Johannes Diemer, Industry 4.0 consultant at DXC Technology, talks to Thrive editor, Helen Beckett, about the roles of partnerships, ecosystems and open federated platforms in future manufacturing. DXC is a protagonist in both arenas with its Industry 4.0 platform and a trio of industry alliances; both proving to be mutually beneficial if not inter-dependent, as the Q&A highlights.

Thrive: How do alliances help forge ecosystems and drive Industry 4.0?

JD: DXC recognises the critical role of ecosystems in Industry 4.0 and has entered into a number of strategic alliances in order to create proof points, working prototypes and use cases for smart, connected manufacturing. Our partners include the world renowned research facility, Fraunhofer Institute with whom we have created an open federated platform, and a secure manufacturing market place, called the Virtual Fort Knox (VFK).

Our other key research and ecosystem partners include ARENA2036, a closed consortium that is investigating new materials, future production models and business processes for the automobile industry. Industrial Data Space is a third significant partner for DXC, and this open initiative, also instigated by Fraunhofer, is devoted to building data sovereignty into an open world of ecosystems.

Thrive: What is the story behind the Fraunhofer-DXC partnership?

JD: The Fraunhofer Institute of Engineering, Manufacturing and Automation (IPA) is DXC’s primary partner for idea generation and new use cases in Industry 4.0. We use their capabilities for proof-of-concept work. When I started to work on new ideas for manufacturing in 2011 at the start of Industry 4.0, and at that time for HP, I surveyed possible research partners.  IPA stood out as highly engaged in the new concepts for automation and production including the usage of apps for production. The head of Fraunhofer Institute IPA invited HP (now DXC) to engage in a new kind of research in Germany, called high-performance cluster, which are consortia of industry and science driving large-scale research activities.

We tendered a proposal for using applications in a production environment (Apps@Production) – at that time a pretty new idea – and received state funding to develop the platform (the future VFK) from Baden-Württemberg, the regional hub of German manufacturing. We worked very closely together and the output is a reference model for a new, secure ICT platform for manufacturing companies, which is the prototype for the VFK. Aside from developing the technology, we also did research on organisational and business aspects, as well as on security function. It’s been a huge investment which gives us a strong lead in this field.

Thrive: What innovations have Fraunhofer IPA and DXC achieved together?

JD: A critical issue where we have achieved breakthrough is the question of what role trust and acceptance would play in the establishment of a federated manufacturing platform. We have built an ecosystem secure enough to reassure and attract potential users who are asking questions such as: ”Why should I use the platform Virtual Fort Knox?” and “Is my commercial knowledge and IP sufficiently protected within the framework of cooperation?”

These are the typical questions that need to be satisfied not only in a technically sound manner but also answered taking into account socio-emotional aspects. Achieving acceptance calls for a clear value proposition for each participant, a convincing security approach including the organisational set-up and finally, trust. We call it the triangle of acceptance, and trust is an essential third factor, built upon transparency and communication, which transfers the other two values.

Additionally, we discovered active participation is a major aspect of trust: being engaged and having the benefit of membership will ensure the experience to have influence.  This is why we recommend that platform should be operated by collaborative approaches.

Thrive: What did you learn from the partnership?

JD: First of all, when I started to engage in the production environment I had to learn that people from the shop floor focussed on Operation Technology use a completely different language (and by the way, the language of system engineers and automation experts also differs). Anyhow, the partnership with IPA helped overcome those gaps of understanding caused by language differences. Further, I learnt how important it is to combine domain expertise. This sharing was very fruitful and the fusion enabled a completely different way thinking about how to solve manufacturing problems.

We are able to optimise multiple viewpoints by focussing on the end application and this, in turn, keeps the ecosystem focussed. Different points of view from OT, which thinks in terms of production, are combined with the IT way of thinking, which is business-related and oriented to the customer relationship. And of course it’s a trusted relationship. We have taken a big step forward and our reputation is strengthening: we are collecting insights and our knowledge hub is gaining momentum.

Thrive: What is the ARENA2036 alliance?

