Industrial Internet Consortium USA: Industry 4.0 the American Way

Von Stéphane Itasse

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The Industry 4.0 platform or the Industrial Internet Consortium? RAMI or IIRA? Observe the standards meticulously or just do it? In the matter of procedures to be followed for manufacturing in the future and the Internet of Things, the differences between Germany and the USA may not be unbridgeable, but they are definitely conspicuous.

The Industrial Internet Consortium is based on practical experience: For example, the Asset Efficiency Testbed is related to air and space travel.
The Industrial Internet Consortium is based on practical experience: For example, the Asset Efficiency Testbed is related to air and space travel.
(Photo: / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Even the genesis is totally different: While in Germany, a consulting body of the Federal government - The Economy-Science Research Union requested the associations to setup the Industry 4.0 platform, big companies in the USA triggered the start: In March 2014 AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM and Intel founded the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) in order to coordinate the priorities for the industrial Internet, and to enable the technical applications required for this. Meanwhile 250 companies have joined the movement, including some from Germany. The aim of the Industrial Internet Consortium as described by Dr. Richard Mark Soley, Executive Director of IIC, is to bring together “operational systems”, which mean machines and industrial plants in the widest sense of the term, and information technology, as stated in the Machine Market sibling magazine Elektrotechnik.


Industrial Internet Consortium will not primarily create standards

What is important is not just the technical level, but most of all the new Internet outlook of tapping new business models. Thus for example, the manufacturers of aeroplane engines are on the verge of becoming service providers who do not predominantly sell aeroplane engines, but offer propulsion as a service.

Although frequently missing standards is mentioned as the most important obstacle to the outbreak of the Internet of Things, Soley sees the main task of the IIC not primarily in defining new standards. “If it is a question of standards, then one generally means middleware standards”, says the IIC man, “and it is often said: we have enough of that already.” More important than middleware standards in which data transport generally stays in the foreground, is the semantics, i.e., understanding what information is hidden in the bits and bytes. For this the IIC has opted for the test bed approach in which IIC member countries collaborate to solve problems in a certain application area.

If successful, IIC applications should be able to become international standards

In the first test bed on the subject ‚Track and Trace‘, Bosch, Tech Mahindra and Cisco came together to solve problems of connecting tools and work steps in aeroplane maintenance. Here one does not follow the approach of defining a standard first, instead the idea is to find out which standards are missing and then to define them through practical collaboration between the domains.

Soley emphasised that industrial applications are being developed at IIC which, if successful, can be brought into the international standardisation bodies. Moreover, IIC is not competing with the German Industry 4.0 platform: One is constantly in touch. The reference architecture presented by IIC for the industrial internet does not differ essentially from the ideas of German Industry 4.0.

No competition between Industry 4.0 platform and Industrial Internet Consortium

A meeting did take place at the highest level last year: Matthias Machnig, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economics and Energy met Soley – at a neutral venue in Switzerland. As a result, the Industry 4.0 platform and IIC announced that the practical implementation of Industry 4.0 will take place in future under mutual cooperation, as the Federal Ministry for Economics said.

Machnig mentioned “a milestone” which has the potential of bringing peace in the future on the competition issue so that Industry 4.0 may play a leading international role on questions of standardization. “The unified power of the IIC and the Industry 4.0 platform will level the path to a digitized economy, which would be advantageous to both sides”, retorted Machnig supporting the conciliation. And he emphasises expressly: “It was always clear to us that there is no such thing as a German solution.” The initial discussions focussed on interconnections between the two architecture models RAMI (Reference Architecture Model for Industry 4.0) and IIRA (Industrial Internet Reference Architecture) in order to ensure future interoperability of the systems. Besides, the two initiatives want to cooperate in standardisation and to use the common test environments.

Earlier, the practical implementation of Industry 4.0 or even Internet of Things had pulled in different directions rousing the ire of numerous market participants and also political observes, according to Elektrotechnik. Different perspectives seemed to harden into fronts. People spoke of “German mania” on the one hand and “vertical concentration” on the other. A uniform alignment seemed unthinkable, as a result of which industry increasingly missed the orientation towards sustainable development.

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International standardisation for Industry 4.0 has started

The rounds held in Switzerland searched common levels for a solution, and also discussed the interaction between RAMI and IIRA. “There were many misunderstandings in the general discussion”, says Prof. Siegfried Russwurm, Member of the Management of the Industry 4.0 platform, CTO and Member of the Board of Directors of Siemens AG. “However, as we reached the material level in the discussions in Zurich, we were able to have a manual discussion.”


Soley has a similar viewpoint: “The effort shows that technically well-versed people can close all gaps and find a way of solving problems, which would otherwise have created obstacles against the use of IoT technology for industrial applications.“ For the VDMA General Manager Thilo Brodtmann, “the approach is particularly different from other international standardisation processes”.

Meanwhile, according to information received from Russwurm, the discussions are continuing. “Cooperation is the clear objective. There is no ideological warfare between the Industry 4.0 platform and IIC – and also no differences of opinion on economic locations. There are differences, also because the German initiative Industry 4.0 focusses on digitization of the manufacturing industry, while IIC concentrates more on mobility, energy or logistics themes”, he explains. There are overlapping regions between the initiatives, but also differences. “Within Industry 4.0 itself there will be no reference architecture – that is why it is defined as, RAMI 4.0' a framework of suitable architectures. We shall examine right away whether the architecture approaches of IIC fit this frame“, says the Siemens Management Board. Due to the different thematic alignment, one should not expect the emergence of a common standard for production, medicine, energy or the logistics world.