Industrial Software Serving Digital Transformation

The National museum of science and technology in Milan hosted the second edition of the Industrial Software Forum convention. The event entitled “Digital competitiveness. Beyond Industry 4.0” focused on how digital transformation can be a factor in small and medium sized company success. Some of the most well known and highly qualified players in the sector were in attendance.

by Laura Alberelli & Silvia Crespi

The second edition of the Industrial Software forum, the fair-convention organized by Messe Frankfurt Italy and promoted by the ANIE Automazione software group under the title “Digital competitiveness. Beyond Industry 4.0” drew large crowds to Milan’s Museum of science and technology.
Industrial software was the “fulcrum” for the presentations which considered two significant factors of the transition in Italian manufacturing underway: on the one hand, the need to innovate production processes through digital technology and stay competitive at global level, on the other, the search for tailored solutions for the Italian industrial sector, made up, as it is, of small to medium sized companies. This must run through the setting up of strategic collaboration ranging from suppliers to end users.
The convention covered three main themes: Smart Manufacturing, Virtual Manufacturing and Smart Product and Industrial Cyber Security, as an asset in innovative processes. For reasons of space, on these pages we will be focusing on Smart Manufacturing, featuring the point of view of various companies on the front line.

The strategic role of software in the new business model

Fabrizio Scovenna, president of ANIE Automazione, confirmed that digital transformation within a company cannot be completed should it not involve software as well as production plant, but not necessarily in this order. “One of the first effects following the adoption of the Industry 4.0 “model” is not (as some may think) increased profits, but rather, the lowering of costs in economies of scale. The role of software has become increasingly strategic: solutions that aid design and product personalization lead to optimization in supply chain and, at the bottom line, create real time production as requested by the Industry 4.0 model. Clearly, the business model has changed into something completely new. Today’s challenge is not to do what we know better, but to do it differently”.

The future? Industrial Software with AI and Edge Computing

Fabio Massimo Marchetti, president of Software Work Group within ANIE Automazione, underlined the enabling factor of industrial software towards the 4.0 future, albeit, not the only one. “In every component of production plant, just as in electronics, there is a software component. Beyond industrial software, a great deal of attention is being paid to AI, whose application will undoubtedly lead to advantages in the production cycle, despite the genuine results of this technology in terms of impact on company turnover, still not being entirely clear. I see great potential in the field of Edge Computing, thanks to which data creation, interpretation and management (including those coming from AI devices) takes place on site. Technology is changing, as is the business model: companies are increasingly focusing on “servicization” models which is exactly the one that will generate future customer loyalty”.

Digitalizing the company market system and integrating it with the factory

In the evolution toward digital, what role are the authorities playing? “The incentives set up for the Industry 4.0 plan unquestionably brought the digital factory reality to the fore – confirmed Angelo De Gregorio, Full Professor of Management, at the Università degli Studi in Milan – Bicocca, CRIET director – allowing real time control and much more efficient production processes. These are crucial steps in ensuring a company’s financial well being but, alone, are still not enough. For this to be sustainable, company digital systems facing the market must be integrated with those of the factory. Considering the evolution of demand and that of purchasing process, it becomes necessary to adopt an omni-channel approach to trade and marketing.”

Accurate collecting and managing of data is fundamental

Accurate data collection and management are strategic aspects of the 4.0 approach, as Letizia Tanca, Electronics, IT and bio-engineering professor at Politecnico, Milan, underlined. “Knowing how to correctly use data is already one of the key elements of this shift and will be ever more so in the future. Data is becoming more difficult to manage in terms of its format, quality, organization (company data is well structured, less so that coming from the web) and the data source (sensors, actuators, robots, etc.).
Any data viewed alone is useless: it takes on meaning when we know why it exists, what it refers to and what meaning it has. It becomes knowledge when, together with other data, it is subject to analysis. Quality is another key aspect (literature on the subject shows there can be up to 179 levels in data quality), where accurate human analysis can mean the difference between a small error being eliminated or the same error then becoming an enormous problem – the so called “avalanche effect” -. The human factor continues to hold the key to correct data supervision and management”.

