The connectivity debate rages on, and with the recent addition of yet more standards it remains a major issue. It strikes at the foundation of the smart factory and is what Industry 4.0 is built upon. Machine to machine, machine to system and machine to operator communication are the starting point of the digital transformation of manufacturing and the key to the numerous benefits on offer.
Over the next six Tuesdays we’ll be publishing interviews conducted with experts involved in the deployment and development of smart factory solutions to get their view on the key issues surrounding connectivity. The first interview is with James Mok, who is responsible for Strategy, IoT and Big Data at Dassault Systèmes.
On the importance of connectivity for Industry 4.0 or IIoT
James Mok – Strategy, IoT and Big Data at Dassault Systèmes: At the heart of Industry 4.0’s core enabling technologies lies the mirror image of the physical world or sometimes called the Digital Twin. These digital twins do not only represent the products but also the processes and operations from design, engineering, manufacturing to services. In Dassault Systèmes, we not only provide solutions for these digital twins, we consider it central to our strategy to delivery digital continuity within our 3D Experience platform such that these digital twins work seamlessly with each other. To optimize design, engineering and manufacturing processes, we need to bridge the gaps between the silos of the value chain as well as between the virtual and physical world. Connectivity is key in delivering digital continuity.
What are the main issues or challenges associated with connectivity in our industry today?
James Mok: There are two main issues. Firstly, the standard around communication protocol. Secondly, the common semantics to interpret the messages. It would not be a challenge if all the machines of the world use the same communication protocol and speak the same semantics. There have been many attempts to establish such a standard. In the real world of automation, such a dominant standard is almost impossible. This is for several reasons: Firstly, every protocol has its own pros and cons, there is always a trade-off in choosing a protocol depending on the use case at hand. Secondly, there are always legacy devices and machines that cannot keep up with prevalent standards. Thirdly, there is constant development in the underlying network technology (Ethernet, wifi, 5G). Lastly, there is always a political struggle between powerful vendors and sometimes government bodies to establish standards. Therefore, despite all the efforts to simplify the landscape of connectivity standards, it is unlikely that one can fit all shapes and sizes.
Explain your strategy to address these issues and challenges
James Mok: At Dassault Systèmes, we have an open strategy when it comes to connectivity. We are not a hardware company so unlike many other automation companies that have a strong reliance on hardware revenue. This is driving them to adopt and promote their own standard. We make sure that our software systems are agnostics to all types of machines and devices. Also, we have adopted widespread standards of IIoT into our own solutions such as OPC-UA and MQTT, we also work with partners to enhance our connectivity such as Cogiscan in the domain of SMT integration, which is at the heart of any electronic manufacturing nowadays.
What is your perspective relative to new industry standards such as Hermes, CFX and others you are aware of?
James Mok: The availability of these new standards is making it much easier to connect. Hermes provides information of the board in an efficient manner making horizontal integration across the line seamless. CFX along with OML simplify vertical integration to enterprise systems and MES. However, the application of such standards depends on the type of individual equipment. For the same reasons mentioned above, we do not see any single standard solution that can meet the needs of smart manufacturing. That is why we work with a partner like Cogiscan. With such a solution, we do not have to worry about so many protocols and standards or the burden of bridging gaps between legacy equipment and new machines. The connectivity platform solution that they provide can speak to all the protocol and standard in the SMT world. And if ever a standard raised to power, we can rest assured that they would support that too.