Four essential technologies for Industry 4.0

Author : NXP’s Joseph Byrne, Senior Marketing Manager; and Jeff Steinheider, Senior Product Marketing Manager

19 February 2018

Credit: Shutterstock

This piece explains the challenge of assembling in one place the four requisite industrial IoT technologies: networking, processing, user interface and security – and ultimately considers how NXP’s new QorIQ Layerscape LS1028A processor helps to meet this challenge.

Under a transformation known as Industry 4.0, leading manufacturers are conceiving and creating the intelligent industrial enterprise of the future. Merging information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) domains, they’re building next-generation smart systems to optimise manufacturability, improve operations, enhance customer support and analyse real-time data provided by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Time-sensitive networking (TSN)

The merger of IT and OT is only possible by adapting the networks that bind each domain. Because the domains differ so greatly in function, their networks are fundamentally different too. The IT domain encompasses systems that transform data into useful information. Aside from the manufacturing-specific planning and logistics systems, it also includes common systems like accounting, email and CRM. These are computer-based systems without hard real-time constraints and can use the best-effort approach of regular Ethernet.

The OT domain includes the systems used to make materials into products, real-time embedded systems for process control, workflow management and process monitoring. A factory may use Industrial Ethernet technology that adapts standard Ethernet to deliver real-time response and work with legacy industrial communication protocols. However, the many Industrial Ethernet protocols either interoperate with each other nor with standard Ethernet, limiting the economies of scale for technology suppliers and effectively slowing innovation.

As Figure 1 shows, a single machine in a factory may connect to different Industrial Ethernet networks, each running its specific protocol, for different control functions. The manufacturer must deploy gateways to pass data among the different networks or to IT systems.


Just as networks must support time-critical functions, so too must processing. A real-time operating system (RTOS) helps ensure that a CPU is available to receive and process control packets when they arrive on a TSN-enabled port. The ability to respond to control packets also helps the CPU to address vents coming to the processor from other inputs and to execute loops controlling the system the processor is part of. These loops may need to run up to every 30 microseconds or faster – a degree of precision that conventional IT-domain operating systems cannot meet. The need for more automation requires increased processing capabilities in embedded controllers.

Higher performance processing can be used to reduce control loop timing, moving robotic arms and assembly lines faster and increasing factory output.

It can also increase the number of axes managed by a single motion controller, leading to factory robots that are more versatile than their previous generation predecessors. Robots that can learn tasks from a human operator will require image processing, along with new machine learning algorithms.

Commercial RTOSs include VxWorks from Wind River and Nucleus from Mentor Graphics. These vendors have a long history of supporting the NXP QorIQ family and its predecessors. With the emergence of industrial-grade Linux, open-source alternatives are another option: these provide industrial enterprises and OEMs the agility to add new capabilities to their systems.

Industrial-grade distributions, unlike IT-focused and non-real-time embedded Linux distributions, provide the determinism, manageability, industrial networking and overall security required of OT. One approach to adding real-time capability to Linux is to apply the PREEMPT_RT patch to the kernel to eliminate situations where a software process is blocked indefinitely by another process. In this scheme, applications are coded to the usual Linux API.

Another approach taken by Xenomai is to add classic RTOS APIs to a Linux system, facilitating porting traditional RTOS applications to Linux. Xenomai also provides mechanisms for device drivers to respond to peripherals in real time, firming up the real-time guarantees that Linux can offer.

To ease the transition to Linux from a classic RTOS, NXP is working with the industrial Linux community on a distribution that integrates the various real-time enhancements and TSN stacks while maintaining standard Linux capabilities.

Processing capacity must also be available for analytics. The IoT is not only about networking embedded systems, but also about capturing data from sensors, analysing the data and directing the systems’ responses. A common notion is that distant servers in the cloud perform the analysis.

However, the amount of data to be transported and analysed, the time-criticality of the decisions to be made, and the proprietary nature of the data, will all lead manufacturers to process manufacturing data locally. Analysis could be carried out not only on a computer at a factory site – but even within production machinery, given sufficiently powerful processors.

Beyond analysis, processing capacity in an Industry 4.0 regime will be used to manage operations remotely, enabling machines to coordinate among themselves autonomously.

Human-machine interfaces

Another function that demands processing power is the human-machine interface (HMI). Smartphone-inspired interfaces will increasingly permeate the world of industrial equipment. Easy-to-use, visual interfaces simplify operator control of machines.

High-resolution screens enable users to view the output of high-definition (or better) cameras that inspect goods as they are manufactured. Driving these screens will be the same type of graphics processing units (GPUs) used in smartphones. Although these GPUs’ 3D performance may be scaled down to reduce cost and power, they will support large, high-resolution screens, overlays of graphics, video and text, and slick user interfaces.


Convergence of OT and IT increases the risk of security threats. In the past, operations were isolated – almost impenetrable from the outside world. A hacker would need a physical link to attack a machine. A converged industrial setting erodes the barriers that isolate operations, so that information can be shared among systems to improve efficiency. New barriers must therefore be erected to ensure the integrity of systems while maintaining permeability of data flow.

The first step for equipment manufacturers is to secure processing platforms in their equipment, by ensuring that their systems execute only approved software and connect securely to other systems. These systems must be securely commissioned, periodically updated and able to resist tampering of their hardware and software.


NXP is proud to enable Industry 4.0 equipment manufacturers to incorporate state-of-the-art networking, processing, HMI and security in their designs with its new QorIQ Layerscape LS1028A processor.

With two powerful 64-bit ARM CPUs that deliver the computing performance required for modern industrial applications, this system-on-chip integrates in one place the technologies needed for next-generation industrial systems: time-sensitive networking, high-performance processing, hardware-accelerated user interfaces and high security.

OEMs can jump-start design by leveraging the code-compatible NXP LS1021ATSN reference platform. Manufacturers are undergoing a generation-defining transformation in how factories and enterprise operate as a whole. And NXP welcomes leading equipment makers to collaborate on catalysing this transformation.

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