Thanks to Elisa Cosco, Junior Business Development Manager at M&M Software for arranging this executive interview.
Thomas begins the interview by outlining the technology strategy and product vision: M&M’s solutions include IoT solutions, edge & connectivity, device management, configuration and parameterization but also solutions for the implementation of digital business models, cloud based or supported systems like assistance systems or asset & fleet management. Development services and technology consulting is also offered. In terms of industry segments, the company serves automation technology, mechanical and plant engineering, energy, and smart products sectors. M&M also supports providers who supply products to related industries such as Pharma and Medical, Agribusiness & Agricultural Machinery; Food & Beverage, Shipbuilding and Oil & Gas.
Reasons for joining the Open Industry Alliance 4.0
The Open Industry Alliance 4.0 as an implementation alliance fosters collaboration and interoperability between companies in the same and across different industries to provide improved solutions for customers. For M&M Software to join the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance was a logical step. Thomas explains: “The intended interoperability and the seamless interlocking of different components leads to the fact that our customers can implement their digitization projects quickly, flexibly and with low risk.” He continues to say that “It is therefore advantageous for our customers not only to know the technological concepts, but also to help shape them, to have the opportunity to evaluate the concepts in early phases in proof-of-concept projects and to exchange experiences in a network of customers and partners. In this way we can position ourselves in the best possible way for our customers’ projects and at the same time increase our attractiveness through the possibility of cooperation.”
Project work within the Open Industry Alliance 4.0
Next, Thomas describes M&M Software’s project work within the OI4 Alliance: The company is represented in the OI4 Alliance in numerous working groups with technology experts in the technical working groups.
Thomas and his colleagues from M&M Software are active participants in the following working groups.
- Open Edge Computing
- Open Operator Cloud
- Common Cloud Central
Furthermore, they regularly participate in the meetings of 2 other working groups:
- Industrial Cyber Security
- Data Spaces
In the industrial working groups, Thomas explains that they are also represented in the Machine Manufacturing working group. Thomas co-chairs this group together with Carsten Weber, VP of Strategy & Business Development at Trebing & Himstedt Process Automation. Elisa is also involved in the Pharma Medical working group. In close cooperation with Diva-e, M&M Software has developed a reference implementation for important components of this reference architecture on behalf of the Alliance. In addition, M&M is involved in various committees, projects and events for the Alliance.
Driving the OI4 Demonstrator
M&M Software joined the OI4 Demonstrator project to establish and promote integration and interoperability between different edge layer devices and between the edge layer and the cloud layer (Manufacturer Cloud and Open Operator Cloud (OOC)). Thomas explains that the company wants to help build an Open Industry 4.0 ecosystem that allows devices, software components and cloud systems to be easily and quickly interconnected, in which individual components are easily interchangeable, and data is securely and reliably communicated through all layers. With the OI4 Demonstrator project, they want to:
- explore how they can use their OI4 edge and cloud components and their expertise with a focus specifically on the process industry.
- evaluate the performance and potential of the OI4 reference architecture
- explore the opportunities that arise from integrating vendor cloud systems with the ecosystem in both technology and business aspects.
Showcasing a reference implementation
In the area of connectivity, M&M Software offers OT (operational technology) connectors for PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and edge devices, as well as IT connectors for IT systems. In addition, they offer cloud connectors for the integration of manufacturer cloud systems such as the WAGO Cloud. For additional expansion, M&M Software also provides an OOC Connector for connecting the OI4 OEC Layer to the OI4 OOC Layer using AAS. In addition to the software components, M&M Software offers workshops on the edge components and the AAS connection.
Thomas explains that the main goal of the reference implementation is to create a technical breakthrough that provides important components at all levels of the reference architecture and links them together to form a functional overall system. This was intended to prove the general functionality of the architecture and to create a template on the basis of which further implementations and extensions can be made in the future.
The reference implementation focused on the two important use cases “Automatic Onboarding” and “Health Data Exchange”. Automatic onboarding involves the initial registration of assets (e.g., automation components) in the operator’s cloud. In the Health Data Exchange use case, data on the health status of the registered assets is continuously collected and processed in the operator cloud. The two use cases require functionalities from all layers of the reference architecture and therefore lend themselves as a basis for a resilient proof-of-concept. The core tasks of M&M Software in this collaborative project consisted of realizing functional prototypes for software components that would typically be provided to the operator of a plant by a manufacturer of automation components. These components allow the plant operator to seamlessly integrate the manufacturer’s products into their cloud-based IT/OT infrastructure, while also taking advantage of value-added services provided by the manufacturer.
Among the components deployed in the form of Docker images were the following:
- Data acquisition and pre-processing of data in the edge node, using the communication mechanisms specified by the OI4A (OPC-UA, MQTT, open fieldbus communication and so on
- Provision of a standardized OOC connector for the edge node, handling the communication with the operator cloud according to the specification
- Plug-in capable logic modules to evaluate asset-specific messages in the operator cloud reported from the edge layer and transformed into compatible AAS submodels for forwarding to the AAS infrastructure
In addition to the necessary specification and implementation tasks, a basic project structure for future extensions of the reference implementation was also established based on the GitHub platform. Not only is the source code stored there in the respective repositories for the individual components, but all DevOps mechanisms for automated building and distribution of the components (CI/CD) are also set up. All members of the Alliance have access to the project results and can use them for their own developments. M&M Software offers accompanying technology workshops, which facilitate the introduction to the solutions presented. More information is available in the Accelerate Directory, the digital marketplace of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance.
We wish Thomas, Elisa and their colleagues at M&M Software well in their work.
Northern.tech and Mender.io – the provider of the Device Chronicle blog is a member of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance.