The following article emerged from a discussion with Christopher Ganz, Group Vice President Service R&D at ABB, where he answered questions concerning the positioning of ABB with regard to “Industrie 4.0,” the “Internet of Things” and much more. For ABB, both trends are just part of what the Company is aiming at with existing technologies. More interesting, however, is what can already be reported regarding practical examples. ABB has not only a vision – the company delivers on it.
More than IoTS and Industrie 4.0
Professionals, politicians and the media have spent a great deal of time discussing the big trends that are massively changing business, industry and society – and that will transform these even more dramatically in the future. The key driver in this context – Industrie 4.0 – originated in Germany. Based on a strategy recommendation from the German Academy of Technical Sciences (Acatech), the Federal Government has made Industrie 4.0 a core element in its high-tech strategy. The other catch phrase, the Internet of Things and Services (IoTS), originated in the USA. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), with its international character, was founded in the USA last year to drive de facto standards. ABB is an active member of both platforms.
With the Industrie 4.0 platform, which will in future operate under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Economics and no longer under those of the BITKOM, VDMA und ZVEI associations, ABB has been involved from the outset and expressly supports its activities. In an interview with the German-language “Markt & Technik” periodical Ganz said at the end of March “this platform has carried out valuable work in recent years that has led to a lively discussion in Germany between companies and industry associations, making the subject accessible to a broad swath of the public.” Nonetheless, he does see limitations that should not apply to ABB: From his perspective, the vision of Industrie 4.0 is too strongly focused on optimizing automation of manufacturing. The services and the people at the heart of ABB’s efforts have up until now only played a secondary role in Industrie 4.0.
ABB is also intensively involved in the Industrial Internet Consortium because it regards the requisite standards for the use of an industrial Internet as being essential. Here also, however, ABB observes that while important aspects are taken into account, this is not all-encompassing since the focus here is also not on the human being – which, from ABB’s perspective, it should be.
IoTSP: Consistent further development of the Industrial Intranet
Since both of the trends mentioned above are already being discussed, it’s kicked off debate over whether this transformation is actually an industrial revolution or simply a new evolutionary step. For ABB, the answer is clear-cut: For the last 10 years, the company has been pursuing a strategy in which use of the Industrial Intranet represents a cornerstone. From ABB’s perspective, further development of this technology into an Industrial Internet represents only the next logical step in an evolution that has long been recognized and pursued.
Sensors and electronics, computer technology and software have been embedded into industrial products and their production methods for decades. The broad field of the discrete manufacturing industries, the energy sector and plant operators – the most important ABB customers – are no exception. What is new, however, and where the industry must concentrate its efforts into finding a solution, is stepping outside the secure and reliable Intranet into the realm of the open Internet, which is by no means as secure and reliable.
Christopher Ganz: “An Industrial Internet is only of interest to the user when we can guarantee this security and reliability. But when realizing this, we can make use of the many years of experience that we and our customers have gained with the existing technologies. We, and in equal measure our customers, do not have to invent something new or throw anything away.”
Right: New ways to improve remote diagnosis and maintenance, which can reduce the costly deployment of service personnel on offshore installations. Photo: ABB Asea Brown Boveri Ltd
With regards to the question as to what customers can likely expect from the new extended possibilities, ABB feels it is on solid ground. That’s because they revolve around optimizing and improving the services that ABB already offers. While it is true that new services will emerge that until now have not been possible, Ganz predicts these will not revolutionize industry to the extent predicted by some. The fact is, there are already many practical examples from which both manufacturers and customers can learn.
Above all, however, industry will not turn into something in which people become unnecessary or less important. Far from it, ABB envisions their roles actually becoming more significant. The smarter products, machines and systems become, the more people must be in a position that allows them to better handle, control and steer these technologies. For ABB, the development and dissemination of best practices is therefore an important component in the strategy. The example of interdisciplinary qualifications, including those promoted by the German Federal Government, also receives full support from ABB.
Christopher Ganz also perceives people being at the vanguard when it comes to developing and supplying new services. Industry is not concerned with apps such Facebook or Amazon, the subject is all about transferring a company’s knowhow concerning machines, systems and processes to its customers. Ganz notes that “advice is at the core of any good service and this cannot be provided by a machine.”
Closer interaction between Service and Development
A company’s service department, which in the past has always considered the best solution for the customer to be its primary objective, is the most important stimulus for future services. It has a direct line to the customer and knows the purpose of the machines, drives, motors and control systems, where difficulties could arise and where the plant operator or even a ship’s captain would like to see improvements. For this reason ABB has in recent years put emphasis on better inclusion of the service organization into the research and development processes. This has proved very helpful and internally has led to all those involved developing a better appreciation of how important input from service is for research and development.
