Industry 4.0, Industrial IoT and their software challenge

Industrial revolutions have shaped and forged modern society. The world we live in now is a direct result of the first steam engine and mass production of the assembly line. But how many industrial revolutions have there been so far?
If you think the answer is three, you’re wrong.

The 4th Industrial Revolution

10 years ago when you watched a documentary on TV about a modern manufacturing plant you were impressed by facts like: “this facility can make 2.000 toothbrushes in an hour”. This was followed by footage of a machine making toothbrushes with unbelievable speed and precision. Toothbrush after toothbrush popping out of the machine, ready to be packaged and sent to stores around the world.

But that is the past. The industry has advanced. It’s not all about the number of products by the hour anymore.
If you’ve watched a documentary about that same factory today you would learn that the whole manufacturing process is now connected and online, that the data is being uploaded to the Cloud, and that you have access to a dashboard, where you can track things by the second.
In short, industry 4.0 is not arriving, it’s already here.

The so-called 4th Industrial Revolution represents the transformation from manufacturing automatization of the last century to the age of “smart factories” and connected equipment of today. Now, it’s not just about how fast and efficient your production line is, it’s also about what data you can gather from the manufacturing process, and thus improve it.
It’s the fusing of old technologies with the new. The age of cyber-physical systems. Some of the more notable examples are smart cities, Blockchain, 3D printing, renewable energy, nanotechnology, AI, and more. What’s even more important is that these emerging technologies are being used together.

Industrial Internet of Things – IIoT

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is a vital part of this technological revolution. Since IoT is about connecting things to each other, you’ll be right when you assume that IIoT does the same thing in an industrial setting. Manufacturing, healthcare, energetics, retail – everyone is benefiting from connected systems. One of the main difference between IIoT and industry 4.0 (even though they are sometimes used as synonyms) is that industry 4.0 primarily focuses on manufacturing, whereas IIoT focuses on all sectors where professional equipment is used.
The main benefit of IIoT is the improved communication and the possibility of fine-tuning.

For example, a waste management plant in Tuscany wanted an easy way to monitor their biogas production. So, a company called Things on Internet (TOI) gave them an IIoT solution. They implemented a system that monitors the production of CH4 and O2, measured pressure, temperature, and humidity, and then visualizes all that information on a dashboard.
By setting up a selection of sensors and establishing a wireless connection (LoRa) TOI has created a system that efficiently performs data acquisition and data analysis. The central part of this IIoT system is the 4ZeroPlatform, a plug-and-play data gathering, processing, and reporting solution.

Every industry, every country

What’s important to point out is that IIoT is spreading to every industry and every country. Moreover, every industry can benefit from IIoT.

Take agriculture for example. It’s the basis of civilization, and most of us think of it as something primitive, certainly not a high-tech area of industry.
But smart farming is sweeping the globe. In one way global warming and extreme weather have made farmers turn to technology for a solution. In other ways, it’s the demand for increased production, due to an ever-growing population.

Whatever may be the case, IIoT is presenting an effective solution. With the help of various sensors fields are being monitored every second. The farmer knows what the basics are, like the temperature and humidity. But he also knows what the humidity of the soil is, what percentage of nitrogen the soil has, the irrigation is automated and under his control, etc.
Crops like these yield far more than conventional ones. The water usage is lower, production costs are lower, it saves time, and reduces pollution. But let’s take a look at another industry that you wouldn’t suspect of benefiting from IIoT.

Fashion is a 2.4 trillion dollar industry, and the IIoT is slowly starting to enter its premises. TOI’s smart retail solution is focused on enhancing the customer’s shopping experience by measuring their behavior while they are browsing items, and responding. Is the customer looking at that pink dress in the window? The system will start rotating the manikin on which the dress is on so that they can appreciate it from every angle. The system also offers retailers amazing analytics, almost as if they’re looking at social media statistics – how many views did an item have, how many passersby stopped by the window of the store, how many interacted with it, and so on. Of course, this is only the beginning. In the coming years, technology is only going to be incorporated more into the fashion industry.

