"Social Device" Special Interview

The contents were published from August 2017 to February 2018 on "Nikkei Technology Online",
the engineering information website run by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.,
and reprinted with the author's permission.

※Information of affiliations and titles is true and accurate at the time of publication.

IoT is Pioneering a New Era in Manufacturing:Innovative Technologies Accelerate the Fusion of Automation and Information

The industrialized nations are spearheading the adoption of innovative new technologies in manufacturing, based on the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). Nicknamed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the movement has the potential to dramatically affect not only manufacturing, but society as a whole. Sven Goldstein, Product Manager TwinCAT, Connectivity IoT at Beckhoff Automation GmbH & Co. KG of Germany, who works in the IoT sector, spoke with Takaya Nagahata, Group General Manager, Optical Module Production Headquarters at ROHM Co. Ltd. of Japan, involved in the key IoT technology of sensing, discussing emerging trends in manufacturing and issues in implementing IoT infrastructure in the manufacturing industry.


 The concepts of IoT are spreading to every field, but I think perhaps it is having the greatest effect on manufacturing right now. A number of projects have been launched internationally, starting with the Industrie 4.0 national project in Germany, and all of them position IoT as a key element in innovating manufacturing. As a semiconductor manufacturer, ROHM is also following IoT trends in the manufacturing industry very closely. Widespread adoption of IoT will mean new demand for industrial semiconductor devices.

 ROHM was founded in 1958 as a resistor manufacturer, and entered the semiconductor market in the late 1960s. Initially we concentrated on components for consumer electronics, but lately sales growth in the automotive and industrial equipment sectors is rising sharply. My own work involves providing sensing solutions, which are key in IoT implementation.

 Beckhoff Automation provides a variety of products and technologies for the manufacturing industry. Could you explain a little about how you are using IoT?


 Since we were established in 1980 we have developed many products and solutions drawing on our PC-based control technology. We provide Industrial Personal Computers (IPC), drive units, I/O (input/output) devices and automatic control software, among other things, primarily utilized in production systems, automation equipment and building automation. Our Headquarters is in Verl, North Rhine-Westphalia, in northwestern Germany, which is also where the plants for our major products are located (Fig. 1). We developed EtherCAT, the industrial open network standard utilized by leading Factory Automation (FA) and industrial machinery manufacturers worldwide. When Toyota Motor Corp. of Japan announced in spring 2016 that it was adopting the latest version, EtherCAT P, to implement IoT in its plants, it garnered attention in the press.

Fig. 1 The Beckhoff Automation PCB assembly plant
Fig. 1 The Beckhoff Automation PCB assembly plant

 I work with TwinCAT, which stands for The Windows Control and Automation Technology. TwinCAT is our automation control software and incorporates a range of capabilities including Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Numeric Control (NC) and programming environments. I am especially involved in assuring connectivity with products from other vendors, or with other systems, including the cloud.

  One major characteristic of Beckhoff Automation is that we provide PC-based control solutions. I think this is a very effective way to promote IoT adoption, and also grow our business. PC-based control solutions offer enormous flexibility and vastly simplify connectivity with IoT-compatible equipment.


 An increasing number of Japanese companies are also very interested in IoT. From about 2014, when the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” really got started, there has been a steadily increasing interest in implementing IoT among Japanese manufacturers. Many firms were merely collecting information and investigating the potential for introducing the technology, or launching a business in the field, but recently with a growing shortage of younger employees and the need to ensure in-house knowledge is passed on, companies are actively deploying IoT-based systems in manufacturing facilities.


 I think you can sum up recent IoT trends in manufacturing as a fusion of Automation Technology (AT) and Information Technology (IT). The trend began about 20 years ago, when we were first offering PC-based control solutions to customers. The emergence of the PC-based solution made it far easier to construct systems capable of collecting data from production equipment. A variety of companies began to leverage this data to enhance or optimize production management. This is clearly one of the classic methods of utilizing IoT in manufacturing and it was first put into actual use many years ago.

 At the time, though, the focus was on optimizing the parameters for analyzing the collected data, and one especially big issue was how to store the massive volume of data. Effective storage is essential in analyzing data and extracting useful information, but at the time large-scale storage meant major investment, and many companies shied away from the technology as a result.

