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industrial internet collaboration bridge ocean Source: fotolia/ultrakreativ

The Industrial Internet is important. New technologies and new business opportunities will disrupt industries on many levels – everybody seems to agree upon that. Two organizations have dominated the headlines in this space: the Plattform Industrie 4.0, with its strong roots in the manufacturing industry, and the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), with its more cross-domain-oriented approach.

Shading light on the Industrial Internet debate

In the past year and a half, a lot has been said about how these two approaches relate to each other. By the middle of 2015, the discussion became heated because technical people were frustrated that the discussion was not based on solid, technical facts. More light than heat was required! By then, an increasing number of companies were active in both communities as well; it was becoming even more critical to understand the technical issues and reduce market confusion.

By the fall, people from companies involved in both organizations decided to cut through the fog and get to the bottom of it. Our plan was to bring together a handful of technical people from both groups to compare notes and see if common ground could be found. Switzerland was jokingly chosen as a neutral place, and representatives from Bosch, Cisco, IIC, Pepperl + Fuchs, SAP, Siemens, Steinbeis Institute, and ThingsWise attended an informal hands-on meeting in Zurich just to discuss technical issues.

Understanding different concepts of Reference Architectures

As is typical for technical people, after a short exchange about how each organization works, an open technical discussion began. Colleagues from Plattform Industrie 4.0 explained details about their Reference Architecture Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0), the related standards, and what an Industrie 4.0 component looks like. They see the component as a shell to connect industrial things to the internet. They explained the assembly hierarchy levels common in manufacturing, which are different from, say, process control or telecommunications.

Colleagues from the IIC outlined the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) with a focus on its four viewpoints (business, usage, functional, and implementation – adopted from ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010:2011), key system characteristics and their assurance (especially safety, security, and resilience), and the several cross-cutting concerns (such as connectivity, data management, industrial analytics, and interoperability).

We began looking at the technical issues. RAMI 4.0 focuses on manufacturing in depth; IIRA crosses multiple application domains. Industry as a whole needs to be able to work across domains, including the manufactured goods domain. As a concrete example, an automobile containing multiple manufactured components needs to work together as a single unit (all manufacturing so far). But when it’s parked at home to charge its batteries overnight, it needs to be able to connect to the smart grid. Clearly, these domains must interoperate. Equally, on the road, the connected car has to be able to talk to other cars, traffic lights, the road, and so on. Again, these domains need to work together, even though specialized manufacturing approaches were needed to create the car in the first place.

Infographic illustrating the focus points of IIC and Industry 4.0.
The main focus of IIC and I4.0

First achievement: Finding a common ground for standards and architectures

Then we pushed a little further. How exactly would that happen? We noted right away that some terminology was the same (the business viewpoint, for example), while others that had different terms (connectivity vs. communication, for instance) yet appeared to be the same thing. We realized it would take time and real work to sift through the definitions and content to determine which terms were the same and which were different. Even more likely is that terms are mostly the same, with differences around the edges.

There are broader issues, too. Should the concept behind the Industrie 4.0 component be explicit in the IIRA? Should Industrie 4.0 break apart the functional viewpoint to the level of detail that is present in the IIRA? Obviously, answers to those questions demand a much deeper common understanding. There was a strong willingness and desire to work together to reduce arbitrary differences and fragmentation.

Interoperability means that we must influence global standards. It would be inefficient for both organizations to drive the same needs into the same standardization organizations. And it would be self-defeating if we were to drive different requirements into those organizations. We concluded we should formulate requirements together for standardization bodies.

That said, we also realized a merger of the two architectures was both impractical and undesirable. Each domain in the Industrial Internet has its own special needs. Industrie 4.0 focuses on manufacturing; IIC is concerned with integration across domains.

Because the two approaches are complementary and can enhance each other, we agreed that we should recommend to our respective boards that we extend our cooperation. We should start a regular technical exchange, identify mappings, differences, and enhancements on both sides, discuss common testing, and of course work together for the benefit of interoperability of systems from the different domains.

What’s next: keep up the discussion!

Our first meeting was a great pleasure as we came to understand the other’s point of view more clearly. When technical people meet, they can make good headway and come up with specific proposals to work together. This input has been an important part of how we came to this announcement. We are looking forward to working on this!

More on Industry 4.0

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Our author David Park explains how to enhance product quality in the Industrial IoT era.