SAP: Commercializing The Connection Of The Digital Twins
Munich, November 19, 2018
(This article was based on a discussion with Thomas Ohnemus, responsible for Solution Marketing PLM, Manufacturing, EAM, Sustainability and 3D Visualization at SAP.) All pictures: source SAP)
In 2017, SAP launched Leonardo. An initial offering for connecting device data with business processes has become a platform that is now addressing ten industries with solutions to accelerate digital transformation. The focus is on the digital twins of the physical world of products and plants. IoT is one of the important aspects, but not the umbrella theme. SAP Leonardo has become a brand in the digital platform economy: a special way to accompany customers in their transformation.
Design Thinking is a proven approach since the 1990s that generalizes and makes the interdisciplinary search for the right idea and the common, step-by-step approach to the best solution, as known from industrial design, into the general principle of innovation. SAP is one of the companies that have been developing their own offerings using this approach for some time. With Leonardo, SAP goes a step further and involves customers in order to work with them to find their right solutions for digitalization using the same procedure.
The innovations have to be fast, they have to hit the target in an almost completely individualized product world, and SAP wants to provide companies with methodology, technology and an already quite extensive portfolio of ready-to-use solutions.
The main part, however, the customers have to manage themselves with this help: namely, the digital twins, on which the exploitation of real-time data from the operation of the plant or the use of a device can only work, they must define themselves and provide for connection. As an optimal platform, SAP offers them Leonardo. And assumes that these digital twins are even the deciding factor for the upcoming transformation. And that the offer from SAP makes the big difference to all other platforms.
The building blocks of the digital twin
Linking sensor-equipped products, machinery and plants, the Internet of Things, is just one of the prerequisites for the new businesses that make it possible. And it only looks at that part of a life cycle of product or plant that makes up the operation. But before it comes to this part of life, the product has already come a long way, for example, from the creation of a single assembly of a plant over all value creation processes, assembly with components from other manufacturers and partners to the complete system and its commissioning. For all these parts of the life cycle, there are digital twins, and only from their connection, the opportunities for new business models arise.
Many are currently talking about the digital twin, but what does it mean? SAP defines it like this:
"A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object in real time. By representing the critical physical characteristics and the business context of an object, from the idea through design, development, manufacturing, maintenance and service to the end of its use, the digital twin delivers real-time information about its configuration, its constitution and status, but also historical data that can be accessed from various sources."
So there is not one single digital twin, for example, for a plant, not just one form of presentation, but many. SAP sees the greatest challenge for its customers as being to connect these many digital twins, in form and text, in 2D and 3D, in image and sound, from the idea to the final shutdown. And that only works if they are the core of data management right from the start. Four important areas can be identified in which the digital twins take shape and fill themselves with content.
The first is the digital definition of the single part or assembly, the structure and geometry, function and control, but also the price and the framework under which values are created. Of course, including the interfaces and standards through which all this information can be accessed and provided.
To do so, SAP's open, cloud-based platform offers all the possibilities of integrating this data in order to make it available on the Internet of Things and to be available where it is needed for a particular process. Leonardo's tools range from linking the object to incorporating its pre-calculation (preview) and machine learning data, as well as connectivity to future apps.
The second area concerns what is often referred to as the product creation process. The object goes through a series of processes in the enterprise, from engineering to assembly, where its digital twin constantly adds new data. CAD, CAM, PLM, ERP or MES are just a few acronyms for the many systems that are used here and that contribute their part to the digital thread or create a new digital twin for a specific section or process.
SAP does not have all these systems, and no customer will manage all of these process steps with tools from a single vendor. But SAP has the ability to integrate all the data from all of these systems, and has been familiar with it for many decades, because also for the SAP-driven processes in many companies, these data have always been needed in one form or another.
In the third step, the object and its digital twins meet with additions by other components and assemblies that are supplied, for example, from other companies. They will also have their digital twins and data about themselves, their condition, their configuration and more. And, of course, about the conditions of subcontracting, from where they are delivered at what price and under what conditions. Now it's about bringing this data together and continuing to spin the web of digital twins.
SAP is also right here in the action. A whole range of tools deals with the relationship between manufacturer and supply chain under the generic term supply chain management. A pretty good prerequisite for also connecting the digital twins of the various partners of the connected value creation.
Finally, in the fourth step, the assemblies and parts, the controls and software components come together and become the overall system for example of a plant, which is then put into operation at the customer or plant operator. It is then connected with the systems of the city administration, the power generator, the dealer. Maybe the end product is a car or a fast train, and it's about connecting with traffic guidance systems, weather stations or any monitors in the country.
Here the real change is most clearly on the agenda. Only if the data of the digital twins for all these connected systems can also be connected can new business models be developed from this overall system. SAP has been at this level since the first projects on Industry 4.0, for example in the Port of Hamburg, and has itself already connected extensively with other players such as T-Systems, Microsoft, Google and many others whose special tools and infrastructures are just as needed like the process- and business know-how that is SAP's core competency.
The technologies of SAP Leonardo
In recent years, SAP has driven forward its own developments as well as making numerous acquisitions that today provide a whole bunch of technologies that are not available on other platforms in this combination. But what is currently in general becoming clear is also true here: A cloud platform always captivates first with the openness to the customer to choose the partners that seem most suitable for the respective sub-task. That's why Leonardo is based on a multi-cloud infrastructure. In addition to SAP, Google CloudPlatform, Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services can also be used as the basis for a project.
