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Blog: Automating the IoT infrastructure

Businesses today are under increasing pressure to stay competitive. Maximizing the potential of data is therefore crucial for machine manufacturers and plant operators. “It’s all about using data to achieve greater transparency and to increase productivity,” confirms Dr. M. Meyer. “Data can be used, for example, to consume less energy and resources and to generate less waste.” According to the Hilscher expert, the right data can also be used to offer machine-related services or even to devise new business models as part of IIoT and Industry 4.0. Systems produce much more data than most manufacturers put to good use. There is a whole trove of data just waiting to be used. “But to turn that potential into tangible benefits, the data must first be mined,” emphasizes Dr. M. Meyer. “Developing such solutions from the ground up to access data in short cycle times without creating a significant load on the networks is quite complex.”

Once the data has been made accessible, then the developing phase can begin. Applications are designed to turn the gained insights into tangible benefits. According to the IoT expert, this step is best left in the hands of the users: “The machine builders and plant operators know best which solution will really lead to benefits.”

Data processing in advance at the edge

When rolling out IIoT projects, it’s important to consider the scale of the data being collected: “It makes no sense to send all raw data over the Internet,” the Hilscher manager emphasizes. The data needs to be preprocessed on the machine at the edge: “This is where the data is aggregated and processed, so that only the relevant results are then forwarded.” For Dr. M. Meyer, that means: “The data doesn’t go to the software, the software goes to the data. “We have a different update cycle today,” explains Dr. M. Meyer. Software updates are released every few weeks for feature enhancements, bug fixes, or to improve cyber security.

Configuration changes are also performed via software updates. “Customers can decide at a later date to use services and activate them remotely,” adds the Hilscher expert. In his view, it is unrealistic to expect technicians to travel to the machine when customers are scattered around the world: “Machines need to be monitored and kept running remotely.”

Let the customers analyze their own data

“The machine manufacturers and plant operators perform their own data analysis,” emphasizes the expert. They know their own processes better than anyone else.” By analyzing their own machine data they’ll get the most out of their data to be able to optimize their machines and manufacturing systems.

In contrast, IoT infrastructures are very similar, even for different companies and applications, making it possible to access machine and process data in the same way. “Standard products can be used to accomplish this,” he continues. “Accessing the data must be done in an unobtrusive way. Most of the data collection process can be automated. “With Hilscher's toolbox, the machine and system data are provided as a data broker via MQTT.

A structural graphic of the different components of Hilscher's netFIELD solution.

The roles are thus clearly defined: the standardized IoT infrastructure makes the data available; and the customer uses it to optimize his processes. Hilscher provides its reliable and integrated IoT infrastructure that includes netFIELD software, which comprises a container-based operating system, an edge management platform, and gateways. The customer gets a proven IoT product portfolio for implementing modern Industry 4.0 solutions—from a single source. A netFIELD-based IoT infrastructure lets you get your IoT projects up and running quickly. “Users can avoid unwelcome surprises,” he adds. “Especially in combination with edge management, it’s the perfect solution. The user gets a turnkey solution.” They also can rely on Hilscher’s expertise in industrial communications.

Hilscher’s know-how allows the customers to make the most of their data in just a short time. With netFIELD, customers stay focused on developing IoT software, data intelligence, and new business models. “This enables the user to concentrate on the task of analyzing the data,” says Dr. M. Meyer. The expert from Hilscher also points out that netFIELD is also open to other combinations, i.e., components from other manufacturers can also be integrated.

Based on the IoT data aggregated with netFIELD, users can increase plant efficiency and security, while also lowering operating and maintenance costs. Automating and professionalizing the digitization infrastructure also includes IT security. “Cyber security requirements are on the rise,” says Dr. M. Meyer. “This is no longer optional, it’s a must.” In his opinion, users are taking a risk by not taking care of their data security.

Separating edge management and usable data

It’s important to separate the management of the edge gateways from the actual usable data. “The relevant data is not routed through our own platforms, but to the customer’s,” says Dr. M. Meyer. “Manufacturers and plant operators want to retain control over their own data.” This can also include cloud platforms such as AWS, Microsoft Azure or even their own servers.

“Hilscher focuses on the edge management, central administration of edge gateways and the software and applications that run on them,” explains Dr. M. Meyer. “This allows us to change configurations and perform software updates remotely via centralized management. This also works for an entire fleet management, where devices with certain properties are assigned to a specific device group.” This enables management of the entire IoT infrastructure, including gateways and apps.

Device management is a central aspect to consider for the success or failure of Industry 4.0 projects. The netFIELD OS enables local device management. Based on the proven Yocto Linux operating system, it meets the highest security requirements. Remote device management is implemented with netFIELD.io.

The entire administration for containers, network, bridges, firewalls and additional features is easy to manage thanks to the powerful UI. “Users implement their own individual applications on the container runtime environment,” confirms the Hilscher expert. They can then use them to perform their own analysis, preprocessing or aggregation of machine data. “It’s completely up to the customer which containerized applications they want to run on the hardware.”


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Hilscher – empowering communication

The machine manufacturers and plant operators perform their own data analysis. They know their own processes better than anyone else. By analyzing their own machine data they’ll get the most out of their data to be able to optimize their machines and manufacturing systems. The roles are thus clearly defined: the IoT infrastructure makes the data available; and the customer uses it to optimize his processes.

Dr. Marek Meyer, Product Manager of Industrial IoT at Hilscher

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Data transfer via MQTT and OPC UA

Among the messaging protocols to emerge in the industry, MQTT in particular with its publish-subscribe pattern architecture, has established itself as the go-to standard for data transfer and it is supported by almost all platforms. “We consider the data transfer protocol to be very useful,” says Dr. M. Meyer. “That’s why Hilscher equips the edge devices with MQTT brokers.” The communication level between edge components and the machines is still based on OPC UA. “And we also supply the appropriate connectors,” he continues.

Hilscher is a founding member of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance, which aims to advance standards, particularly data and payload structures. “It allows software and devices from different manufacturers to exchange compatible data,” says the Hilscher manager. The OI4 also refers to the various Companion Specs for OPC UA: The OI4 Alliance is developing a common app store where different developers can offer their applications. It will be a mixture of open source and license-based software. “Some of our colleagues are deeply involved with OI4,” confirms Dr. M. Meyer.

“To access the process data at field level, you need either standard Ethernet or it has to be integrated with the automation protocol,” continues Dr. M. Meyer. For access to real-time Ethernet protocols, Hilscher offers the netX chip, a core component that is also installed in the company’s edge gateways. “This enables access to automation data without impacting any production systems,” he emphasizes. With additional software connectors, such as Hilscher’s Profinet and Ethercat Tap apps, users can also extract process data from a network and make it usable without having to make changes to the PLC or machines.

Using Hilscher products and solutions, IoT infrastructures can be set up quickly and securely, and fully automated. This enables the implementation of Industry 4.0 and with it the emergence of new connectivity opportunities, giving customers access to new markets and business models.


The OPC UA logo on top and MQTT logo on the bottom. The two protocol logos are divided by a horizontal colorful stripe in the middle of the picture.
Related links
Hilscher netPI Edge Gateway in use.

An overview of our Managed Industrial IoT platform: netFIELD is your IIoT edge infrastructure for implementing Industry 4.0 solutions. It enables you to make your machine data accessible and the necessary software and hardware centrally manageable.

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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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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.

This article has been published first by Digital Factory Journal. The author is Ronald Heinze.