A look at developments and solutions - with statements from CEO Hannes Niederhauser and VP Marketing Norbert Hauser
Industry 4.0 and IoT applications are on a roll. The digital transformation has been gaining momentum also among manufacturing companies worldwide. Analysts from the leading market research institutes unanimously speak of a market worth billions, for components and solutions.
Embedded computers are an essential building block for IoT. In contrast to the stagnating, rather declining, traditional PC market segment, embedded computers are on the upswing. "The annual growth rate is currently around 10% and IoT is expecting additional double-digit growth opportunities in this area," reports Hannes Niederhauser, CEO of Kontron. The Asian markets, with their high dynamics, are providing the main impetus for this development.
Here, Kontron benefits from the synergies with the S&T Group, of which the Augsburg-based company has been a part of since 2017. The partner Foxconn not only has comprehensive manufacturing know-how, that Kontron can utilize. Rather, this cooperation also supports the Augsburg-based company's ambitions in the fast-growing Asian markets.
Production location Germany remains important
"Nevertheless, we do not say goodbye to production in Germany," emphasizes Niederhauser. "Small quantities and customer-specific modified products, with a high variety of variants are not suitable for fully automated production". This division will continue to be operated from Augsburg. As Original Design Manufacturer (ODM), Kontron develops products at its German location exactly according to the specifications of its customers. "In doing so, we have to pay close attention to the specified design templates," says Niederauer. "This requires difficult manual activities and a lot of flexibility.”
Well-equipped for the challenges of the IoT market
According to the CEO, Kontron is well prepared for the challenges of IoT and Industry 4.0. This is not least due to the merger with S&T. The embedded specialist supports the digital transformation in the industrial environment with its specific IoT hardware and its many years of experience for the needs of the industrial environment. S&T contributes the IoT Software Framework SUSiEtec for solutions, with which the individual levels of an application can be easily linked. "The customer receives the entire package from us, from software consulting and development to cloud hosting," summarizes Niederhauser.
Industrial processes migrate to the cloud
The cloud is the pivotal point for the rapid development of IoT and Industry 4.0. It will continue to gain in importance. More and more manufacturing companies around the world are shifting their IT-supported processes to cloud platforms. "To achieve this, the formerly strictly defined areas of operational IT (OT) and information technology must be continuously merged," explains Niederhauser. "Industry standards and correspondingly aligned IT infrastructures are essential prerequisites for closing the gap between these two segments".
Perfect interaction of all components
Modern high-performance chips, automation solutions, 5G connectivity and IT are essential building blocks for successful applications in industry 4.0 and IoT. Practical solutions from which industrial companies around the globe benefit require a perfect interaction of hardware, software and connectivity with production systems. This is the only way to successfully implement digital transformation in the manufacturing industry.
Science drives IoT research forward
In addition to manufacturers such as Kontron, the scientific community is also involved and is using research to advance the implementation of digital transformation in industrial companies. For example, the Dresden University of Applied Sciences (HTW) has set up a Smart Factory with a complete industrial 4.0 production line with real manufacturing machines. The 'Modellfabrik Industrie 4.0 - Industrial Internet of Things Testbed' is part of the 'Industrial IoT' trail, one of a total of five IoT trails in the Smart Systems Hub. At the Dresden Model Factory, researchers led by Prof. Dirk Reichelt, Professor of Information Management at the HTW Dresden, will show how information about people, machines and materials in the industrial environment can be collected, transmitted and analysed. Six manufacturing and five logistics modules with different hardware and software systems as well as several robot stations with virtual reality workstations and three manual workstations were set up for this purpose. The model factory is also equipped with a comprehensive sensor system for tracking material movements and recording process and environmental data.
Complexity is a challenge for specialists
"But the merger of OT and IT in industry also creates considerably more complexity," says Norbert Hauser, Vice President Marketing at Kontron. On the other hand, there is a shortage of skilled personnel, which is particularly high in the area of software and integration.
Here, Kontron supports its customers with an individual platform strategy that makes it possible to quickly implement a finished system. In the areas of IIoT technologies and embedded computing, the manufacturer therefore does not only offer boards, IPCs modules or edge computers. Rather, customers receive a holistic solution, from consulting to a variety of products. "And if the company lacks the necessary specialists, we also provide the customer with the necessary software engineering support," confirms Norbert Hauser.
Bridging gaps with standards
IT standards are also gaining ground in the manufacturing sector. OPC UA and TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) are challenges that OT specialists also must face. "In the future, isolated solutions will no longer be in demand; rather, we will have to build bridges and bring together the once separate areas in a targeted manner," explains Norbert Hauser. Kontron sees itself well positioned here, because in addition to a broad product portfolio, the company also scores with the competence of numerous engineers. As a member of the S&T Technology Group, Kontron can rely on the experience of more than 2,700 engineers, including both IT and OT specialists, for its customer projects. "They can advise and support from a neutral point of view," says Hauser.
Well-filled toolbox simplifies integration
When implementing projects, Kontron experts can draw on a wealth of tools to successfully and efficiently implement the integration of both IT worlds. One example is the TSN Starter Kit (further information can be downloaded here) with a powerful embedded computer that can control and manage multiple devices. Based on OPC UA and TSN standards, the Ethernet-based networking of machines and control computers can be implemented. The Kontron kit is equipped with an Intel Core i5Quad Core processor and 4 TNS ports. Realtime Linux is preconfigured.
A small PCI Express plug-in card with a 4-channel TSN switch is ideal for retrofitting. It fits into any industrial PC with PCI Express, for example rackmount, box PC or panel PC.
The KBox A-230-LS completes the preliminary offer. It can be used as an edge computer and can be connected directly to TSN with sensors or actuators, via CAN bus, a serial interface or via Ethernet. A fast and cost-effective solution.
Edge computing will continue to gain importance in the industrial sector in the coming years. This relieves the burden on core infrastructures. The efficiency of existing production environments is increasing. At the same time, options are opening for new business and service models. Thanks to this development, manufacturing companies all over the world can improve their productivity and efficiency and optimize costs. This creates competitive advantages, made possible by the surge of digital transformation.
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