The Shop-Floor Service Connector - a link between two worlds
The undertaking "Shop-Floor Service Connector for the user-friendly and platform-independent development of Industrie 4.0 Smart Services (SFSC)"is a research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of the funding program "KMU Innovativ: Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (IKT)". In the process, the industry partners form pragmatic minds GmbH, pragmatic industries GmbH, scitis.io GmbH and SOTEC Software Entwicklungs GmbH + Co. Mikrocomputertechnik KG togehter with the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW) the University of Stuttgart as a research institution, a consortium to explore a common problem that addresses the development of software services within the store floor.
And that's what it's all about
The challenges of the digital transformation, digitalization and the drastic changes of the INdustry 4.0 era are specifically considered. After all, in order to exploit the advantages of a fully networked production environment, the components within it must not only be effective, but must also be able to be developed efficiently. The current trend does not turn away from traditional automation technology, but expands it with the help of the use of technologies that were not previously used in the hall floor.
Software tools from a variety of domains, such as data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Big Data, cloud computing, edge computing, web technologies, or blockchains, are finding their way into production plants and their control systems. It is always a combination of software tools to increase the efficiency of a plant or to enable unique functionalities.
This combination is usually referred to as a smart service, and the composition of these services allows companies to drastically reduce their costs. However, the development of these software components and, in particular, their integration into the automation environment involves considerable effort. Because worlds collide here. The automation technology sector usually focuses on hardware-related and resource-efficient programming platforms such as C, C++, FPGAs or microcontrollers.
Data transmission takes place with various non-standardized and partly binary data formats in order to get the last microsecond out of a transmission. This optimizations are needed to guarantee the operation of deterministic real-time processes, which are essential for functionality and at the same time highly sensitive to environmental changes. This is contrasted by cloud or AI technologies that offer a high degree of resilience, data throughput, modularity, and platform independence. To do so, these systems require highly scalable infrastructures and message-based middlewares to realize resource-intensive computations scalability, or cross-platform communication.
What are the goals and benefits of the SFSC?
This is where the SFSC consortium wants to start and create a bridge between these two worlds with the help of the realization of a middleware based on cloud technologies, which allows to keep the advantages with compromises as far as possible and still consider the requirements of the store floor. Thus, although we use message-based communication, we do not use a central broker, heavyweight protocols, or a central service registry.
This bridge is particularly aimed at the numerous SMEs in Germany. Companies that need to participate in digitization for competitiveness, but cannot employ teams of software developers in addition to automation engineering.
The SFSC does not represent a highly complex and configurable system, but tries to achieve its goal through simplicity and abstraction. The aim is to enable users to integrate software components as a service into their technology landscape without the need for additional hardware, and to combine them into smart services. In doing so, SFSC's architecture strives for resource economy and simple platform support.
The future maintenance of the project is to be carried out as an open source software project, thus offering all companies worldwide the opportunity to network their developed software services with each other within the store floor and to establish themselves as a further standard of communication in symbiosis with existing automation protocols.
The ISW and pragmatic minds/industries are working closely together to provide, for example, a broad connection to automation protocols as a service via the Apache project PLC4X, to encapsulate innovative evaluations of plant data as a Smart Service, or to increase the already existing modularity of the Digital Cockpitand to add a dynamic coupling between production cells. This will guarantee future-proof extensibility and, with the help of SFSC as middleware, create an open ecosystem for smart services for the store floor.