Industry 4.0: The big business problem

A key premise of Industry 4.0 is that manufacturing companies can improve their top-line revenue generation while simultaneously lowering their operating costs. The platforms available in the market allow operators to efficiently scale control systems to add capacity, while accelerating the introduction of new functions and services to optimize control processes

Industry 4.0 generates two types of responses from top executives in the manufacturing or industrial control sectors. For those who are still unaware about the concept and have not managed to explore it consider this to be a marketing hype, or a gross over simplification like “Web 2.0”. However, organizations who have investigated the potential of a smart factory have been able to identify the underlying opportunities it entails, that would help in significantly increasing their revenue while slashing the operational costs at the same time.

Today we will be highlighting the key business challenges that Industry 4.0 presents and would in turn explain how these challenges can be addressed by identifying appropriate platforms for a secure, on premise critical infrastructure.

This initiative kick-started as a vision sponsored by the German government, which has been an active promoter of computerization of manufacturing.

The term “4.0” was coined based on the progression in the major phases of manufacturing.

  • Phase 1 – comprised steam and the initial machines that mechanized some of the work that was historically done manually.
  • Phase 2 – brought electricity, the assembly line and the start of mass production.
  • Phase 3 – included the advent of computers and the beginnings of automation, when robots and machines began to replace human workers on assembly lines.
  • Phase 4 – Industry 4.0, the next significant industry disruption, introduces what is commonly known as the smart factory, in which cyber-physical systems monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decentralized decisions.

Physical systems are implemented as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), communicating and cooperating in real time both with each other and with humans.

There are compelling business motivations for companies to adopt Industry 4.0. In a comprehensive report, PWC Global points out that companies who successfully implement Industry 4.0 no longer need to choose between focusing either on a better top line or a better bottom line, because they can improve both at the same time. Over the next five years, the companies that PWC Global surveyed expect to reduce costs by an average of 3.6% per year, while increasing annual revenues by an average of 2.9%. More than half the respondents expect their Industry 4.0 investments to yield a return within two years or less, given investments of around 5% of their annual revenue. If even half of these expectations are met, Industry 4.0 has the potential to reshape the competitive landscape and bring fundamental change to established manufacturing industries.

However, there are some major challenges, most of which are related to the computing platforms that run software based control systems along with analytics software that drive the real time decisions. Critical infrastructures like manufacturing and process control require software that runs reliably, securely and safely, continuously gathering industrial data from an array of sensors and generating responses in real time, while coordinating both operations and control functions as well.

Some of the critical requirements of a critical infrastructure platform is

  1. Low latency virtualization: Virtualization enables a single platform to run a variety of functions and applications in a smart factory. However, these platforms must provide ultra-low latency in order to ensure that near real time performance is delivered for critical applications. Along with this the system wide resource utilization must be optimized in order to minimize CAPEX and OPEX.
  1. High availability is vital: In the event of hardware or software failure, the platform must be able to perform an automatic failover quickly enough to ensure the integrity of the control system. This implies a failover speed orders of magnitude faster than standard cloud platforms developed for IT applications and on par with the speed required for virtualized telecom infrastructure. The virtualization platform must facilitate failover in a number of ways, such as restarting a clean backup software image without a reboot or turning control over to a full redundant server to overcome catastrophic hardware or software failures.
  1. Security: While traditional, physical control systems provide “box-level” security features with no provision for end-to-end threat protection or dynamic updates, the requirements for Industry 4.0 are significantly more demanding. In smart factories, it’s critical to mitigate security threats that target devices and subsystems across the facility, while recognizing that new, ever more sophisticated threats are emerging constantly. Critical infrastructure systems require a secure chain of trust that extends all the way from physical hardware or sensors extending into the Virtual Machines (VMs) that run the software-based control functions and analytics. Data must be encrypted and the network itself must ensure authentication, authorization and accounting with secure identities.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to these challenges. There are platforms in the market that enable manufacturing companies to leverage Industry 4.0 concepts while ensuring the performance, reliability and security that they need. These platforms enable virtualized software applications to run on standard, cost-effective IT-class servers while ensuring six nines (99.9999%) uptime and optimum asset utilization. They provide best-in-class security and threat mitigation, along with ultra-low latency system level performance, leveraging technology originally launched in 2014 and proven since then in telecom industry deployments.

As mentioned earlier, a key premise of Industry 4.0 is that manufacturing companies can improve their top-line revenue generation while simultaneously lowering their operating costs. The platforms available in the market allow operators to efficiently scale control systems to add capacity, while accelerating the introduction of new functions and services to optimize control processes. As a state-of-the-art software platform, it enables manufacturing companies to leverage the expertise of millennial programmers and innovative third-party software vendors. Critically, these platforms ensure regularly-updated end-to-end security for business operations and control functions.

Authored by Charlie Ashton, Senior Director, Business Development, Wind River

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