The problem of software in industry 4.0 and IIoT

For the most part, the hardware is not a problem in industry 4.0 and IIoT. But there is a challenge within the software side that needs to be handled. Since it’s not just engineers who are incorporating the IoT into their work, the software side of the puzzle needs to be simplified.

You are most probably familiar with Arduino – a series of development boards based on various 8-bit and 32-bit microcontrollers. They are easy enough to use by anyone with a bit of know-how in electronics. The same goes for RaspberryPi or UDOO or Adafruit boards. They have all brought a new way in which people make IoT prototypes. Be it for robots, or LED curtains. They are cheap, easy to use, and simple.
The same kind of revolution has not happened on the software side of the story.

On the code level. For IoT prototyping people still need to use C/C+. Different problems arise for people from different backgrounds. For makers lose a lot of time learning how to code multithreaded behaviors, or how to manage interrupts in C++. Furthermore, they love their patience with code that’s hard to maintain. Product designers, on the other hand, are trying to design certain behaviors that can exist at the same time, and are presented with anomalies and failed installations. Then we have the programmers, who are trying to handle the lack of multithread, interrupts, callbacks, timers, and more. And most importantly, all of them need to write the code from scratch when they change from one board to another.

Developing IoT devices in Python

With the speed and power of MCU’s constantly improving more abstracted languages will find purchase in the embedded space, especially with the workforce available compared to “C” programmers.
This is where Python comes into the picture. An interpreted, high-level, general-purpose programming language that’s getting more and more popular every day.

Let’s be honest, Python is easy to use and easy to work with. Compared to C, it’s a breeze. It’s portable, dynamic, and object-oriented. What’s more, it has extensive libraries and a devoted community that supports it.
And for efficiency lovers, Zerynth, a leader in this sector, provides a C/Python hybrid programmability. This kind of programming is extremely powerful in scenarios where your project needs low-level code for time-critical tasks, while it keeps the famous Python flexibility and readability, for all the sections where time is not critical.

Are you ready for the Industry 4.0?

Our society is changing at the rhythm of the rise of new technologies. This irruption is affecting to all layers of the business. Companies are trying to lead this change by early adopting these technologies. This process is called Digital Transformation.
When we talk about Digital Transformation of the Companies, we talk about all the business opportunities that have appeared in the last years thanks to the adoption of new technology. Concretely, if we have to think about sectors that could be benefited by the introduction of, for example, the Internet of Things or Big Data to the business, this sector would be the Industry. Nonetheless, at the same time, thinking about Industry sector, this leads to a traditional way of working.
The introduction of technologies to the industrial companies can have a great impact in the production, logistics, sales and research & development areas. The reality is that the majority of the companies from the industrial sector are not prepared for this change. At European level, around 75% of managers are not sufficiently well skilled on the new paradigm of Industry 4.0. However, before analysing how to change this situation, let us introduce you briefly, what is Industry 4.0, the description of one of the main challenges for Industry 4.0 and the most outstanding technologies associated to face it.

Figure 1. Industrial Revolutions (Image from: Christoph Roser at (CC))

Technologies like Cloud Computing, Internet of Things, Robotics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence or Automation are commonplace in Tech Companies. Industry 4.0, also known as 4th Industrial Revolution, is the adoption of these new generation technologies and systems to its plant productions and its business.
One of the most common use cases from the traditional industry is a fabrication plant. There, employees and machines work together in a line in order to produce or maintain a whole product or a part of it. Usually, these plants are not dynamic and it is hard to introduce changes. If there is a malfunction/problem in the chain, it has to be a static validation process (by a worker or a specific machine), meaning that it could be defective products produced before the failure is detected. The main problem of this connectionless plant are, for example, the flexibility and the offline control. Since the moment that there is no automated tracking of the line, it is not possible to control what is happening to the components of the product in an analytical way.

Indeed, data and their management play a crucial role on the digital transformation path toward Industry 4.0. Typically, the aforementioned IoT domains are composed by several devices that generate continuous data flows (also referred to as data streams). When all these data streams are put together to integrate them, it becomes unfeasible to use traditional data management techniques to analyse them due to their lack of scalability and inability to quickly provide reliable results from large data sets. Therefore, this 4th industrial revolution can take advantage of the recent advances in the Big Data domain concerning storage, computation, and analytics. This might enable practitioners to (1) store vast amounts of data using cloud storage infrastructures (either public, private or hybrid), (2) boost the performance of the data collection and retrieval operations, and (3) run powerful distributed data analytics algorithms over these data in a cost affordable and on-demand way.

