Manufacturers are interested in digital technology as a means to save money through operational efficiencies, and also to make money by being able to identify and participate in new revenue opportunities. While these ambitions seem simple, moving to the end-to-end automation of factory processes, and the horizontal value chains of suppliers and partners that yield these two returns is not always straightforward for incumbents.

DXC has partnered with the German Fraunhofer IPA Institute to create an open, trusted and federated Industry 4.0 platform, designed to simplify steps towards achieving end-to-end integration and automation, and participation in wider value networks.  With increasing numbers of manufacturers seeking I4.0 capabilities, Jacques Spee, DXC Industry 4.0 advisor, outlines in a Q&A with Thrive editor Helen Beckett, the role of a manufacturing platform.

Where are manufacturing customers in their Industry 4.0 thinking and plans?

For decision makers, Industry 4.0 is becoming more than a buzz word. Some are implementing first steps as part of their company’s strategy, not only in the factory but also in the logistics environment. Most advanced of all are the products divisions – grasping the fact that value resides less in products alone but more in the services that can be attached to them.

The entry point for Industry 4.0 is usually the business because it knows the benefit and the return, but IT is embedded in the solutions such as machine services over internet. IT will also have to keep oversight over solutions because they need to be integrated into the Enterprise IT architecture and private cloud-based industrial services.

Which aspect of Industry 4.0 is gaining traction fastest?

Making their end products smart and selling predictive maintenance for their products is where many customers are making the biggest investment. But they also realise that improving efficiency in factory operations and reducing expenses in the supply chain is another big opportunity. There is a slow but sure shift in seeing I4.0 as an opportunity in operations, and this is where a mature platform is needed to execute that strategy.

But the separation of smart product and operational efficiency can be an artificial distinction and both are part of the same, joined-up paradigm. A manufacturer may buy robotic technology, which is offered by the robot vendor as a smart product with attached services for remote monitoring. For the robot vendor, a smart product is at play, but it is an efficiency play for the manufacturer or factory owner.

 What are the impediments to manufacturers adopting Industry 4.0?

Manufacturers have a huge investment in legacy systems that are often proprietary and therefore not easily modified or upgraded.  Given the new paradigm of Industry 4.0, manufacturers do not know where to begin and are seeking qualified partners to lead and accompany them on their unique journey to new capabilities and opportunities.

They are also handicapped by a manufacturing mind set of ‘built here’: Whereas a consumer will happily buy a smart product, say a connected car, which comes with internet services capabilities, a manufacturer by contrast will often seek to rebuild from scratch. In the scenario of developing I4.0 IT capabilities, this approach would call for a huge outlay in software and infrastructure, industrial security and operations support.

What problem is posed by the separation of OT and IT?

Another major obstacle to successful I4.0 deployments is that people in Operational Technology (OT) and staff in Information Technology (IT) do not speak to each other, or understand each other. Now that these two separate worlds are connecting, there needs to be more and improved collaboration.

The challenge is for IT to understand OT and to allow it to get attached to enterprise IT, whether in the factories and warehouses or in the data centres of the company. IT is catching up in some areas but lagging behind in others, in which case the business starts buying its own technology that is not ready to be integrated into the enterprise landscape.

What is the DXC Technology proposition for Industry 4.0?

DXC’s Smart Connected Manufacturing proposition includes Industry 4.0 (I4.0) Platform, which is an open, trusted and federated platform for I4.0. Effectively, the platform enables manufacturers to quickly, easily and securely “plug and produce” equipment and services for the shop floor, integrate with manufacturing operations and planning systems, and collaborate with partners and suppliers in the wider manufacturing marketplace.

I4.0 Platform comes completely out of the box with use cases, blue prints, integration projects, operational offerings, and is enhanced continuously on behalf of customers. So instead of investing in a DIY version that may cost a lot, take a long time and not even work, customers using DXC Technology’s I4.0 Platform have a costed, reliable and secure I4.0 solution.

What is a use case for I4.0 Platform?

An example where I4.0 Platform would have huge benefits is in the integration of AGVs (automated guided vehicles) with warehouse management and ERP systems for flexible shop floor transport. A manufacturing business may develop a business case and opportunity for AGVs, but would have to calculate how much time and effort it takes to select and integrate it with relevant systems. It may take up to 2 years to have a fully operational and efficient solution.

In contrast, by using DXC’s I4.0 Platform solution, the AGV is a known asset type in shop floor and warehouse operations. If the AGV vendor follows open standards according to I4.0, DXC would be able to integrate AGV transport capability in a few months instead of a few years. DXC’s I4.0 Platform connects the AGV fleet and services for Smart Navigation and Equipment Health. We have already delivered Smart AGV solutions like that.

The analogy is with a service on board of a connected car that can be activated: the same principle can be applied in a factory to logistics operations using our I4.0 Platform.

How does DXC I4.0 Platform facilitate the journey to Industry 4.0?

In an immature Industry 4.0 market, our I4.0 Platform offers a ready-to-go platform, which presents customers with a defined, secure and open environment to run whatever IoT platform they choose in their plants. A critical consideration for manufacturers opting for I4.0 is that they need openness and federation: the need is to connect not only with manufacturing platforms, but also platforms for maintenance, logistics, and energy. Other spheres to connect include fleet management and e-business.

Given the scale and scope of the I4.0 connectivity exercise, clients could be forgiven for hesitating: achieving the necessary integration without an out-of-the-box platform   would represent a massive investment in an uncertain and immature market. Typical doubts might include: are we investing in the correct solution? Who would be the right partner?

What is the I4.0 Platform value proposition?

The DXC Technology I4.0 Platform currently focuses on smart factory services, and is prepared for smart value networks, too, because it is an integrator of trusted services as well as a provider of functionality. If I can find a commercial solution for predictive maintenance on the Internet — whether it is Microsoft’s or GE’s — and want to attach it to my machine, then I need a trusted architecture to attach a service to a physical thing. This is the customer rationale that DXC satisfies with I4.0 Platform.

The other core element of the DXC proposition is openness: customers can select their preferred business services and DXC will provision them from a dedicated marketplace and run it on the open I4.0 platform. Sticking with closed platforms limits choice and the ability to choose best of breed solutions in response to changing business situations. Openness provides flexibility, choice and speed to market, so often the clinching factor in competitiveness.

What additional value does DXC’s I4.0 Platform bring?

I4.0 Platform makes the operations of OT and IT transparent, because consumption of transactions and processes is metered and visualized. Once you create transparency you can start to optimize production and products and do prognostics. DXC offers the base transparency and tools for doing prognostics, such as productivity improvements, using analytics services through the I4.0 Platform.

Once a manufacturer gains transparency, they can see how the factory and logistics are operating, have a KPI dashboard and can also observe patterns. A particular type of product or order size may get them into trouble or conversely be an area where they are very efficient. With this new insight, a manufacturer can start predicting how to operate a factory with various types of orders.