What’s in a name: when is the IoT Industrie 4.0?

Last week, Caroline Hayes noted some of the booths at electronica 2014 were branded IoT, but as the industrial manufacturing market is one of the cornerstones of the Germany economy, it was not really a surprise to see that the German phrase Industrie 4.0 was equally used.

I had a little taster of Industrie 4.0 the week before at NI Day in London. At his keynote, Eric Starkloff, Vice President Global Sales aligned Metcalfe’s Law (Robert Metcalfe proposed that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. In other words, as more users become connected, the information value within those networks also increase) to the smart factory. As devices become connected, sensory technology is used for the networked nodes to sense and control the world around them, using a combination of touch, motion and pressure, using cameras, gyros and sensors. This creates the smart grid, the smart factory and smart machines.

Erik Starkloff-NI “There are opportunities for disruption, and new applications,” he told attendees, “with intelligence monitoring for freight and intelligence in alternative energy sources, for example wind turbines communicating with the grid”.

An alternative phrase is Cyber Physical systems, although this, explained Starkloff, is usually used in research and academia to identify computation, communication and control.

Suddenly, I was still left unsure of where industrie 4.0 ends and IoT begins. I had the opportunity to speak to Rahman Jamal, Global Marketing Director, National Instruments, later that day. He is based in Germany, so he was the person to ask: What is the difference between IoT and Industrie 4.0?

Rahman Jamal-NI“It is the smart factory for tomorrow,” he began. “Computer integrated manufacturing, a simulated factory with computerised and automated manufacture”. It is an initiative of the German government to create computerized manufacturing (the smart factory). It follows water and steam power to mechanize production, electric power, a revolution that saw mass production and the third, digital revolution. “It is more than ‘smart factory’, it is a convergence of four or five technologies, driven by processing power (Moore’s Law); connectivity (Metcalfe’s Law); wireless needs for bandwidth and power and the role of 5G, which could be MIMO, GDMF, or micrometer wave-based”. Jamal notes that while all four factors are driving Industrie 4.0, true productivity arises when these factors meet and work together.

Another definition I came across that day is Internet of Big Things. This is systems such as smart cities, smart factories, where large amounts of data are being sent and received on a network infrastructure, rather than the regular Internet.
NI’s interest is in the Big Analog Data, i.e. natural sources such as light and speed. Its role is to acquire, analyse and abstract the data, says Jamal. When anomalies are found, they can be analysed; in contrast sensors produce raw data but are connected; adding the intelligence is the distinction, says Jamal.

The company provides a foundation for platform-based smart systems, says Jamal, allowing companies to integrate IP on a single platform. (See Figure 1.) Abstracting from the platform and application with LabView produces a focus on the embedded design, rather than the underlying hardware and software, he explains.

He offers the example of Xilinx’s Zynq processor, which with software design instruments to reconfigure the processor, and USB 3.0 technologies, the user can simply acquire and abstract date. “There is no need to worry about details of Zynq in Compact Rio or PCI bus, PXI platforms. . . embedding the IP in target platforms allows the user to focus on the domain expertise – for example, the smart grid”.

“Custom hardware is dead,” declares Jamal. “No-one redesigns a phone, they write a new app: software is the instrument”.

Although Jamal was making the point that different members of a team can work on different parts, with a common approach using LabView, I am not sure that hardware engineers need to review their retirement plans just yet. NI works hard to ensure that the data for the latest Atom processor, USB protocol or FieldBus/Ethernet version is in the spec, there is still the expectation that new hardware will be introduced, even called for, to meet the demands of Industrie 4.0 or the IoT for that matter.

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