Interoperability in Industry 4.0

Author : Paul Taylor, Manager for Machinery Safety at TÜV SÜD Product Service

04 April 2018

Credit: Shutterstock

The cornerstone of Industry 4.0 is the convergence of enterprise IT and operational technology (OT). New generations of complex networks are being created as the boundaries between these two areas, previously largely separate, become increasingly indistinct – and IoT devices and new automation technologies are rapidly introduced. This piece considers the challenges and how to address them.

The challenge for industry is to maintain secure functioning of automated processes, while protecting networks from unauthorised access – or even attack. On the other side of the coin, the challenge for global regulatory authorities is to catch up with this new technological tidal wave, introducing compliance and certification requirements that meet industry’s business and safety needs.

This digital transformation is an enormously challenging time for industry. While optimising the opportunities offered by Industry 4.0 is a must, reducing the risks involved in the increased interoperability of this ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’ is also an imperative.

Industrial manufacturing, and the global regulatory system, will face significant challenges as technological developments move towards fully connected, self-organising intelligent factories. Advanced sensors are already finding their way into modern manufacturing lines, facilitating informed decision-making. But this is just the beginning. Further innovations will unlock the full potential of smart component technologies.

Achieving autonomy

Currently, manufacturing lines depend on human supervision and decision-making to optimise operations, but the production devices of tomorrow’s smart factories will have the ability to interpret their environment and autonomously react to it.

Key enablers of the drive towards smart factories are

• Improved information access from the production process, from a variety of sources, including sensors or products, as they are both being produced and moving along the production line – as well as throughout the supply chain.

• Smart data analysis, which copes with this large amount of information (big data).

• Direct control and interoperability of the manufacturing machines, alongside autonomous decisions being made by machines.

‘Interoperability’ describes the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data in a user-friendly way.

Theoretically, technology components can be combined to form a mature smart factory in the vision of Industry 4.0. The challenge is that each manufacturing device enters the production line with its own set of proprietary interfaces; effectively, the components each speak a different language, causing significant interoperability issues.

The solution is an electronic reproduction – a so-called ‘digital twin’, or ‘administration shell’ of each physical component. The digital twin contains the complete set of parameters of its physical sibling, as well as adaptive algorithms for decentralised self-optimisation and safety measures. Acting as an intermediary, the digital twin functions as a standardised interface between the smart components, facilitating flawless interoperability and delivering a dynamically reconfigurable system.

A new approach to compliance

Currently, industrial automation is a consolidated reality, with approximately 90% of machines in factories being unconnected. These isolated and static systems mean that product safety (functional safety and security) can be comfortably assessed.


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