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Communication Solutions For The Factory of the Future: Part 1

by Michael Volz | Jun 15, 2018

You don't need a crystal ball to realize that cloud-based data storage and appropriate analysis in automation technology will be cutting-edge in five to ten years' time. Process and plant data that becomes available locally will be collected centrally in the cloud. Plant operators, maintenance staff, device suppliers, system integrators and many others can then access this data from all over the world and use it for optimizing all types of processes.

Even if there are still many question marks when it comes to practical implementation, both from a technical and legal point of view, the direction is set. However, the adoption rate of cloud-based communication solutions in automation, is still relatively low today, as there is no standardized blueprint yet. This could result in competitive disadvantages. The way to the goal is definitely not straightforward, but hesitation and waiting is the worst alternative.

HMS-Hardware-meets-Software

Figure 1: In the Industrial Internet of Things, it's less about things and much more about data. 

Before discussing the future of industrial plants and the associated role of data-based business models, it is worth taking a look at the current state of technology. Typically, industrial plants are equipped with at least one or multiple programmable logic controllers (PLC). Where multiple PLCs are in use, they are often from different manufacturers and permit incompatible communication interfaces.  At this stage, process and plant data often remains at the manufacturing level and the data is not used at the planning level yet.

Many device manufacturers, plant manufacturers, machine builders and system integrators are still not certain about the potential benefits brought about by Industry 4.0 or IIoT in this context. With this in mind, here is an overview of some of the benefits.

Benefits of cloud-based data storage

  • Vast amounts of data are produced during production. By collecting this data centrally and analyzing it with appropriate tools, manufacturing processes can be optimized.
  • If this data is transferred into the cloud, operators can examine it together with their device manufacturers or machine suppliers and jointly improve processes.
  • Cloud-based data storage and analysis provides machine builders with an opportunity to perfectly adapt maintenance contracts and cycles to the needs of the user.
  • Cloud solutions enable new business models such as Pay-per-Use applications, where service providers can adapt their sales concept to such an extent that users only pay for what they actually use. 
  • Predictive maintenance and remote maintenance are made possible.

Don't miss the second part of the HMS Factory of the Future series, where we discuss security of cloud-based data storage and analysis. 

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