The Sensor to Cloud Connection

A new partnership between SAP and Hilscher highlights the push for enterprise applications to leverage increasing levels of plant floor data for Internet of Things initiatives.

For years enterprise software suppliers’ interest in connecting with plant floor data systems stopped at the manufacturing execution system level. Any connections closer to the control layer would yield too much—and too granular—data to be of use by a transaction-focused enterprise system.

Then the concepts of digital manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things entered the fray. Hilscher, a supplier of gateways, PC cards, embedded modules, chips, controllers and supporting software stacks for industrial applications found itself squarely at the center of this movement and has been actively positioning itself to play a key role in sensor-to-enterprise connectivity.

Earlier this year I reported on Hilscher’s partnership role in IBM’s Bluemix program and its release of a portfolio of industrial cloud communications products and services. Now comes news of Hilscher’s partnership with SAP to provide bi-directional access of sensor/actuator level data via Hilscher’s netIOT Edge Gateway to SAP’s HANA Cloud platform and Asset Intelligence Network.

SAP’s Asset Intelligence Network is an SAP HANA Cloud-based hub designed to facilitate collaborative asset management by allowing operators to access up-to-date maintenance strategies, manuals, and other equipment-related information from OEMs. Likewise, manufacturers can automatically receive asset usage and failure data from operators.

According to Armin Pühringer, business development manager at Hilscher, integration of data captured by the netIOT Edge gateway and into the Asset Intelligence Network is “carried out without the need for additional configuration through use of SAP’s Shell Administration Service. It also offers device manufacturers the opportunity to access their own devices regardless of the programmable logic controller (PLC) and the production network.”

Discussing the developing SAP/Hilscher partnership with Pühringer at Hannover Messe in April 2016, he explained that the “benefit to SAP is it provides a way to access plant floor data to integrate operations with production processes.” He added that partnership talks began after SAP noticed the extent of Hilscher data communication technologies used in products from Phoenix Contact and other industry suppliers.

Beyond the ability for plant operators to optimize maintenance strategies and for device manufacturers to monitor and improve use of its products in the field, Pühringer notes additional benefits as:

  • The creation of new business models for OEMs, such as pay-per-use and function-based billing; and
  • The ability to access field level data from the Asset Intelligence Network, allowing for integration of the data into business processes during installation, maintenance and service of the production system.

Another sensor-to-enterprise connection involving Hilscher was on display at Hannover Messe this year in IBM’s exhibit. It highlighted an Industry 4.0 pilot project in conjunction with an established lean production program at John Deere’s Mannheim, Germany, plant using IBM’s Watson technology and IBM partner technologies (such as Hilscher’s netIOT). The goal of the project is to foster close collaboration and interaction of employees with process and order data, machines and sensors to build a foundation for continuous improvement of manufacturing processes.

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