open interfaces

The Device Chronicle interviews Nils Herzberg, Chairman of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance on the vital importance of open interfaces and following the customer’s reality

In his capacity as Chairman of this important implementation alliance, Nils shares his perspectives on the strategic mission of this implementation alliance and how he believes its work will evolve as the industry changes. Nils begins by saying that the central belief of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance (OI4) is in “open.” The OI4 advocates open interfacing and uses the customer’s reality as a guiding North Star for its work. Nils says “In a factory, there is no complete solution from a single vendor that meets all of the factory’s operational needs. In fact, there are multiple vendors and brands, new and old equipment, legacy systems within that factory. The key question is how to get all these different parts to work together to create more value, reduce costs, increase productivity and efficiency and to reduce friction?” 

Open interfaces expert
Nils Herzberg, Chairman, Open Industry 4.0 Alliance

Plug and go

The OI4 is also guided by a core belief that machines and software integration should be “plug and go.” This requires the community to develop a common semantic framework or language to make it easy for heterogeneous machines to communicate with each other and transfer data securely between each other and the cloud. “The open standards have to be proven in practice, documented and broadcast to the industry. The factory operators want these “how to” documents and the OI4 is working to provide them.”

Many different types of members

The composition of the members in the OI4 is mixed by design. It deliberately addresses the whole industry spectrum from consultancy firms such as Accenture and large industrial providers such as Siemens right down to small software providers. “This mixed membership represents the reality of all industrial factories and their different pieces from different vendors having to work together.” Another important point for Nils is that the alliance doesn’t compete with its members. “The OI4 does not sell”, but it does work to explain the benefits of its members, their technologies and services to the market. 

Reference architecture

The OI4 has created a reference architecture. This is based on the OI4’s belief of what the architecture of hardware and software in a factory should look like. It is also a hybrid model consisting of both cloud and on premise elements. Nils says “Members work towards this architecture and the architecture must support open standards. There is also a strong focus on supporting standards across the architecture from cloud to the edge. Examples of this include user management and the management of a digital twin. “These are the things that are promoted. An excellent edge completely disconnected from the cloud is a waste of time.” 

Embracing data spaces

Nils believes that the reference architecture will have to evolve and thought will have to be given to how “data spaces” fit in with it. Data spaces are the next paradigm beyond data lakes and this is where factory operators will use IoT to get the data once and then split it for different purposes afterwards. “Purpose-built IoT integration with a single focus is how we started, but in the end the Edge will collect all the data and broadcast it forward from a data space as an interface. You know where the data is and that it has been appropriately tagged and structured in an appropriate way. You can only be better in the processes and planning if you know what happened in reality and that is why the connection to IoT is so critically important.”

Fair and trusted data sharing

The question of how to transfer data across enterprise boundaries will also have to be addressed properly. For example, Nils asks, how can a robotic maker exchange data with an automotive assembly in a fair and trusted way so that even greater value can be created from that shared data? The OI4 may over time also have to embrace data sharing and fairness. The EU Data Act will change the playing field on how data is collected and shared. The OI4 has an Asset Administration Shell (AAS) for connectivity and data governance between members and it will have to be implemented with trusted and fair data sharing in mind. The Asset Administration Shell (AAS) is the digital representation of an asset. The AAS consists of a number of sub models in which all the information and functionalities of a given asset – including its features, characteristics, properties, statuses, parameters, measurement data and capabilities – can be described. The EU Data Act will influence how platforms have to work.

In conclusion, Nils says that the OI4 helps factory operators to “connect the dots for automation.” He says that in its role as an implementation alliance, the OI4 brings “sense making” to the table for the factory operators and their use of digital technologies. Factory operators have told Nils and his colleagues at the OI4 that implementing the combination of standards can be very challenging as they can be conflicting in some ways. Nils concludes “What the OI4 does is to take a data sharing protocol such as OPC UA, a software container technology such as Kubernetes and the OI4’s Asset Administration Shell to combine them a in a how to document that makes sense in the factory world – which is sweet music to the ears of factory operators.”

We wish Nils and his colleagues at the OI4 well in their journey to help factory operators make the most of digitalization. / is a member of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance. 

Image by vectorjuice on Freepik

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