Democratizing Industry 4.0
Every couple of decades the way we produce things gets turned upside-down.
It happened in the early 19th century when mechanical looms and steam-engines caused productivity to skyrocket. It happened in the 20th century with the advent of electricity and mass production on assembly-lines. It happened in the 1990s when computer-controlled robots took over from human workers - and it is happening right now, in what's shaping up to be the most fundamental shift yet.
This "4th Industrial Revolution" - or Industry 4.0 for short - is the advent of networked production. It utilizes developments in cloud computing, big data processing and machine learning to split monolithic factories into smaller, specialized plants, integrated with vendors and logistics into a seamless supply chain.
The ensuing complexities and vast data-streams produced by machines, vehicles, and workers alike are aggregated by highly scalable cloud platforms. Novel machine learning processes and AI technologies process this data and provide fully autonomous controlling and scheduling decisions, enabling manufacturers to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency.
And sure enough, a host of new vendors has emerged, offering services from AI based optimizations to fully automated quality control or API based logistics, empowering manufacturers, agriculture, miners or construction workers to push their output to ever higher levels.
...or at least, that's the plan.
Whilst moving towards a networked production model can yield significant increases in productivity, efficiency, and environmental resource utilization, implementing its paradigms in practice is fraught with substantial obstacles:
data, if available at all, is often siloed. Whilst increasing numbers of manufacturers equip their machines with open APIs, many still try to hold on to proprietary formats to create a forced vendor lock-in situation.
competing standards are only just starting to converge. Leading automation technology vendors have largely abandoned their in-house protocols in favor of open standards, yet the ensuing mix of alternatives is still far from consolidating.
a lack of expertise makes especially smaller and mid-sized manufacturers cautious when adopting higher degrees of automation.
a fragmented landscape of offerings, platforms, and interfaces means that every vendor has to implement every solution individually on-site for every client, specifically adjusting it to their factory-setups and standards.
Add to that the challenges that even the most forward-thinking companies like Tesla experience when striving for full automation and it is no surprise that a recent PWC survey on digital factories showed that only 11 percent of companies expect to achieve full automation within the next five years.
But things will have to accelerate
Adopting Industry 4.0 practices will not remain a mere choice for much longer. Fierce competition by nimble new challengers from China, as well as the sheer manpower of emerging countries, mean European and US manufacturers need to step up just to stay competitive.
We want to facilitate this by democratizing the benefits of Industry 4.0 and making networked production accessible to companies of any size and origin - as simple as installing an app from the app-store.
With deepstream, our last company, we supplied the high-speed data backbone that countless startups and incumbents used to interface with the dizzying array of modern machinery - and we had the opportunity to experience the hurdles they faced when trying to enter this space first hand.
With Arcentry we've built a leading visualization platform that is endlessly programmable, extendable and customizable.
What are we creating?
Based on these fundamentals we are working on a platform that:
establishes a single data-endpoint that connects a site or factory to the cloud. An endpoint that can speak any number of protocols and can live in parallel to existing systems.
lets companies monitor the entire state of their production, visualized as a digital twin: a realtime model that acts as a universal interface for everything that happens on the factory or site and that can be zoomed from high-level supply chain down to a single machine's operations.
makes historic and realtime data available to third-party vendors via a normalized cloud API and enables them to offer their services and insights directly within our unified interface in a game-changing marketplace for data-driven manufacturing services.
Why does this make sense?
Because it enables manufactures to:
- gain a holistic overview of everything that happens within their production chain or site
- have a powerful, high level and simple alternative to traditional supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.
- easily integrate third-party services for AI, QA, logistics, accounting and compliance without any integration work or on-site presence.
- combine internal monitoring with insights provided by third-party vendors into a single interface
- only deal with a single counterparty for procurement and payment
Because it enables third-party vendors to:
- use standardized data from factories without integration work
- sell through a friction-less channel
- focus on core competencies without having to deal with GUI development, data integration work or billing processes.
And because it enables us to benefit from incredible network effects while simultaneously keeping our core product slim and focused.