Why Manufacturers Need an IoT Operating System

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As manufacturers use more devices and software solutions to collect and process a growing amount of data, there’s a need to seamlessly integrate information into a unified operating system. Innovative technology companies are now working on digital operating systems that may someday bring complete compatibility to digital manufacturing.

Jagannath Rao, head of Data Driven Services at Siemens Digital Factory Division in the United States, spoke at the Siemens Innovation Day in Princeton, New Jersey, in late March. He said Siemens’ new MindSphere operating system interlinks physical products and production facilities with digital data with an open infrastructure based on SAP HANA. The operating system can enable customized apps to communicate with machinery on a data hosting platform that combines device management, plug-and-play connectivity, and visualized data management. Siemens is working with more than 30 partners who are using beta APIs to develop new applications on the platform.

“Our goal is, just like the iTunes of Apple, someday we want to have a very expansive industrial app store on top there, based on which many additional services could be generated,” Rao said.

MindSphere is one of several industrial operating platforms that OEMs are considering as an ecosystem to optimize the use of their existing assets while integrating new technologies. Predix, GE’s cloud-based industrial IoT platform, also is designed to link each stage of the value chain from production to maintenance. The Open Process Automation Forum, a working group within The Open Group, is aiming to develop a secure, standards-based process control architecture that can be used across multiple industries.

“ALL THESE VARIOUS PLATFORMS ARE CURRENTLY MORE OR LESS ISLANDS AND MUST MERGE TO CREATE CONTINENTS.”

Analysts describe the race for a digital IoT operating system as a “land grab.” Rainer Kallenbach, head of Bosch Software Solutions said companies “can’t do it alone” and will need to engage in more partnerships and agreements for interoperability. “All these various platforms are currently more or less islands and must merge to create continents,” said Kallenbach.

These operating systems not only will need to allow interoperability between devices and software solutions, but also will need to integrate information from legacy devices which were installed long before the concept of IoT developed. “Since no company can or will undergo an entire rip-and-replace process, the challenge lies in how to effectively upgrade industry’s automation and control equipment for use in IoT applications,” said David Greenfield, editor for Automation World.

Rao said there is a “huge installed base” of devices that don’t have connectivity built into them. Siemens’ MindConnect Nano now allows manufacturers to read and integrate data from non-Siemens industrial assets and pre-process it for transfer into MindSphere. Rao said when combined with new solutions, such an operating system can enable manufacturers to have more visibility into their equipment with detailed data on performance, service needs and life expectancy. This can allow them to better predict maintenance issues and extract longer use from these components. Other applications will allow manufacturers to more easily aggregate and use information on everything from warranties to customer service.

“This is an ever-evolving platform. It will get more and more of the ecosystem onto it, and we believe that the exploitation that we can do with it is going to be tremendous,” Rao said.

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Craig Guillot
Craig Guillot is a business writer based in New Orleans, La. His work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CNNMoney.com and CNBC.com. You can read more about his work at www.craigdguillot.com.

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