The next generation of industrial automation

In recent years, there has been a lot of hype surrounding terms like digital transformation, Industrie 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) as the next industrial revolution. However, before one dives into the demands of the future, one must revisit and understand the former transformations.

The first industrial era was shaped by the introduction of steam engines and the first machines. The introduction of electricity and the assembly line marked the second era of industrialization – consequently leading to mass production. The next era started with computers and the beginning of what we call automation – robots and machines carrying out tasks along the assembly lines and ultimately, taking over the simple and repetitive work of humans. In the era of Industrie 4.0, the robots and machines will be connected to and controlled by computer systems capable of machine learning. They will be constantly optimizing their tasks and processes. Contrary to the first assumption, it will not be one central system controlling all robots, but all systems will communicate with each other, ultimately, decentralizing the decision-making process.

The essential aspects of factories or systems to be considered as a part of this new era are:

  • Interoperability: sensors, robots, machines and humans communicate with each other
  • Information transparency: the data obtained by countless sensors creates a representation of the physical world in the world of the systems.
  • Technical assistance: while in the past the systems have only supported humans in carrying out tasks, the next generation of systems will also support in decision making and problem solving
  • Decentralization: Instead of one intelligent system controlling all other systems, every system will be able to make decisions and optimize its task

With these major shifts, numerous new challenges come about. Data security immensely increases in importance. The integration of systems in unprecedented numbers requires a new scale of protection. Every single system is a target to threats, as it represents an entry point into the information and knowledge of the factory. An outstandingly high level of reliability and stability is just as important. Technical problems can have immense impacts on the overall production. The reason lies in the deep collaboration between the different systems. The optimization and adaption of each system to the others around it generates an increase of efficiency close to an absolute maximum, yet on the other hand it also implies an ever-growing dependency on the other systems. One failing system can causes numerous others to stop their work and might even bring production to a complete halt.

In contrast to traditional factories with simpler systems, it is not that easy anymore to just replace failing systems with another. As mentioned before, each system learns and interacts with the systems around it. Replacing one system will inevitably lead to the need for this system to re-learn everything the previous system had learned. This highlights a very interesting aspect: the value of data. In traditional factories data was only used to assess productivity and to optimize efficiency – the factory would still continue to run without any issues when losing the data. In an Industrie 4.0 factory, quite the contrary is true. The loss of data will inevitably slow production or even produce a complete stall.

Each system stores data in various locations – some is stored in the system itself, other data is exchanged with surrounding systems; other data is transferred into a local cloud. All of this data in every system and every location is stored on today´s memory technology – flash memory. While it might come in different sizes, interfaces and capacities, the technology behind it is identical. One failure of such memory could cause the drastic consequences mentioned before.

Hyperstone designs and manufactures flash memory controllers that guarantee the highest reliability and unparalleled data safety for flash memory used under these industrial conditions. They have just released their latest SATA flash memory controller that delivers support for large storage capacity, state-of-the-art security and best-in-class reliability for the use in Industrie 4.0 environments. Using this flash memory controller will ensure that reliability of data storage will not be an issue during the transition into the next industrial revolution.

Author- Sandro-Diego Wölfle, Product Manager, Hyperstone

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