Focus on Smart Manufacturing

Marco Gagni, Project manager at Artsana Group, co-ordinated the Smart Manufacturing session: “Each presentation – he said – showed a company’s strategy toward intelligent production. Despite differences in the approaches, all of us are fully convinced that Industry 4.0 requires a change in business model in which technology is but one of the instruments available for the digitalization of processes and products. This is a change which will be moving in two directions: one being doing better what we doing now (efficiency) and the other, doing what we have always done before, differently (efficacy). What has also become crystal clear is that once again, the human factor is central to managing this change, technology will not substitute man, it will be at his service.” Let’s take a look at the approach some companies have adopted in this scenario.

Industrial connectivity is at the base of digitalization and the OT/IT convergence

EFA Automazione, pioneers in the Industrial Communication field, boast a wide selection of solutions in their portfolio, solutions which specifically aid data collection and the convergence between IT and OT. Their mission is to help companies implementing a rapid and cost effective Digital Transformation, bringing all the benefits of the 4.0 model transition.
The company presented the brand new 8.0.9 version of Ignition, upgraded with improved functions. The platform, developed by the American Inductive Automation company, acts as a connective hub for all industrial applications including SCADA/HMI, IIoT, ERP and Cloud. The Perspective module has also been introduced, whose function, specifically aimed at mobile technology, has made the use of such technology in the industrial sector, but on normal smart devices, an everyday occurrence. As well as Ignition, EFA Automazione presented a new software solution developed by Kepware, a company under the American PTC banner: Thingworx Kepware Edge software is able to connect any piece of machinery and/or distributed device. The Kepware solution uses modern protocols, which are fully IoT-ready and thanks to its open source Linux-based system, and pricing based on tags, allows the user to implement distributed and scalable architecture at minimal cost. EFA Automazione presented the new version of its OPC Router, the jewel in the crown of the German company Inray Industriesoftware. OPC Router is a group of plug-in solutions, each with specific characteristics, enabling communication and so data exchange, across various system components with a simple configuration.

Smart Engineering right in the cloud

Let’s pass to the Beckhoff Automation range. The TwinCAT Cloud Engineering solution is used as a highly efficient, founding IoT automation system. As a centrally managed control centre, it communicates with all machinery functions, the PC based control system guarantees ideal support for the creation of highly efficient, IoT based automated platforms. Machinery, plant and production lines can be connected to fully exploit process level efficiency potential. In such a context, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering adds a further dimension providing users with a simple solution to development and control of cloud based TwinCAT eco-systems.
Access, indeed, is made through the Beckhoff website anything more than a web browser is not required. Concretely, this means registered users can work on a platform hitherto impossible to access for certain devices (tablets for example), the TwinCAT development eco-system. Examples of user generated TwinCAT Cloud-Engineering can be connected to real hardware checking devices through a secure channel connection. Users enjoy unlimited architectural TwinCAT control advantages, as well as the opportunity for distributed collaboration through the Source Control Repository. Especially for new users, access to TwinCAT Cloud Engineering content, creates the ideal and wide ranging base to take the first steps in the TwinCAT eco-system.

Accelerating digital transformation in manufacturing

Rockwell Automation illustrated how integrated, cutting edge technology adoption sets up the base for fluid process and rapid company and production digitalization. For them, the process was managed in collaboration with PTC. According to Andrea Anfuso, Sales Executive Information Solutions at Rockwell Automation and Roberta Barsotti, Partner Ecosystem Manager at PTC Italy, the intelligent factory model is being consolidated through the perfect connection of all company hierarchical levels, a model made possible only through the widening of the collaborative network.The convergence of the two realities, IT and manufacturing is the cornerstone of the two companies’ partnership.