At first glance, it is merely a small, gray box in a factory hall. Beneath it is a long production line where workers fit bolts into threads or push metal parts into a lacquering plant. One of the workers has a tablet computer in his hand. On the screen they can see colorful circles, bar charts and boxes connected by arrows – all thanks to the small, gray box.
A key aspect of the fourth industrial revolution is the depiction and analysis of data that is collected during production. Industrie 4.0, the smart factory and the Internet of Things – these are concepts that concern the economy. These concepts refer to the intelligent networking of production-related components – be it screwdrivers, robots, machine tools or entire plants. Cloud computing and Big Data allow us to store and process enormous data sets and draw logical conclusions as a result. If we apply this to industrial production, this means: Machines and systems are divulging more and more data, historical knowledge and contextual information that can be visualized.
Transmitting, saving and preparing data
The data pertaining to the screwdriver, the robot or the machine tool are transmitted via the small, gray box, which is a Fog-Computing device, to the Cloud where they are stored. This is the interface between the real world and the digital world, between the world of humans and the world of machines – like a light switch that is neither part of a human nor a light bulb. End users, like the workers in the factory hall, can view these data which have been prepared in a user-friendly manner on their laptops, tablets or other terminals. The goal here: to make it possible to analyze one’s own production system or, in the event of a malfunction, provide a “remote service” whereby service technicians are able to access the machine in question from another location. This way, it is possible to respond to issues quickly. The scope for improvement will also become visible.
Personal apps set an example
The use of apps on personal smartphones serves as a model for these Cloud-based software platforms. In a similar way to apps, it should be possible to get to grips with them right from the start. The user is able to customize how information is presented on the tablet. There are virtually no restrictions on which data can be presented. The utilization of the machine, potential faults and the time window until servicing is due are but a few useful examples. And what happens with the data displayed?
Thanks to new technology such as improved sensor systems, it is now possible to collect and process a more diversified range of data in a more purposeful manner. What is making the difference here? It’s the knowledge of production processes and of mechatronics. The small, gray box is an indispensable assistant for transmitting and visualizing the data. However, the analysis of these data is even more important. This is the only way to deduce useful hypotheses from these data.