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Why Integration Platforms are the Future

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The somewhat unwieldy term Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) raises the question of what is meant by it and what benefits manufacturing companies derive from using an IIoT platform.

Definition of IoT and IIoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of any everyday device to the Internet so that it can communicate with each other in a way that is useful for people. IIoT is the industrial concretization of this objective. Here, machines, production plants, and all the IT systems of a production plant are networked with each other to maximize resource effectiveness and efficiency. Industrial Internet means that the necessary connection between machines and production plants is based on established Internet technologies. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that do this in an ideal way are called Restful Web Services. If such web services are also documented openly and accessible to everyone on the Internet, they are referred to as Open API.

Open API increases the Customer Benefit

On the homepage of the Open API Initiative, you can find all well-known American software companies. The companies have recognized that their applications are of much more significant benefit to customers if they can communicate with other applications – including those of competitors – i.e., exchange data without restrictions. The practical benefits of an IIoT platform can be most easily seen by comparing it with its counterpart from the 1990s, the Manufacturing Execution System (MES).

Today, users of an IIoT platform can analyze operational data via open interfaces with any proprietary or free application available on the market. Past downtime reasons can be examined for trends for individual workstations or materials to obtain reliable forecasts of the expected processing time of personalized orders and operations for the future. State-of-the-art techniques in the field of big data analysis thus provide the data basis for realistically detailed order planning that is stable over a more extended period. The planning result for the respective planning horizon can be viewed in a planning table, modified if necessary, and released. The planner does not spend his time in front of the planning board but is alerted if unexpected delays require his intervention. Deadline overruns can be reliably predicted with a lead time of weeks. The planner thus has enough time to anticipate impending delays. He or she only has to confirm the optimization proposed in the planning board.

IIoT versus MES

With the introduction of machine and production data acquisition (MDE/BDE), manufacturing companies generally pursue the goal of making the data acquired in production available to all applications within the production plant. This is not the case with a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). A characteristic feature of MES is the implementation of data collection systems (PDC, SFDC) and the applications operating on them within a monolithic system, the MES. In this way, third-party systems are denied access to the data recorded in production.

As a result, the data recorded in the MES is worthless for the manufacturing company in any other use than within the monolithic system. This results in complete dependence on the respective MES system house. This is because almost all IT applications in the production area operate on data from production. These include applications in the areas of detailed order planning, production control, personnel deployment planning, tool management, or systems for quality management. In this respect, only the solutions offered by the respective MES system house are available to the manufacturing company.

Through privileged access to the data recorded in the MES, the MES system house protects its in-house applications from the competition with best-in-class products available on the market. However, this comes at a high cost since current and future cutting-edge technology in the field of smart manufacturing cannot be used. The complete dependence on the manufacturer results in an enormous investment risk for the manufacturing company, combined with high transaction costs.

IIoT Platforms dissolve Manufacturer Dependency

IIoT platforms were designed to resolve the vendor dependency associated with the MES. An integration platform guarantees unrestricted access to the data recorded in production. To achieve this, a strict separation between the acquisition systems of the IIoT platform and the applications operating on it is essential. The mutual exchange of data between all system constituents takes place via openly documented web services based on common Internet technologies (Open API).

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