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Düsseldorf, March 03, 2021

Vertical Platforms in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Technological drivers of the learning steel plant

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has become an indispensable cutting-edge technology for digital transformation. As the IIoT blurs the boundaries between the physical (sensor technology) and digital worlds, it ensures greater efficiency in operational and production processes, allows for cost reductions, and supports the implementation of new business models. In this way, production and maintenance processes can be adapted in real-time to unforeseen requirements – from any location, at any time. Open and flexibly adapted industrial platforms form the digital control center here, providing a holistic view of the various processes.

Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology in all areas of a business, resulting in fundamental changes in how a business operates and the value that is delivered to its customers. IIoT platforms like mySMS provide the basis for successful digital transformation. These "industry app stores" enable us to build and test new products and services in the company, to connect and integrate digital supply chains and processes – from predictive asset management and production planning to quality and energy management of the entire plant. As a kind of control center, digital platforms provide transparency across all applications and processes. They enable maximum efficiency and the flexibility to connect further digital products as required and, for example, to provide selected data for the digital twin of a product. Large amounts of data are converted into information and ultimately into real added value using intelligent processes. In this way, applications can communicate with each other and gradually develop the ability to optimize themselves - and are thus of decisive importance for a company's business success.

Modular platform concept with future-proof infrastructure

For the complete digital networking of all machines and applications, SMS digital offers a modern, flexible and scalable basis in the form of the mySMS platform. On this platform, both in-house and digital applications from partners can be integrated and the portfolio expanded. Because of the modular platform concept, its implementation can take place in the company gradually. Experienced public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Yandex or Microsoft Azure are used here, as they have a highly available, secure and certified infrastructure (IaaS - Infrastructure-as-a-Service) as well as scalable platform services (PaaS - Platform-as-a-Service).

A secure and reliable digital infrastructure platform separates processes and systems where necessary, for example, to serve a dedicated, sensitive customer or development processes. This starts precisely with the development of digital applications – the development, integration test, quality, or production phases – and is fundamentally important in isolating sensitive, production-relevant systems.

On the other hand, processes and data are consolidated on an enterprise-wide level, thus providing a holistic overview, meaningful reports, and views on a real-world Digital Twin. In this way, a comprehensive history of products and production processes can also be created.

Other features of an open industry platform include:

  • A high system availability requires the almost uninterrupted use of compute, storage, and communication systems in the on-site IT and from a redundantly connected private cloud.
  • Flexible management of the individual current workload: The platform solution must automatically provide the required process capacity at short notice. Short-term needs are, for example, for update tests, bug fixes and forensic investigations. A more medium-term need would be for AI workloads and application testing or capacity for quarterly and annual analysis. Due to increased storage requirements or expansion of services, long-term system expansions must also be efficiently enabled. 
  • Creating transparency and openness to build fundamental trust with stakeholders and customers. For example, auditors are given transparent access to the relevant systems, and customers can also see behind the scenes of the services to gain a better understanding of and trust in the processes. This is achieved, among other things, through suitably adapted monitoring (technology and end-to-end processes) and audit-proof, continuous logging of all changes.
  • Trusted and secure platform operation that adapts to ever-changing requirements. Guaranteed highest standards require technologically modern systems and excellently trained and certified specialists and modern security architecture, appropriate access rights (guardrails), and an agile security concept.
  • Risk management and compliance: following industry best practices and working in a certified cloud environment (ISO, SOX, CSA, PCI, and C5) to meet applicable requirements, such as laws, regulations, and policies. Adapted risk management defines the processes to manage and analyze risks and responds appropriately.

To meet the challenges of digitalization and Industry 4.0, companies must rely on the high-performance digital infrastructure environment described above. The structural basis for this high-performance operational industry platform is the 5-layer mySMS platform architecture - a concept that describes and defines the tasks and responsibilities of the different layers.

The "Digital ready" concept

Figure 2 shows the architectural components of the mySMS platform and the core components required for the digital-ready architecture. The term “digital ready” describes the fundamental and essential components required to provide the information for a self-learning steel plant. This enables capturing, efficient storing and enhancing data and its transformation into meaningful and reliable information.

The authentication layer is the central access point to the company's various applications and authenticates and authorizes their users. The application layer contains the various software products and digital applications that a company needs in the different phases. The dashboard, for example, provides direct and straightforward access to the data and metadata of the connected industrial systems. This valuable and critical resource, "enterprise data" is stored, secured and managed in the data layer (storage layer). For the "digital ready" certificate, the SMS DataFactory manages the entire data lifecycle - from data ingest, data cleansing, secure efficient storage to backup and long-term archiving. It also provides a meaningful data catalog for understanding and high-performance access to required data, for example, via data warehouse or individualized SQL views. The edge layer efficiently organizes and supports the acquisition of data and signals from the OT systems and the industrial plants. The edge systems process different protocols, which are collected, consolidated, buffered and forwarded on site. If required, powerful intelligent EdgeBoxes are used to perform immediate analysis and business application processing using AI/ML models.

The mySMS platform is digital ready and already integrated into modern SMS systems and Industry 4.0 processes. The combination of this platform, SMS digital's extensive experience in various industry projects, and many years of secure and successful operation in cloud environments provide an ideal basis for its successful use in companies. mySMS provides a powerful package to support diverse, business-relevant analysis and decision-making processes and forms the appropriate basis for implementing the self-learning steel plant.