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The big picture involving digitization and automation gets a mainstream, impressive approach (see our previous posts about Industry 4.0) that tries to transform the technical terms into a coherent narrative. Whilst capable of explaining how the world could look like, once it benefits from all the advantages brought in by intelligent machines, this approach also stirs controversy. There is a fair amount of worries in relation with the societal and economic changes induced by an increased global automation.

This topic is often mirrored in online and offline debates and various materials. Although it serves in familiarizing one and all with technical concepts otherwise difficult to understand, it manages to partially misrepresent the reality of digitization and automation. Not that the bright future everyone is talking about is not attainable, nor that the disruptions mentioned are unlikely. But down-to-earth automation for now looks different, and to minimize risks and enhance future benefits we need to focus our attention on doing things the right way.

In other words, it’s always now that we are shaping the future. Getting too distracted with the big picture to the detriment of in-the-moment quality is in fact harming the same future in discussion.

 

Humans and machines, partners for decades

What we forget is that automation already makes so many things in our daily lives function, for quite some time. Traffic lights, industrial manipulation, elevators or appliances already function with the help of intelligent software. The examples may go on. True, now new concepts such as AI or ML went beyond theory and we witness quite a competition among companies to be the first ones to achieve viable products incorporating this traits, roughly defined as “machine intelligence”.

What does automation translate into nowadays? What is the competition all about?

Automation means reliable software that allows tedious tasks to be computed straight from one machine to another. This should bypass the human contribution in transmitting information.

Automation means self-diagnose and self-reporting, with an outcome of better, faster insights towards the human process coordinator.

It also means self-regulation of machine systems, where one element send out the request for a certain action or input, and gets an automated response that perfectly meets the request.

Automation for now is in the stage of aligning input and output in what information is concerned, integration and coordination between various system parts.

For all this to work and allow us to see beyond the horizon, all those involved need to give their best. Turning clever ideas into automated operations should only involve seamless integrations, top-notch software engineering, coordination, or the safest possible systems, cyber security – wise.

 

Putting good professionals, ethics and enthusiasm into automation

Working with the best is always the way to do it. Automation is yet another case of not affording to go cheap. Making sure you get what you need then paying the right price for a high-quality output. This is what all involved parties should go for.

Having ethics in mind is also advisable. Lately, the big players in the field started to aggregate around this topic. All the bright achievements in the field simply cannot turn evil, be it accidentally or by intent. With automation increasingly entering all our life sectors, it may soon show how our lives depend on it. Therefore, making sure people are protected, from privacy to fail safe embedded systems is a must.

Enthusiasm – because why not? Just think of how your current experience with technology looks like. You get a quality device that does its job. It feels great, you shape the way you do tasks around it, it makes life easier… True, many such devices are unnecessary complicated of late. But think of the most intuitive gadget you use, of its use, of how thrilled you are sometimes with it. In most of the cases the hassle users face has more to do with economics and the market policies. The better the competition, the more things would evolve in the right direction.

To reach a conclusion, always remember to be very serious about your automation related endeavors. Apps, software, IoT or IIoT, always choose the right software partner. Make sure all details are in place, the coding is clean, the project coherent and consistently approached.

Contact us for any information you may need. Our software engineers are looking forward for your questions!

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We dived into i-scoop’s guide to Industry 4.0, a massive and comprehensive material which prompted out the following highlights.

What is Industry 4.0?

Although you may find the definition everywhere on the net, the guide signals that some misunderstandings in relation to this concept are still common.

The term is often shortened to I4.0 or simply I4, and it originates “from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerization of manufacturing” (Wikipedia).

However, currently the concept (revived in 2011 at the Hannover Fair), went beyond the manufacturing field. We are now taking about “various forms of manufacturing, the end-to-end digital supply chain and the final destination of all manufacturing, regardless of the number of intermediary steps and players”.

Industry 4.0 to its full extent is a continuously updated concept. Its core consists of transferring industrial “autonomy and autonomous decisions to cyber-physical systems and machines, leveraging information systems”. It involves embedding digital technology into the industrial assets involved in any part of the merchandise cycle. From raw materials to the end customer, services included, Industry 4.0 counts on “a connected environment of data, people, processes, services, systems and IoT-enabled industrial assets”.

Such a connected medium means dynamism, real time, increased responsiveness and an instant propagation of demand across all levels. No more overproduction, no more lack of supply, and the real time demand should get an immediate response in the global system. This sistem also solves other requirements and/or incidents with maximum efficiency.

With Industry 4.0, production would align itself with demand, distribution/sales and customer feedback, in a seamless system. Machines would “dialogue” trough data streams, while humans would intervene to OK decisions pointed out by the most accurate insights. And the universal language is data, while the communication means is digital.

 

Industry 4.0 Keywords

When speaking of Industry 4.0, a few essential keywords are:

Integration/Convergence

Real-time

Connectivity

IoT (Internet of Things)

Embedded

Sensors

Analytics

Big Data

Networks

Digital Infrastructure

HMI (Human Machine Interface)

Autonomous

Smart systems

Cyber Security

 

Step by step, towards a major structural change that will reshape society

Due to the major societal implications and to the novelty of the hyper connected, responsive production system, the specialists expect that full implementation of Industry 4.0 would reshape society.

There is quite a lot to be done until having a fully functional globally connected environment. Integrating divergent needs, geographical and economic considerations, accomplishing the infrastructure that would support such a construction – here are just a few examples of what needs to be done.

You can further explore i-scoop’s guide to see what vertical and horizontal integration mean. Also, check out various definitions of the concept. You may see what international consulting bodies put their minds together to establish the best solutions in this directions, relevant findings in this field and many other interesting details.

Just save some (considerable) time, and start reading!

And remember the key role played by software solution companies (just like we are), in helping companies join this movement, which incidentally is… our common future.

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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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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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