwide agenda

With separate, but similar Industry 4.0 agendas in countries such as Germany, China, Japan and/or others, a sum of specific standards emerge. These standards require harmonization, if they are going to work seamlessly at a global level, regardless of the physical area where the industrial processes involved take place.

Future automation systems must adopt open source multivendor interoperability software application and communication standards similar to those that exist for computers, the Internet, and cell phones. Industry 4.0 demonstrations acknowledge this by leveraging existing standards, including the ISA-88 batch standards, ISA95 enterprise-control systems integration standards, OPC UA, IEC 6-1131-3, and PLCopen.

Process automation is at the core of this plan. It becomes more and more present with each industry entity that joins this trend. The Industry 4.0 vision of the future factory joins together advanced technology hardware and brilliant software solutions, for a flawless functionality.

We are getting there with each software solution. Producers can unload more and more of their operations onto the digital, be it monitoring operations, management, coordination or others.

Call us for software solutions partnerships – we build the software you need for going one step further into the Industry 4.0!

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Tech

The vulnerability of Industrial Control Systems (ICS) systems is a major concern both for their beneficiaries, as well as for all those involved in the development of such software solutions. While software engineers (in and beyond ICS), know that a solid software architecture and reliable coding are the only way to go to reduce cyber risks, the users sometimes neglect the best practices in the daily use of software solutions.  When steering away from code that ends up being vulnerable, or easy to control via data breaches, as well as from its faulty deployment or configuration, the ICS-based recommendation can do no harm. They are also useful when considering other types of software solutions.

We browsed a few recommended methods for developing strong and reliable ICS software solutions, on the users’ side.

The ICS system environment induces an urgent need to solve or avoid vulnerabilities. This urgency drives best practices in this line of work. By extension, any solution with implications or application in the IoT field can be approached in the same way, even if the effects of its potential vulnerabilities are sometimes more difficult to grasp. But any element in an interconnected system is essential because the system is as protected as its weakest element is.

 

A seven steps list to avoid cyber risks, from Automation World

The list comes from a supplier of industrial cybersecurity software and services. It’s meant to provide a solid grounding for all the types of professionals who are involved in building and delivering safe and secure ICS software solutions.

 

As the author mentions, the list summarizes the “core steps every industrial company should take to secure their control systems at the most basic level”

Design your network with cyber security in mind

  • The software solutions beneficiaries/users should secure their networks to avoid exposure

Monitor your deployed software

  • Make sure you notice events and any abnormal behavior before it’s too late

Keep a tight inventory of all devices connected to your network

  • “From controllers to human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to engineering workstations, all assets on your network should be accurately inventoried so there aren’t any unknown devices, thereby enabling rogue assets to be quickly identified”.

Manage your logs, to understand the behavior of all involved devices

  • You can optimize performance once you have the complete image

Manage the configurations of all involved devices

Use industrial firewalls

Institute privilege control

 

As a user of software solutions, do these recommendations sound familiar?

Avoiding cyber risks is a common effort. Good software engineers strive to build and deliver the best, most secure products. Vigilant users should join in by materializing best practices, such as those mentioned above.

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Tech

Due to financial restraints and reluctance, as well as to economic differences, the way in which organizations worldwide implement and approach new tech (from the digitization, automation, Big Data, analytics, connectivity, IoT, etc. group) is inconsistent.

For example, we took a look at the random user intercept site survey fielded on ZDNet and TechRepublic, based on European users having voluntarily answered tech-related questions. The results in its first phase (responses in October 2018, coming from 142 qualified users) show very low active IoT initiatives and a low budget allocation for this sector.

Meanwhile, the mainstream experts note that investing in new tech is no longer a luxury, but “essential to keeping your business’s costs down, your profitability up, and your company thriving”.

 

A glimpse at the IoT-related situation in the European field

 

Back to the study mentioned above, let’s see a couple of figures:

 

*42% of the respondents say they have an interest in IoT, but have no active initiatives;

 24% of them say they have a limited number of IoT-related functions in operation;

 

*1-9% of the respondents mention that 36% of their budget is directly related to their IoT-based initiatives;

 10% say that over 50% or more of their budget is directly related to their IoT-based initiatives

 

*a maximum of 18% of the respondents list IoT as a top priority in their organization, for various lucrative purposes

*a maximum of 49% of the respondents list IoT as a top 3 priority in their organization (figures vary, depending on purpose)

*51% of the respondents list ensuring the security of IoT network/devices as the top challenge in using IoT in their company, followed by integrating IoT into their proprietary networks and by the learning curves related to the new technology

For those of us who work in B2B it should be easy to compare these with the situation in the field as we know it. Although this study so far provides only partial unrefined results, it clearly shows polarization around certain issues.

 

A few recommendations for the organizations caught in transition

For those who are interested in new tech, but still are indecisive whether to see it as a luxury or a necessity, the article we found on ReadWrite provides a schematic guidance. Such organizations should consider the following:

  • Quality software should always be the choice, and furthermore the companies should spend money to ensure they have the best technology expertise. Going for doubtful software and no experts is simply self-sabotage.
  • New tech in streamlining business processes is the way to go, since it levels the playing field with your peers, as well as your customers. Predictive maintenance and reducing errors via technology is so this age, that those who are top in their field can’t even conceive functioning without it.
  • A strong relationship with the modern customer means new tech, which makes sure the customer experience is within the modern, expected parameters in the industry.

