IIoT’s potential has big names looking for new solutions

From cloud security to plastic robots to full enterprise integration, suppliers introduce new ideas from familiar brands.

By Bob Vavra, CFE Media April 24, 2018

In the manufacturing renaissance that is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it’s clear that no one supplier can be all things to all plants. It’s also clear more companies are trying to provide more options than before.

SAP is an enterprise software company that has introduced a digital manufacturing cloud. Microsoft is a software company that has expanded into cloud computing, and now is tackling the issue of plant security with the help of the OPC Foundation. Igus, better known as a plastic chain and cable supplier, has branched out into robotics-and discovered lubrication-free gears in the process.

"When you think about digital coming to the shop floor, you look at vertical integration," said Georg Kube, global vice president for industrial machinery and components for SAP. "That information has to be processed in the logistics system. We’re the people who have done all the logistics, so it was a natural point for us to expand into actually producing the product."

SAP said in a press release its Digital Manufacturing Cloud is a plant solution that features "loT size one and paperless production capabilities. It integrates business systems with the shop floor, allowing for complete component and material level visibility for single and global installations."

"Manufacturing changed; it’s become more focused on the individual order, the individual workpiece," Kube said. "Now that become we’ve become faster, more individual needs needed to be catered to. We want and need more products in small batches. That was not humanly doable before, and that is why digital came onto the shop floor."

Inherent in the digital age is cybersecurity, and Microsoft is working with the OPC Foundation to security connect its Azure cloud service through OPC UA servers. The goal is to allow automatic security in cloud computing.

"The big thing we’ve added is the automatic discovery of assets in the factory. We make them available to the cloud by registering them automatically," said Erich Barnstedt, the principal software engineering lead for Microsoft. "The key word is ‘automatic’. You just want to be able to tell the user that their machines are secure."

Barnstedt said many manufacturers aren’t far enough along on the IIoT journey to worry about security. Right now, they’re still struggling with whether their plant is big enough to extract value from IIoT technologies. "It’s a big problem. What we tell them is that, you can generate value at just the first step by centralizing data and creating dashboards," he said. "That already is revolutionary to a lot of folks. The trick is to start collecting data."

Igus had a simple plastic chain system and then took on the challenges of creating its own cables to go with the chains and housings. Now it has moved into the robotics business. They’ve collaborated with a university in Cologne, Germany to develop a fully plastic collaborative robot, and also introduced a low-cost robotics joint at Hannover Messe. A brushless direct-current motor powers the new joint and the robot features control systems housed inside the joints.

"The cables can now be routed directly inside a robot arm,” said Martin Raak, robolink product manager at igus GmbH, in a press release. "Joints can also be equipped with absolute encoders that remember the position of an arm even when a power failure occurs."

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.