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Platforms, present and future V

Leading companies in the Industry 4.0 space. Image credit: IOT Analytics

3. Industry platforms I

Industry has adopted a number of standards and platforms in the various phases of the value chain, platforms for the supply chain, for manufacturing, for delivery… In these last two decades the new paradigm of Industry 4.0 has been defined and it is now taking traction in several industries.

Industry 4.0 is the result of technology evolution (sensors/IoT, robotisation, softwarisation, Artificial Intelligence and autonomous systems), of a global value chain with a multiplicity of suppliers on one side and a multiplicity of markets on the other and the possibility to transfer and execute a significant part of the processes in the cyberspace (CAD, data analytics, simulation, additive manufacturing, Digital Twins).

I feel it is important to recognise that Industry 4.0 (or if you prefer the evolution of Industry 3.0) is not about technology, rather about a changing world market. Of course technology is a crucial enabler. The softwarisation of products is accelerating their evolution (the life cycle gets shorter), makes it possible to go for scale and niche/customisation at the same time, makes it possible to leverage on an ecosystem (if you look from the point of view of the big players) and the other way round enables small players to take advantage on products created by the big guys. The acceleration is in the market and the industry has to respond. The response is in further shortening of the products life cycle, increasing the spectrum of the features possible leveraging more and more on the cyberspace, i.e. on the Digital Transformation.

Data are becoming more and more central to industry,  as a tool to increase industry effectiveness (in supply manufacturing and delivery), as a way to increase features and as a way to decrease operation/maintenance cost turning these phases into opportunity to deliver services. Several companies are leveraging on this transformation each one targeting a specific aspect (see the graphic).

The Collaborative Platform supporting Digital Twins as the glue across the various phases of the manufacturing value chain. Image credit: Siemens

Digital Twins are becoming a crucial technology in Industry 4.0. Siemens identifies at three roles for Digital Twins in industry:

  • Product Digital Twins: provide a virtual representation of a product. It can be used as the starting point for designing a product, simulating its characteristics and how it would fit in the market and cooperate with other entities;
  • Production Digital Twins: used to validate production processes before anything goes into production on the shop floor. All manufacturing equipment have their digital twins and these can be used for simulating the whole production process;
  • Performance Digital Twins: data are generated throughout the production process and by the product during its operation. These data are captured by the performance digital twin for actionable insight and decision making.

Digital twins are supported by the Siemens Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) platform and by the other software packages forming Xcelerator, a complete suite applicable to several industry verticals, including suppor to Electronic Design Automation (EDA), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM), Embedded Software and Internet of Things (IoT).

GE, one of the first to apply Digital Twin technology in manufacturing and in the digital transformation of industry, spun off a slate of software packages that have now become the Predix Platform for industrial machines. The software is made available in the form of PaaS, Platform as a Service.

As one can imagine there are a variety of platforms used by the industry, each one specialised for a given vertical. What is important to notice is the shift we are seeing from the management of data (Industry 3.0) to the leverage of data (Industry 4.0) and the use of data as sort of autonomous systems taking a life of their own.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.