Smart transformation to the digital world
Aside from its role as proactive driver of manufacturer and industry-independent standards, KUKA is particularly engaged in creating essential platforms as a link between real production and the relevant digital structures. In doing so, we create the prerequisites for an open, comprehensive architecture and a structure that provides constant user access on any end device to the customer’s own production data.
This structure will allow components and processes to be analyzed, managed and, if necessary, even reconfigured with virtually unlimited computing power – a platform that scales know-how and unlocks access to whole new markets and regions over the Internet. Today, KUKA can master the key challenges arising from the integration of existing industrial automation systems into a smart and consistently networked production chain. KUKA lets customers focus on their core competencies because the platform technology is available for every component, in every sector and market, thanks to open standardized interfaces.
Technical concept of KUKA Digital Domains
Shop floor / edge
As a first mover, KUKA has developed open, interoperable and modular architecture layers and platforms for tomorrow’s smart factory that ensure efficient convergence of traditional automation engineering with cloud technologies. Accordingly, every data transfer begins with a production component or process, whose control and sensor system communicates with peripheral equipment via specific protocols and bus systems. The edge provides the communication interface between the cell network (operation technology, OT) and overarching IT (information technology) network. Data are already consolidated, compressed, and encrypted in the local edge hardware before being transferred to the cloud.
A trend can be identified across all cloud providers in which typical cloud functions, like event processing, are shifted to the edge to increase closeness to the process and enable a more direct and faster reaction in real time. Ultimately this will lead to increasing centralization of control and regulation tasks in the cloud, instead of distributing them to various automation devices in decentralized locations. The edge is thus the crucial layer for connecting real “things” on the shop floor to the virtually infinite computing and storage capacity in the cloud.
They can also be incorporated into the new digital world of Industrie 4.0 via the integration of edge gateways in existing “brownfield” production plants. By contrast, when planning new “greenfield” plants, the edge permits completely new control architectures in which an edge with high computing and real-time powers acts as the central cell controller. As the edge layer interacts between things and the cloud, components are relieved of requirements placed on cloud communication, such as security, computing power, memory requirements, etc., while at the same time being enhanced by previously lacking cloud-compatible communication protocols.
These services are directly integrated into compact and, more importantly, securely embedded computer systems in the production environment for cross-cell and cross-component availability. For end consumers and thus cell and system operators, it is important that data accessibility to their processes is enabled through minimally invasive edge integration. KUKA therefore strongly advocates the standardization and openness of interfaces to allow all production “things” to communicate with the cloud via the same edge. To this end, KUKA sits on established committees and promotes OPC UA as a standardized communication protocol.
The cloud layer – public, private, on the Internet or on premises
The Internet of Things platform (IoT platform) – included in the term “cloud” – is the next station for data sets after the edge. But what is it actually all about? Since all things in production will be communicating with the edge via standardized protocols in the future, these data are now sent to the cloud. In this context, the cloud is a computer infrastructure made available by providers such as Microsoft or Amazon in the form of “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS).
The IoT platform in turn describes a platform on one of these cloud infrastructures – “Platform as a Service” (PaaS). Good to know: The IoT platform of the KUKA Cloud is cloud-agnostic and can therefore run on any infrastructure. The customer can therefore freely choose whether this should be a private cloud, a public cloud (“anywhere” on the Internet) or on the customer’s premises. So-called micro services run on this platform, like for instance authentication, role concepts, Big Data storage and processing, etc. It also enables features such as artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance and event analytics. The IoT platform allows system operators to process the data from their producing things and to adapt processes on the basis of insights derived from the results.
KUKA tailors its IoT platform developments to the requirements of MSEs in the mechanical and systems engineering industry. After all, the platform is available to enterprises from all sectors and can be used across all markets. Partners can thus focus entirely on their core competencies and can access established micro services via KUKA’s IoT platform. In addition, our partners and third-party providers of services for programming and optimizing individual components or processes can also be integrated. A community based on partnership thus evolves, driving the optimization of components, processes and production operations via a shared technical platform.
Business cloud – production meets business intelligence.
The IoT platform manages thing-related data processing and evaluation. However, modern production systems also need a uniform, structured approach to comprehensive value chain and maintenance processes. And that is exactly what the business cloud makes possible. It provides access, for example, to all historically captured data for process and component analysis – such as the lifecycle or maintenance information of individual robots. As a result, processes can be launched and run digitally.
Thanks to the standardized IoT platform link to the customer’s business cloud, all databases – of KUKA and its partners alike – can be incorporated into the analyses and quality assurance processes via this interface. Like many other customers, KUKA also operates its own business cloud. The system offers customers an integral experience with KUKA across all points of contact. In the future, our robot, cell and system-specific data will additionally be available to our community partners on the IoT platform for improving production efficiency.
The KUKA Marketplace including the App Store will also be operated via the system. In practical terms, this means that the growing number of apps and generated know-how can be marketed worldwide through this store – by a simple mouse-click. The benefit for customers: KUKA takes on the responsibility for developing and operating the infrastructure and places the process expertise available on the market at the community’s disposal in the form of applications.
UI, HMI & app layer – the basis for intelligent applications and human-machine interfaces
Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) allow customers to access IoT platform data and analysis results and to take the required operator control actions. The interface between the cloud and HMI end devices is also implemented by means of open and documented APIs – known in this case as RESTful APIs. Community partners and other customers can thus program their own applications for any end devices and evaluate data supplied via the edge in line with their requirements. Applications may have a very compact design and be used for highly specialized and possibly component-specific tasks. However, it is equally possible for complex applications with a wide-ranging scope of functions to be implemented. In practice, requirements vary enormously depending on the sector, individual production solutions and corporate structures. Virtually no bounds are set – everything is covered from recording operating hours to optimizing the energy consumption of process sequences.
KUKA already possesses wide-ranging expertise and specialized staff in the field of app development, as has already been required for many years for the local operation of components such as robots. This is reflected, for example, in the style guide for programming user interfaces, which supports the intuitive operation of all HMIs. The so-called RESTful APIs allow our partners in the KUKA Manufacturing Ecosystem to implement the apps they need, designed exactly in accordance with their own ideas. Companies can thus not only access their own production data, but also have them analyzed and evaluated via the established micro services from KUKA and other third-party providers. In the future, companies from all sectors, such as system integrators, process, hardware and software manufacturers, OEMs and start-ups will enhance their products, and especially their services, with relevant apps.
This scenario is made possible by the KUKA Marketplace with its App Store: programmed best practice solutions can be bought and downloaded here, thereby giving the creators the opportunity to market their know-how on a global scale. KUKA provides customers with a structured platform and broad community that offers all the relevant tools for quickly and efficiently integrating Industrie 4.0 solutions into the value chain in a dynamically growing ecosystem.