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Blog: Challenges of operational scaling of IIoT projects

The topic of machine connectivity has been gaining in importance for the industry for some time. The networking of machines and production lines, and the extensive process data involved in that, represent an enormous potential for optimizing availability and reducing unplanned downtimes. Machine builders discover the opportunity to generate additional revenue, increase customer loyalty and differentiate themselves from competitors using new data-based business models.

In recent years, a steadily growing number of projects in this area have been implemented and tested, through which users and developers have been able to gather numerous insights. So the questions are now less about the reason or benefit of Industry 4.0, but more about the "how".

So for such an undertaking, you need the proverbial "foot in the door". How should you approach a digitization project? How do you get the data you need that will solve a particular problem? How do you make your system that has been running for 25 years even more efficient, since a whole new build is simply not an option?

Many projects fail for different reasons

Despite promising results, many prototypes and pilot projects ultimately fail due to their implementation into serial production. The reasons for the failure are different. On the one hand, scaling costs for digitization projects are often underestimated when companies develop such solutions for the first time. Development work is complex and involves many different experts from very different areas. The skills required are not always available in a company and are difficult to obtain on the labor market. If, on the other hand, prefabricated solutions are used, the costs for commissioning will be reduced. However, the customization options for the user remain very limited.

Increasing complexity makes demands rise

As part of retrofitting projects, sensors are subsequently installed at the appropriate locations in your systems, for example, in order to be able to measure specific parameters or control processes better. From position sensors, fluid sensors and encoders to image processing and safety-critical parameters – as processes become more complex, the demands placed on the data collected, their management and processing also increase.

In addition, meaningful transmission paths for the data must be evaluated. For some applications, wireless technologies are already in question, while in other applications, a classic fieldbus may still be the measure of things. However, new technologies such as Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) are already in the starting blocks, which will once again significantly influence modern industrial production.

In addition, while for prototypes all data is often stored on a central server and analyzed there for the acquisition of insights, this architecture is not optimal for productive operation. In series operation, data processing must be carried out at least partially distributed in edge devices close to the machines and plants. Edge computing can reduce the amount of data and latency transmitted and increase the reliability of the overall system.

This distributed setup of Smart Edge components is underestimated by many companies in the prototyping and pilot phases. This, we observe, creates additional hurdles and challenges in the transition to series production and operational scaling at a late stage.


A black edge gateway installed in a control cabinet. Two green ethernet cables are connected to it. On the bottom right side you can see corn kernels laying around.
From the SPS to the Edge Gateway to the cloud

The control of production plants is a highly individual matter. Each installation has its own specifications and special features, which must be taken into account when making any changes. Different standards in data processing and data transmission increase the complexity. A permanent cloud connection seems to be seen from the outset as the basis for Industry 4.0 for many projects. In many cases, this may be true, global companies need access to their data from many different locations around the world. Machine builders can replace unproductive travel for machine maintenance with much more efficient remote maintenance and proactive, intelligent solutions. In other cases, however, all devices can only be connected to the Internet to a limited extent. These aspects must be considered when designing the distributed solution architecture.

netFIELD in action at food packaging specialist MULTIVAC
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A connected machine must always give the customer more advantages than a machine that is offline. Thanks to Hilscher’s netFIELD technology, we can provide highly efficient Smart Services that directly address customers’ needs while increasing customer loyalty at the same time.

Dr. Marius Grathwohl

Vice President Digital Products & Transformation


MULTIVAC, the leading manufacturer of integrated packaging solutions, develops customer-oriented services with netFIELD, enabling higher machine availability based on encompassing networking of machines. For connecting the machines, MULTIVA uses the netFIELD technology by Hilscher. Read more here.

A packaging machine from MULTIVAC.

MULTIVAC, the leading manufacturer of integrated packaging solutions, develops customer-oriented services with netFIELD, enabling higher machine availability

Data must be made usable

So there is a foundation at the feet of all these possibilities: Companies that want to benefit from Industry 4.0 must make their data usable. "Digitization unfolds its added value when I can do something with data," explains Dr. Andreas Graf Gatterburg, Principal Technology Consultant at Hilscher. The added value of Industry 4.0 solutions is often caused by the software used, says Graf Gatterburg. However, this software must first be distributed among the devices. Highly specialized applications with narrowly defined target platforms quickly result in a very large administrative burden, which only rarely pays off.

Large players in the market simply develop their own platforms, along with proprietary hardware and their own standards, for such challenges. But what do medium-sized companies do that operate in the same market but do not have large teams with numerous developers and a huge budget? In short, how do you and your business model remain competitive in times of digitization?


The answer is netFIELD

Hilscher has recognized these challenges through many conversations with customers and in response to them has developed an IoT ecosystem for implementing Industry 4.0 projects with netFIELD.

Hilscher has therefore developed an IIoT platform that enables medium-sized companies to operate IIoT solutions. With our infrastructure, you remain focused on developing your core competencies – we take care of the transport of your data and the management of your devices, including the software that runs on the devices. We ensure that the data you collect is available where you or your customers need it.

We offer you:

  • High-performance hardware in the form of remote-maintainable edge gateways
  • End-to-end software solutions—from the edge device runtime environment to cloud platform services
  • Turnkey apps in containerized form to aggregate data to feed your own apps

Why should you build on netFIELD? We rely on open solutions and are leaders in numerous standardization committees such as the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance. We see integration of third-party solutions as an opportunity, not a problem.

You need a solution that is tailored to you? We offer you eye-to-eye support with medium-sized businesses. "It has been shown that no single platform is the best solution for all applications," concludes Hilscher expert Graf Gatterburg. "There will be a platform ecosystem in which multiple platforms will need to exchange data with each other." This makes sophisticated management of data and devices more important than ever in the future.

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Your IIoT solutions with netFIELD

We provide you with a reliable, certified and open IoT infrastructure to connect your machines while remaining focused on your core competencies. Centralized edge software rollout, up-to-date status of important operating programs or fleet management of IoT devices – our devices and turnkey application containers pave the way for your data to the cloud reliably and securely. Whether you rely solely on Hilscher solutions or use them in conjunction with solutions from other manufacturers is irrelevant thanks to unmatched flexibility and open standards at Hilscher. Based on the IoT data aggregated with netFIELD, you can increase plant efficiency and safety, and lower your operating and maintenance costs.

netFIELD consists of four basic components:
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Our edge gateways are intelligent data routers between the automation level and the information technology level. They aggregate, process or transmit additional IoT information of your production process completely autonomously—locally or via the cloud.

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netFIELD OS includes our basic range of system software and runtime components. Our netFIELD OS Edge is the heart of the solution. Coupled with turn-key software containers, you can create your own IoT world in no time at all.

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The centralized edge management netFIELD Cloud as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) enables device and software management for modern production facilities. This simplifies the reliable roll-out of software to large device fleets for users.

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Start your own IoT world with our turn-key app containers. Based on Docker technology, you can easily roll them out centrally and create new business opportunities!