Left: Man remains in the Internet of Things, Services and People indispensable as planners and decision-makers with a more detailed and comprehensive view of complex manufacturing processes than ever before. Photo: ABB Asea Brown Boveri Ltd
Are there any industries or particular sizes of companies that have a particularly high priority for a conversion to new methods and processes? The answer is actually no, the exception being where the possibilities offered by the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) offer exceptionally large advantages or where machines and plants are far away from the manufacturer. Examples abound, ranging from a drilling rig on the high seas and equipment on a container ship to a plant located somewhere in the desert. Here, a Norwegian specialist located thousands of kilometers away can impart his knowledge concerning the new technology to those on site who require assistance, while that specialist’s physical presence is no longer absolutely necessary – as we shall subsequently see through several examples. Generally speaking, it’s the experiences of those responsible on the customer side that sooner or later lead to the adoption of more modern technologies.
Cloud and big data extend the resources
Christopher Ganz sees two features of recent technological development that play a major role with regard to IoTSP, namely the “cloud” and the emerging opportunities to rapidly analyze large volumes of data. However, these features, in and of themselves, do not necessarily represent progress for people. For industry in particular, it depends on how these technologies are deployed.
Who does the data belong to? In the consumer world, this appears to have already been decided – it is those who claim this data and who can make money from it. But industry operates according to different rules. As Ganz notes, “we are convinced that the customer – the user of our machines, drives or robots - is the owner of the data captured or generated with our products. The exception here is any data that concerns our own intellectual property, which includes the internal behavior of a device. In the end, however, it is the customers who makes the decision as to what we can and should do with the data from their devices.”
In industry, Big Data and the cloud are used differently than in other sectors. As Ganz observes “there is a lot of data that we don’t even have to collect because we know exactly what our motors or drives do, how they do it and what happens when they are doing it. When we employ a Big Data solution, it is done on the basis of this comprehensive know-how. And of course it makes sense to bring together data from a collection of 5,000 robots spread across the world, as we are doing in the remote service center in Bangalore with the agreement of the customer. Aided by our expert knowledge, we can develop service offerings from this data that bring the customer greater reliability and predictive assistance. Naturally, from this data we can also draw conclusions regarding the further development and improvement of products.”
The Internet of Things, Services and People in practice
In April 2015, ABB showed several practical examples at the Hanover trade show that illustrate the differing approaches to the ongoing development of automation.
Smart faultfinding and commissioning of frequency converters per smartphone
Both of the new apps – Drivetune and Drivebase – that ABB has brought to market in the App Store for Apple, Google play and Windows Store smartphone platforms are typical examples of the fact that the complete system does not have to be “intelligent” and that a virtual device is not absolutely necessary in order to be able to use the Industrial Internet. Drivetune offers a wireless connection to frequency converters and is intended to help to commission and set up a system’s drives, thus obviating the need for the human to be exposed to dangerous or difficult-to-access places since the drive’s activity – and what must be done – can be seen on the smartphone. Drivebase is an app that permits instant access to a frequency converter’s data via its dynamically generated QR-code. Maintenance manuals no longer have to be used to find and remedy faults.
Mobile Field Information Manager
Device configuration, diagnosis and maintenance of field devices are automation tasks that up until now could not be solved in an integrated manner. The release of the FDI (Field Device Integration) specification, however, has given all the participating organizations a basis to accomplish this. At the Hanover trade fair, ABB showed the first tool to implement this standard. The Field Information Manager (FIM) permits installation and connecting up of devices for online access with around 15 clicks in just three minutes, far shorter than the 30 and 90 minutes required previously. In addition, the user is not limited to a desktop PC, server or a laptop because FIM can be installed on a Windows tablet and supports the necessary touch navigation. All important device information can be accessed with a single click. Instead of having to search for the right function in context menus or menu trees, the user now has the power to do this intuitively at his or her fingertips.
ABB is therefore counting on standardization and Internet-based software to make life easier for the customer even if no ABB devices are involved. These are services that are only now becoming possible due to the Internet of Things, Services and People.
According to Ganz, “these things are possible today. We depend on solutions like this that can be deployed and utilized very quickly. Filming a faulty device with a smartphone while simultaneously calling an expert somewhere in the world who can view the recording and carry out a remote diagnosis that helps to both remedy the fault and put the device back into operation – for me that’s IoTSP.”
YuMi – a new kind of robot
Right: With YuMi automation possibilities are fundamentally extended in industrial processes, which is particularly important for the electronics industry. A new chapter for robots as employees opens with YuMi.
At the Hanover fair, ABB also presented YuMi (you and me), the world’s first dual-arm robot that can work safely together with people without having to be separated from them by a safety cage. Its arms are padded to minimize any hazard and its movements are slower than those of traditional industrial robots, with the carrying capacity limited to 500 grams. Decision-makers in the electronics industry, for example, are interested in deploying YuMi to assume tasks including small-parts assembly, work that in the long term is too monotonous for a person and which can’t be repeated by a person with consistent quality and precision.
The list of available examples utilizing the Internet of Things, Services and People continues to grow and anyone interested should keep an eye on the ABB homepage to stay up-to-date. This is certainly one vision that is being realized completely openly.