Tracking the Evolution of Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet
Germany and the U.S. continue to drive innovation around the Industrial Internet. The two countries are economic powerhouses and they are keenly aware of the importance of internet connectivity for business applications. Yet their approaches to harnessing it differ, as I documented in a 2015 report. What’s changed since then?
To recap: The German approach (Industrie 4.0) favors top-down, government-driven effort at steering mid-sized companies toward embracing big data analytics and internet-connected technologies in manufacturing. It is part of industrial policy for a nation proud of its manufacturing prowess. The American modus operandi, meanwhile, is centered on the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). The IIC groups private sector companies of all sizes alongside research institutions of several dozen countries. It is decentralized, bottom-up, and practical. The IIC searches for best practices among stakeholders with a view of lowering costs of applied research.
Industrie 4.0 Seeks Replicable Templates
Industrie 4.0’s approach has changed little over the past 1.5 years. Perhaps its signature achievement was the publication in late 2016 of several hundred use cases—examples of internet-enabled manufacturing processes. These applications resemble “testbeds,” or controlled experiments, although in Germany the use cases drew from applications developed by individual companies. It is not clear how others can leverage these processes and where the intellectual property lies. It is also not clear whether these examples form part of the goal of developing a holistic standard application that is then open to duplication and adoption by others.
Germany’s Plattform Industrie 4.0, the executive arm of the enterprise, seems to have intensified its educational mission. It is staging events, participating in trade fairs, and linking to other countries’ projects of a similar nature. They also published a heat map showing where applications are being developed and how to contact relevant stakeholders.
Other countries look to Germany and Industrie 4.0 for inspiration on how to invigorate their industrial sectors with new technologies. In this sense, the term “Industrie 4.0” no longer refers solely to Germany but has become a generic call for marrying the old with the new in manufacturing.
Yet the original premise remains: Germany seeks a universal template as a solution to a long-term challenge of new technologies. As a professor from Niederrhein University commented, “The thinking behind it is that first you need the existence of a technically proven IT standard in order to search out interesting applications” (translated). The reality is different more often than not: once interesting technologies emerge, standards naturally follow.
The IIC Targets Actionable Strategies
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the IIC has enlarged its pool of testbeds and rolled out a series of best practices around innovation strategy, reference architecture, security, and terminology. In other words, its members are thinking in terms of business strategies.
In 2015 and 2016, the IIC published several milestone reports:
- Business Strategy and Innovation Framework identifies and analyzes issues that enterprises should address when leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things
- Industrial Internet Reference Architecture, perhaps the group’s flagship product, is a standards-based architectural template and methodology that helps designers of applications around the Industrial Internet of Things use a common framework and concepts. It is a living document that will change with and adapt to the latest thinking of stakeholders.
- Security Framework codifies cross-industry vision, experience, and security best practices.
- Industrial Internet Vocabulary, the first to be issued by the IIC, zeroes in on a common set of definitions for terms to be referenced in all Industrial Internet Consortium reports and technical papers.
Two Paths Forward
It is not that the two sides are not talking to one another. Plattform Industrie 4.0 and the IIC have met on two occasions to discuss common issues, but no official document was signed. As Plattform Industrie 4.0’s secretary general acknowledged, “Together with our strong partner, the Industrial Internet Consortium, we want to create an ideal environment for user testing and ensure international interoperability of our systems.” For his part, the executive director of the IIC commented that his group’s “first and still strongest collaboration is with Plattform Industrie 4.0” and that “we are collaborating in many areas including architecture, interoperability and security and even exploring collaboration on testbed development and evaluation.”
Both sides have realized that a fusion of the two architectures was not in the works. They continue to cheer each other on, but they operate in different environments and with different goals. Vive la différence!