Overall, this (big) data layer is committed to provide a new dimension to all industry stakeholders and contribute to a more flexible adaptability of the industry to new market needs and production process while optimizing the available resources.
Novel and more adaptable data management and visualization systems are used in order to tackle with the huge amount of information that can be generated in real-time by IoT infrastructures. These systems, often in the form of new generation SCADAs or IoT Cloud platforms allow industrial managers to have a much more exhaustive control of what is happening in their business, not only in production line or logistic phase but even after selling the product for maintenance and post-sales purposes. Moreover, besides the real-time control monitoring of products, tools, machines and workers, as said previously these new systems allow to store great amounts of data that can be used for better future business planning adjusting the production to data-oriented decisions based on previous patterns.

However, all these information and automation systems can lead also to new threads and risks related to cybersecurity aspects. Actually, going through this industry digital transformation and integrating those practices without taking into account security aspects properly could cause eventually more losses than benefits. Cybersecurity is not an option, is a must in the equation.
As mentioned above, Industry 4.0 takes advantage of the introduction of new technologies to create intelligent industrial manufacturing processes that demand high connectivity between its components without renouncing to basic requirements of business continuity and high availability. This fact leads to the implementation of more open and interconnected Industrial Control Systems to take full advantage of these technologies, leading to greater exposure to security threats, both traditional and targeted at specific components of the industrial sector (f.e SCADA systems). Although the mentioned technologies have been widely used in the ICT world, they have had a low implantation in the industrial sector up to now and pose new security challenges. We can see the industry as a Cyber Physical System full of sensors and control elements capable of connecting machines and devices with plants, fleets, networks and human beings. To protect these systems and processes of Industry 4.0 is essential to take into account that it will be necessary to ensure; (1) the availability of facilities, manufacturing processes and Cyber Physical Systems, (2) the integrity of processes and configurations of field devices and, industrial networks and their communication with industry-specific protocols, and (3) the confidentiality of the information and data handled. In addition, given that these new industrial systems must provide ubiquity, remote access and autonomous behaviour, there is a concern that data and information are only accessible by authorized persons or to protect intellectual property/know-how of companies. Then, it is relevant to have a correct access control to the systems, data and processes of the new Industry 4.0.

With all this, at the end, the key point of the Industry 4.0 is the culture of the company, where are the workers who are going to interact with the renewed information and management systems. In this new paradigm, employees are the most important part of the value chain, moving from a line-centred view to a worker-centred view. This means that the worker has the power to stop the production line or to introduce changes in the processes with the aim of introducing continuous improvements. The old defined processes need to be modified in order to achieve the new goals of the organization.
That is why we need to prepare workers for this brand new way of working in an old-fashioned industry with the objective of changing it. During the months of June, July and September, the European Erasmus+ Project, SPRINT 4.0 is going to host different one-week courses focusing on the aforementioned issues and tech solutions for this new challenging paradigm, working in interdisciplinary teams, with the final objective of solving a real challenge from a company of the project.
These courses are:

  • Production system automation (Pisa) hosted by Universitá di Pisa (UniPi)
  • Data and Security (Barcelona) hosted by La Salle – Ramon Llull University
  • Industrial IoT (Bremen) hosted by Bremer Institut für Produktion und Logistik GmbH (BIBA)
    The other companies involved in the project are Intooition, TOI SRL, Fundazione Giacomo Brodolini, Selettra, OHS Engineering and Celsa Group.
Figure 2. SPRINT 4.0 Partners

All interested parties will participate in different workshops to analyse Industry4.0 solutions, based on the idea of ​​co-creation, focused on ‘Learning bydoing’ and methodologies of learning about problems and their implementation ina multidisciplinary environment. At the end of each course, a prEtotypecompetition will be opened during 1 month, asking for a solution for thespecific challenge presented during the course. The students’ team winning theprEtotype competition will have the possibility of experience a 30 daystransnational mobility within one of the partner company.