For more details on how businesses should “integrate new tech into (their) business in a way that cuts (…) costs, increases revenue, or provides more value to (…) customers”, see the source article here.

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Tech

Tech innovations can sometimes originate in simple ideas. They can also reproduce natural solutions. By observing similarities and connecting apparently disparate things, a Eureka moment is sometimes not far away. SAP Digital Interconnect shares an interesting parallelism between bees and sensors, and consequently between a smart city and a hive.

The common denominator consists of secure and efficient communications. When designing the IoT systems, this is often the underlining scope – getting the right data where you want it, while avoiding unauthorized access.

Let’s follow this story and see why SAP thinks that designers and managers have a lot to learn from the way bumblebees are organized.

 

Connected cities – the super-organisms of tomorrow

The overall tech weaving that goes into any smart city structure is impressive. The result is a sum of subsystems, a mega-system. With all the data flows taking place, the interconnections, and the necessary coordination – we may see it as a super-organism. How can the professionals design and program it, so that it would work as such?

It wouldn’t be for the first time in human progress that nature inspired humans in solving complicated problems. By getting our inspiration from the natural structures that work just fine for centuries, the easiest answer is often the best one.

The source article’s coauthors are also beekeepers. In this quality they have noticed how a beehive is in fact a collection of different cells. It’s the relationship between these cells and the way the bees understand to enact it that makes sure the whole system works together in a flawless way.

In a similar way, the design and management of IoT networks could make sure that all the sensors communicate seamlessly, that their hierarchy is respected, and their functions fulfilled.

What drew the attention of the two authors (one a Head of IoT products, and the other a Mobile Evangelist), are the pheromones. They are the common element that may activate or block communications, depending on the necessity. In a network packed with sensors that have a double function – independent and interconnected, this is critical.

 

Looking forward for a highly functional, organized IoT environment

The perspective of a medium packed with sensors, devices, data flows and streaming information does not rhyme with functionality, nor does it inspire an ergonomic structure.

However, layering, categories and distributed activities could make it so that the sensors take turns in communicating with each other. For example, when collecting data that is not needed in real time, the sensors could save activity and bandwidth and stay in a local mode. When receiving the designed signal, they could go into transmit mode.

By using the bees’ behavior as a model, the authors recommend three scopes in planning various systems that go in a smart city structure:

  • Simplicity;
  • Security;
  • Smart communication.

Following these guidelines (that you may see explained, by accessing the source article), any involved professional may get a better version of the system he/she is in responsible for.

 

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Tech

City planners and technologists joined forces at Smart Cities Week 2018 in an exercise of simulation for businesses. The theme was the future the smart city, which is not at all far-fetched. All around the globe initiatives for intelligent, connected IoT-based urban centers are in various stages of development.

To understand the full scale of requirements, challenges and multiple tasks involved by such a mega structure, we browsed a recap of the simulation, as featured on IoT for All.

 

Things to expect when involved in a smart city project

Although the increased specialization in the technical field over the years may not equally put all participants in a project in a similar strategic posture, certain major challenges are bound to affect all. Even if layered in complementary projects, micro projects and various team types, the professionals who are part of the overall team do have to acknowledge the bigger picture.

What would a few of the common challenges might be? Lateral thinking is one of them. For the success of such a venture, those who make decisions, as well as those who decide for their own subsidiary area of responsibility need to bring an indirect and creative approach to the table.

Balancing the budget against what are indeed the much needed strategic investments is yet another must. Investing in new technologies blends together with retrofitting older structures. However, blending means seamless integration. The participants need to think things through. They also need to have a can do attitude, to grasp the big picture, as well as be quickly aware of the possible pressure or blockage points.

 

A process of bartering and flexible adaptation

The simulation in cause was extremely interesting due to the fact that it reunited city planners with the specialist in technology.  While the professionals in urban planning brought an approach forged during the specifics of their everyday activity, some of the technologists had their first opportunity to see how and why this type of project is different.

City planners are often reluctant to changes, stick by their budgets and need to understand the technology and translate it into financial lines. Understanding the technology alone took a while for some of the participants. The technologists had to meet them halfway in relation with certain issues.

Collaboration and strategy are key on the road to a functional smart city – as the author repeatedly underlines it. The aim and the measurement elements is the citizen quality of life – a notion that seems at hand, but needs defining. It also requires a sustained activity on the line of planning, so it would indeed materialize into better services, better living conditions and so on.

 

Keywords for activities related to the smart cities of the future

We selected a few keywords that might not be the first things that come to mind when contemplating the idea of smart city:

  • Multiple stakeholders
  • Constrained budgets
  • Challenging social dynamics

Other keywords are less surprising:

  • Economic growth
  • Intuitive infrastructure
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Collaborative processes

Materializing smart city projects may involve a sum of integrations. Some software solution can be adopted into such a project, while they previously existed in the private environment. Others can regard custom-made software programs and applications.

Whatever the case, having the right partner in software engineering is of great use. Our company is an example of such a partner – with the experience accumulated in our projects along the years, we can tackle IoT and mobile challenges related to the major ventures of the future.

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