 The fundamental resolution to this problem was the provision of cloud-based services by the major IT vendors, which dramatically lowered the procurement cost for IT systems capable of handling enormous volumes of data. Even better, the cloud can easily handle increases in collected data volume when new production systems are added. As cloud services are used more widely in manufacturing, there will be a further acceleration in the fusion of AT and IT.


 We have also seen rising adoption of cloud-based services, as well as increased utilization of “big data”. There has been a sharp rise in inquiries from industrial customers into related products and technologies.

 One of the clear needs right now is sensing technology capable of handling the diverse analog quantities found on the manufacturing floor, such as temperature, pressure and brightness. In addition to sensing devices, we also offer a broad range of peripheral technologies such as wireless communication modules to transmit sensor data to servers, for example. To promote widespread adoption of IoT we try to combine multiple technologies to answer market needs, instead of providing them individually, and offer customers complete, easy-to-use solutions. Two examples are sensor modules with internal microcontrollers, modules combining wireless capabilities and sensing devices.

Fig. 2 EnOcean Battery-Free Signal Tower Sensor
Fig. 2 EnOcean Battery-Free Signal Tower Sensor
Lights when the sensed value is abnormal. The optical energy from the signal tower powers the wireless transmission, displaying an alert.

 Concretely, we sell vibration and temperature sensor modules designed to monitor motor statues and signal tower sensors to visually sense the status of signal towers indicating manufacturing equipment operating states (Fig. 2). We demoed our machine health monitoring solution using sensor modules at the CeBIT show in Hanover, Germany in March 2017 (Fig. 3). This system monitors the operating states of pumps used in factories, and the demo unit incorporated 11 sensors, including the two I mentioned a moment ago. Data acquired by the sensors can be uploaded to the cloud server via a gateway, for storage. The system can be used to manage and maintain optimal operating status for production processes, provide warning of pending failures, and support effective preventive maintenance programs.

Fig. 3 Machine Health Monitoring Solution Demo
Fig. 3 Machine Health Monitoring Solution Demo

 Machine health monitoring systems and predictive maintenance technology utilizing the data they produce offer significant advantages for the production shop, including production efficiency improvement and energy consumption reduction. I think plants in every sector need something like that. In fact, Beckhoff Automation is also developing new solutions for predictive maintenance. Many vendors now offer machine health monitoring system and predictive maintenance solutions.


 Absolutely. Many firms stress the advantages of their own IoT solutions for predictive maintenance, in fact. Each of them has its own unique technology, providing its own added value to the market, of course

 ROHM also offers IoT-related technologies, such as our sensor modules combining sensor devices with EnOcean wireless communication. EnOcean operates on minute levels of power, making it possible to use energy harvesting to convert ambient energy (optical or kinetic) into electricity, eliminating the need for power supplies or batteries in the transceiver and making possible some amazing solutions. If the need for cabling is eliminated then sensors can be added to existing equipment very easily, vastly improving freedom of installation. And for even that reason alone I think IoT applications will be tapped for diverse social issues in the future.


 Sensing is crucial in implementing IoT application systems. When constructing the total IoT solution, interconnectivity is required at many levels, including services, equipment, communications and devices. There are not many companies, however, that can handle all those levels. In addition, I think as IoT becomes more widespread we will see an increase in tie-ups between industries and corporations as a result.

 Industry standards, the “common language” between fields or industries, will play an increasingly important role. In the industrial networking field standardization is well under way. Beckhoff Automation supports, develops and promotes the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) and EtherCAT as a high-performance fieldbus by many different products to facilitate the interoperability between the information systems. The same standard is also built into the Reference Architecture Model Industry 4.0 (RAMI 4.0). Industry standards and the use of standardized frameworks throughout the entire system will accelerate inter-field and inter-industry cooperation and lead to the creation of diverse IoT solutions.


 ROHM is proactively exploring new tie-ups to further enhance its range of IoT solutions. Over the years we have collaborated with many companies and organizations through our custom large-scale integrated (LSI) circuit business, and we are applying that experience and expertise to develop new, effective collaborations to drive the development of innovative IoT solutions.

 Thank you for talking with us today.

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