Data is the engine: Powering a smart manufacturing edge appliance

By and Andreas Zerfas | 2 minute read | May 18, 2021

GEC plant

Data is the engine that will drive adoption of Industry 4.0, an industrial revolution for automating production and producing better products. Yet several factors prevent manufacturers from fully exploiting operational data.

Traditional operational technology (OT) architectures tend to be monolithic and difficult to upgrade. And although today’s production machines generate terabyte-class volumes of IoT sensor data, it often remains siloed in non-standard formats. In addition, analytical insights require OT to be integrated with IT systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product lifecycle management. Manufacturers may lack personnel for this work.

Another challenge is where to process the data. Enterprises typically favor central processing in a data center or the cloud. But because insights into production are needed instantly, central processing adds latency. By the time OT data is sent and analyzed, its usefulness could have expired.

A managed edge appliance for industrial analytics

These issues led our company, German Edge Cloud (GEC), to collaborate with IBM on a solution. Together, we developed ONCITE, an open, industrial edge appliance powered by AI analytics and the hybrid cloud. GEC contributed virtual factory technology and IBM helped integrate OT with IT and create the hybrid cloud architecture.

Deployed in the plant at the network edge to avoid latency, ONCITE combines memory, processing, storage, software and networking—all managed by GEC. Thus, it delivers everything manufacturers need to optimize production without having to become expert in the underlying technology. The appliance runs in concert with the OT environment, so there’s no need to “rip and replace” heritage systems.

GEC’s virtual factory software includes AI analytics, smart manufacturing operations management, a manufacturing execution system, an industrial IoT framework, and visual inspection. The suite supports the European Union’s emerging GAIA-X standard for information security and data sovereignty.

Hybrid cloud and AI—the future of enterprise IT

IBM’s plant service bus integrates ERP and other enterprise applications with IoT sensor readings and production systems. The Red Hat OpenShift container platform powers the hybrid cloud architecture.

OpenShift’s cloud-native capabilities make it easy to add cloud services. The platform’s container orchestration is useful as well, letting users run analytical workloads wherever is most efficient, whether locally, in the data center or in the cloud. The cloud can also link appliances deployed at different factories to create an enterprise-wide system for managing production and the supply chain.

An advance on the way to Industry 4.0

ONCITE recently proved itself at GEC’s sister company Rittal GmbH & Co., a manufacturer of electrical and IT enclosures. Rittal uses our edge appliance to manage 250 networked production machines that generate up to 18 terabytes of data each day.

After combining real-time IoT data from factory stations with product information from the SAP ERP system, ONCITE analyzes the data in near-real time. As a result, managers can quickly visualize the status of production and gain insights into how to improve.

Bringing AI, application integration and the hybrid cloud into their plants can help Rittal and other producers become smarter manufacturers. It’s an important step toward fulfilling the promise of Industry 4.0. 

Listen to Bernd Kremer and Andreas Serfas discuss Industry 4.0 technology