Digitisation requires computing power, connectivity and data analysis

14th January 2019
Alex Lynn

Hannes Niederhauser, CEO at Kontron and Chairman of the Management Board at S&T AG, dares to take a look into the future. For the upcoming year, he has identified five key trends for the electronics and automation industry that will further accelerate Digital Transformation in the industrial sector: Intelligent Edge Computing, OPC UA with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), Connectivity, 5G Networks and Artificial Intelligence.

"Digitisation requires computing power and networking, as with the exponential increase in the number of IoT-enabled devices, machines, and consumer gadgets, the number of data to be evaluated is growing. Data acquisition with unfiltered transfer to a cloud is pointless and very expensive. In an Industrial 4.0 environment, reactions to sensor and actuator feedback must more often than not occur virtually in real time. Here Intelligent Edge Computing with compact, robust and increasingly powerful embedded boards and modules as well as industrial PCs, ensures fast, reliable and uninterrupted data processing close to the point of origin. The cloud assumes different tasks. In this area, the trend will continue - tied to the development towards more processor power and extended memory size: more and more cloud tasks such as Edge Analytics will be shifted to Intelligent Edge Computers.

With the increasing performance of boards and modules, but also with the integration of functions such as TSN (Time Sensitive Networking), deterministic Ethernet Networks can be set up with manageable effort. Machines, plants and processes can be seamlessly integrated into the IT networks. Thanks to the initiative launched at SPS IPC DRIVES 2018 by the OPC Foundation to extend OPC UA and TSN from the IT level via the controller level to the field level, this development will gain momentum faster than we all thought, especially because all big players are pulling in the same direction.

With their increasing performance and storage capacity, industrial PCs are becoming - as Intelligent Edge Gateways - more and more powerful as well: they can filter large amounts of data and only forward the data that is really needed, for example to an embedded/private, public or hybrid cloud. However, this requires a stable and fast internet connection. The expansion of networks and the provision of the latest 5G mobile communications standard will provide additional impetus here. Not only can IoT terminals be integrated, but also large amounts of data can be transported in private and public clouds and results can be quickly and reliably passed back. This makes 5G one of the drivers for IoT and Industrial 4.0 applications.

Artificial intelligence is and remains topical. The question of whether it really comes down to "intelligence" also remains. Ultimately, it is a matter of fast, algorithm-based evaluation of large amounts of data using self-learning systems. The transitions from Big Data to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are smooth. With the growing performance of edge devices, better connectivity, e.g. through 5G, the increasing spread of Industry 4.0 architectures, also based on TSN, we will see that AI concepts are adapted ever faster.

We see the primary focus on industrial applications in the field of Object Recognition/Machine Learning. It will be a long time before the entire company can be depicted as a digital twin in the cloud - if this ever happens at all. The predictive maintenance of offshore wind turbines will soon be just one example among many. Machines and systems that are controlled, monitored and maintained via Digital Twins will find their way into many companies more and more quickly. The technologies for this are already mostly available. In many companies, however, there is a lack of the necessary specialists to implement digitisation, especially in the software/IT sector. We are ideally positioned within the S&T Group: In addition to standard and customer-specific hardware from Kontron, we also offer software consulting and software development based on the IoT Software Framework SUSiEtec via S&T Technologies. This enables us to offer everything from a single source. In the age of Digital Transformation, waiting for the success of others is simply no longer an option."

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