The next technology layer concerns the administration and management of the data, which is now a whole new challenge, such as the networking of tons of sensors. Here SAP offers a number of its own strengths, which by the way are likely also used on other platforms. The most important component is SAP HANA, which has the ability to provide real-time data analysis through in-memory computing. Because connected, intelligent devices and things of all kinds - that means in any case, the analysis of big data in the form of huge amounts of data of all kinds in a split second. And as with the bottom layer, the customer also has the opportunity to combine special solutions from other providers.
The core of Leonardo is the SAP Cloud Platform as the third layer on which the actual solutions are running. And here, SAP differs fundamentally from its competitors, because in addition to big data analytics, real-time processing and data management, the ultimate goal is the evaluation of the data in order to make concrete, very specific business with customers and users.
Microservices are miniature building blocks that can be used to build small apps without having to program them yourself. In a sense, it is a library of elements for assembling applications, as formerly used in a building set of components or assemblies for a mechanical product. Open APIs are the nuts and bolts, if you want to run your own applications on a platform today. And the ability to easily integrate both the already available and the newly added apps, making it as easy for the user to use as if it were hand-knitted just for him, is also an advantage of this platform
In the near future, the most important part of the technology portfolio is machine learning. A variety of tools help industrial users to equip their products, machines and plants with capabilities that, through their meaningful analysis and connection with other equally valuable data, transform the data into the intelligence that product manufacturers are expected to deliver today.
The robot should not only master its welding or assembly function, it should learn from the knowledge of environmental conditions, the recognition of the movements of a person using it, the knowledge of its own energy consumption and need. He should behave in such a way that his function and thus his benefit for the customer as well as for the individual operator or people working with him grows during the work instead of weakening.
SAP provides customers with the full range of components they need to incorporate any kind of learning capability into their own products and processes. This part is called SAP Leonardo Machine Learning Foundation. It should make the integration and use of machine learning extremely easy for the customer.
At the very beginning, the entire industry is in the use of such technologies. Turning data into information, not just knowing it but making it the basis of autonomous decisions and actions, will be the key competitive advantage over the coming years. The developers at SAP are always on the verge of testing the latest technological developments for their industrial and economic usability and fitting them into their portfolio.
The latest technology that has made headlines with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and its rapid up- and downswing in 2017 is the blockchain. Here, elements in the network automatically develop according to certain algorithms and rules that can be exchanged and processed with high control of the active participants. SAP is currently working with a number of customers and project partners to examine the underlying technology for its use in the context of manufacturing companies and plant operators.
With or without industrial accelerator
For a number of years, those responsible have heard at all conferences that the biggest problem of our times is the ever-increasing complexity. This is all the more true with the increasing digitalization and connectivity. No company finds it easy today to identify the most appropriate next step in digital transformation and then succeed.
In recent decades, it has been relatively easy to understand which IT systems were the best on the market, whose purchase, installation and customization provided the surest way to the company's success. But with the Internet of Things and the businesses in the cloud and in platform networks the world has changed dramatically again.
Which platform is the right one for which purpose? Which tools from which providers can best be combined for which task? How do I get to the most effective apps and applications that I can use to convince my clients over all other providers? Here a company can invest a lot of time with a considerable team of specialists. Without being sure that it has really included all facets of even the marketable possibilities in his reflections.
So SAP does not put a list of the hundreds and thousands of tools and apps on the table for customers who want to go their own way - or part of that path - but let them choose the one that suits them best. Leonardo offers two paths which a partner can choose to reach his solution.
One is the so-called "accelerator path". SAP has already developed ten Leonardo Innovation Kids for dedicated industries and will add more over the next few months. The top ten are retail, consumer goods, manufacturing, chemicals, transportation and traffic, energy, sports and entertainment, life sciences, oil and gas, mining. With the accelerators, customers will somehow be offered pre-selections in these areas. The most important technology components for each sector are put together in such a way that they allow the application in the shortest possible time for the most suitable applications.
The beginning of this path is a one-day workshop to get to know the methodology of Design Thinking. It will be followed by one to two weeks to build and test prototypes together with SAP specialists. Only at the end of this common entry-level job may be a contract based on which in 6 to 8 weeks the functionality arises, with which the customer can go to the market.
The second path follows the principles of open innovation. Here, too, the beginning is the Design Thinking Workshop. But with the total openness of goal, functionality and application scenario, 2 to 4 weeks are set for the construction of the prototype, for the completion 8 to 10 weeks. But despite the openness of the path, with the industry-specific accelerators and the SAP solution packaging package, the 8 to 10 weeks to complete the solution are of course extremely fast. But just as fast, as the customer needs it in the industry of whatever kind, because his customers expect the same speed from him.
From thinking to action
Things become intelligent and seem to start thinking. The things and machines, the production lines and chemical process plants, the factories and warehouses, the offices and the street. Everything seems to think more and more. And the people in the boardrooms have learned at an unprecedented rate in recent years to think about how to turn this development into new business models for their own business
The strategy that SAP follows says: it's time to turn this kind of thinking into action just as quickly. Let the thoughts be followed by decisions. Let the decisions be followed very quickly by the first steps. Because it has long been rumored: If the current leader does not, someone else will soon face him with a corresponding model in the market.
So there's Leonardo and the SAP Cloud platform, there are accelerators for a whole bunch of important industries, and there's a team of experienced developers and experts at SAP. And yet, every business must choose its own path, design and develop its own strategy, and define its steps to get started and change. Because almost everything is possible.
Examples? Japanese Hakusan, developed a medium-sized smartphones app designed to predict earthquakes in fractions of a second through accurate, thousand-fold, automated analysis of device movement. The logistics company ARI has made all its fleet management intelligent with Leonardo. A plant operator, who uses his plant so much better with Leonardo and has achieved so many avoided stoppages that it has already earned millions. – The range of possibilities is great. Now it's about using them.