JD: ARENA2036 is a closed consortium involving Fraunhofer IPA, Daimler and suppliers majoring in material sciences and manufacturing. The consortium was founded by German car manufacturer Daimler who wanted to investigate the future of motor manufacturing. The belief at the time when the initial proposal was submitted was that automobile production would change completely. Two aspects in particular concerned Daimler:

  1. Materials would change, with composite technologies replacing metal production
  2. Production would not be about sequential production but about mobility, and that would require flexible and adaptive production techniques and models. Already the production line has evolved into production islands and products can be routed different ways through different stations of production.

DXC was invited to join in order to contribute to research around flexible production. The consortium is doing highly confidential research and membership of ARENA2036 provides DXC with access to future product ideas and ecosystems of the “Boschs, Siemens, Festos” and others.

Thrive: What other benefits does the consortia bring?

JD: ARENA2036 is the optimal platform for continuously enhancing thought leadership for DXC’s Industrie 4.0 projects. Other members include heavyweights such as Bosch, Siemens, Kuka, Pilz and Faro and our interactions with this cohort have already introduced a new kind of thinking into our work with customers. By introducing the idea of value proposition into production line and processes, we can help manufacturers and our partners understand how to attain optimal impact.

A secondary motivation for DXC’s membership of the alliance is to gain access to new ideas and an ecosystem, which as an integrator will allow us to come up with new end-to-end solutions for the benefit of our customers.

Thrive: What is Industrial Data Space (IDS)?

JD: As processes, products and services become richer in digital content, creating innovation and new business models, the digital cooperation and exchange between value chain partners must be safe, trusted and secure. Specifically, as data is exchanged between the three domains of vertical integration, product lifecycles and horizontal supply chains, data sovereignty must be maintained. Additionally, intellectual property of the users of this data must be protected.

In order to create and guarantee these conditions, twelve German Fraunhofer Institutes started a three-year “Industrial Data Space Research Project”, funded by the German government with the following goals:

  • Design a reference architecture model for the Industrial Data Space
  • Pilot the reference architecture model in selected use cases

Thrive: Why is data sovereignty critical in Industry 4.0?

JD: Securely exchanging data while ensuring data of record maintains its sovereignty is necessary to realise the potential of Industry 4.0, but from the legal point of view, this has not yet been solved. In law, data has ownership and thus copyright once it is used. But for the purposes of Industry 4.0, there is a requirement to protect data in a pre-competitive scenario while it is being exchanged during value creation.

The invention of IDS is to protect data ownership and copyright at the communication layer of the infrastructure in context-sensitive data containers:  These are configured with the knowledge and the technology to ensure they only accessed by legitimate users with the correct privileges. the IDS initiative is market agnostic and can be applied to healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, etc.

Thrive: How is DXC involved in IDS?

JD: DXC was invited to join IDS because of our innovation track record and work in creating the open federated platform for Industry 4.0.  At the outset there was no alignment between Industry 4.0 and IDS; now we are aligning the two as it makes sense to incorporate the concept of sovereign data containers and ensure these follow the rules of the security requirement described in the federated system.

Within Industry 4.0 we talk about components or administrative shells that encapsulate devices, which provide all the required content needed to describe an object, whether a sensor, contract or any kind of software.  It made sense to engage with IDS because we can bring the relevant ecosystems together in order to get political agreement between the various stakeholders. IDS also provides the description of how a secure container works, plus a lot of use cases.

Thrive: What role does DXC play in Industry 4.0 thought leadership?

JD: For DXC, with its long and proud heritage in engineering and manufacturing, it makes complete sense to synchronise our Industry 4.0 efforts in coalition with ARENA2036, Fraunhofer, IDS and others. Being part of broad thought leadership, by contributing ideas and participating in ecosystems, means we are helping shape the future of manufacturing and converting this vision into reality.

I am on the steering body on Platform Industry 4.0, heading the working group on Research and Innovation, and also a member of the scientific advisory board. As standardisation processes for industrial digitisation change, Germany has decided to create an umbrella Standardization Council. This will coordinate the consensus-based standardisation of the OT world with the consortia-based efforts of the IT world. DXC is contributing to the related working groups and activities of the Standardization Council while I am participating in the steering board.

Johannes Diemer co-authored the “Implementation Recommendations for the Industry 4.0 Future Project” for the German federal government.