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Friday, April 25, 2014

How Cyber-Physical Systems Could Revolutionize “Integrated Industry”

Manfred Broy

Dr. Manfred Broy of the University of Technology, Munich

Hannover Messe, one of the largest industrial conventions in the world, with 11 different trade shows running concurrently, will open its doors from April 8 to 12 in Hannover, Germany. The massive event will be unveiled with the theme of Integrated Industry, showcasing the growing approach to integrating and networking the manufacturing production life cycle from the mining of raw materials to the final product’s performance.

My ThomasNet IMT Journal colleague Christian Bonawandt and I recently traveled to Hannover to experience a preview event of the April trade fair and attend a special industry conference.

At the event, Professor Manfred Broy of the University of Technology, Munich’s Computer Science Institute, addressed Hannover Messe’s Integrated Industry theme by summarizing some of the advances the manufacturing sector is seeing in so-called cyber-physical systems.

As Cyber-Physical Systems (www.cyberphysicalsystems.org) notes, cyber-physical systems are integrations of computation, networking, and physical processes using embedded computers to cohere vast, non-computational pieces of technology.

Sounds complicated? Surprisingly, it’s relatively easy to understand.

Dropping all the jargon, cyber-physical systems are simple to conceptualize, and the idea has gained traction in the past several years. Here at IMT Machining Journal, I recently covered GE’s decision to put its resources into the Industrial Internet, which is one massive cyber-physical system, as did sister publication IMT.

Dr. Broy described cyber-physical systems in similar terms to GE’s approach to the Industrial Internet: During launch, the Space Shuttle generated 50 million to 70 million lines of code — data concerning performance, fuel consumption, speed, and general operation functions.

However, everyday tools, such as smart phones, car engines, and medical devices like pacemakers, also generate considerable amounts of data. In fact, 90 percent of the data that exists today was created in the last two years, according to IBM. Much of this big data is going to waste, often because the volume of information is too high. Harnessing and analyzing big data could result in positive, tangible outcomes in the real world. Big data analysis could “[c]onvert 350 billion annual meter readings to better predict power consumption,” IBM notes, or “[t]urn 12 terabytes of Tweets created each day into improved product sentiment analysis.”

Using embedded systems, technology producers can harness this data in real time via the Internet. For instance, connecting to all the pacemakers across the world and analyzing the data produced on their performance can give engineers, designers, and manufacturers better ideas about how to construct better, more reliable, and more efficient pacemakers.

But to push this idea further, a cyber-physical system would result in a technology network, across cyberspace, that’s connected to the physical world, with humans. This would allow a machine or device connected to the technology network to update itself in real time, based on the experiences of other pieces of technology on the network. Your car could “talk” to other cars passing by to generate a picture of road conditions ahead and adjust the trip accordingly.

To illustrate this concept, Broy cited a quote by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs: “You’ll see more and more perfection of that – computer as servant. But the next thing is going to be computer as a guide or agent.”

The Internet has long operated on a syntactical basis – recognizing and displaying information via coding and computer language, where the order of commands guides processes. However, the implementation of a semantic web could open up cyber-physical systems, allowing computers not only to process information but to also know what that information means.

Broy noted that we are seeing this implemented, albeit slowly. The idea of a computer recognizing a digital file not as a series of code describing thousands of pixels but as a picture of, say, a flower and describe and use it as such, seems like science fiction. But gradually, the technology to allow this to happen is being developed.

The implications could be staggering.

Industry 4_0

One of Broy’s presentation slides at the Hannover Messe preview event illustrates the concept of a cyber-physical system in “Industry 4.0.”

Cyber-Physical Systems on the Shop Floor

In industry, the exchange of digital information across cyber-physical systems could radically enhance efficiency, safety, and production capabilities. Machine tools on the shop floor would be able to communicate with every step of production in real time, maintaining a constant flow of information to track new orders, raw materials availability, shipments, production quotas, supply chain networks, and human resources and labor management.

Further, a company’s financial status, logistics, management, energy usage, and regulatory compliance could all be tracked, integrated, and communicated across facility hardware or handheld mobile devices, allowing management and employees to keep on top of all aspects of the business for which they are responsible.

The idea of a “Smart Factory” is not just about greater efficiency. It is about a vast reorganization and improvement of the way human beings make things.

The massive influx of big data would not require human analysis, but the data would be available if desired. The embedded computers in various pieces of technology would do this, processing and analyzing information and then providing that information to humans in understandable terms. This “human-machine interface” (HMI), Broy noted, would “keep humans in the loop” via a human-centric cyber-physical system, or HC2PS.

Surprisingly, much of the software needed to operate large-scale cyber-physical systems is already around. Broy pointed out that, in fact, much of the technology needed to implement these systems is already available, but investing in them has high stakes. He commended GE and others for taking their first steps in supporting the Industrial Internet.

You can read more of Broy’s thoughts on cyber-physical systems in the November issue of Information Technology, available here. Additional information about the Integrated Industry theme at Hannover Messe can be found here.

Brian Lane

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