INTERNET OF THINGS: “CONSTANTLY CHECKING WHAT COULD DESTROY MY BUSINESS MODEL”

Interview with Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite

No time for the Internet of Things in everyday business? Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite of the OWL University of Applied Sciences and Fraunhofer Application Center in Lemgo, Germany, knows what is required of management in small to medium-sized enterprises. The expert for intelligent automation makes a case for small steps instead of deadlocks. Talking with A Mag, he reveals whether it is worth it to wait for standards.

Why is the Internet of Things important?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: The Internet of Things describes the digitalization of production. But it’s much more than just production-specific technical questions. Currently, digitalization is reaching many spheres of life, and this is something that can’t be undone. For example, solutions used for autonomous driving employ the same technologies as automation. Of course, there are some that close their eyes and wait for it all to pass by. Others seem a bit hyperactive in addressing the topic. We need a happy medium.

What role does the Internet of Things play for small and medium-sized companies?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: There is a general consensus that the Internet of Things cannot be successful without small and medium-sized companies. The management level in these companies must focus on what the Internet of Things means for them. This is their only chance to help pave the way in this journey. In small companies, the boss will have to do it, and in larger enterprises it would make sense to organize teams. I keep hearing that everyday business doesn’t leave any time for it, but this may just be an excuse to simply put it off. As a manager, I am constantly checking what could destroy my business model. Management must constantly question current business processes and assess what possibilities digitalization opens up for them – and reflect on it with others. This is half the battle.

Who is in the driver’s seat – the machine manufacturers, or IT?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: Neither. It’s the users of machines and IT that exploit opportunities they consider most beneficial to them. The next innovative push will probably come from the areas of IT and telecommunications. Machines will mostly retain their outer appearance, with new features more and more often hidden in  their software. But one thing is clear: Not everything that is technically feasible is an added benefit customers are willing to pay for.

Do machine users know what they need?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: Nobody was ordering smartphones ten years ago because no one knew what they were. It was an offer made by a manufacturer that created a totally new market, changing how technology is operated completely. To exaggerate a bit, today’s generation of students considers some areas of automation to be cryptic and archaic. Here, there is a major need for action with regard to operation and applied practices in particular.

How compatible are mechanical engineering and IT?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: Mechanical engineering and IT have taken totally different paths over many years. Like totally separate silos, they have defined their own terms and methods. Ask both an engineer and a computer scientist what they consider services to be. They will give extremely different responses. In the end, it’s also about how digitalization is interpreted. For engineers, it’s the mechanics that counts, while IT is something that controls processes in the background. For computer scientists, a machine is comparable to an office computer, meaning it can be replaced. This is why it is so important for industry associations involved with the Internet of Things to communicate and define common standards.

Isn’t this a purely German point of view?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: The ‘Industrie 4.0’ platform, a main proponent of the Internet of Things, is now working with the American Industrial Internet Consortium. This is a good thing. The U.S. is strong in IT and Europeans are strong engineers. It’s about combining the two in a way that makes sense.

How far along are the announced disruptive developments?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: Right from the start, the discussion has been about the hope or fear that new business models could disrupt and change markets. What surprises me is that very few creative approaches can be identified to date, apart from in condition monitoring. Of course, everyone has the idea floating around in their heads that someone coming from an industry other than mechanical engineering is butting in between OEMs and customers with some algorithms and a platform. But this fear is also good – because it is management’s task to observe these types of risks at all times.

What role will component manufacturers play in the future?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: I’ve got good news: Cyber-physical systems always have physical, concrete components. We will continue to need sensors and actuators in the future. They just have to be able to communicate and be capable of being integrated into IT systems. We’re not just talking about Ethernet or OPC UA, but about a higher, abstract form of communication. Components must be able to notify “who and where am I, what I am capable of, what and how am I doing”. IT on the other hand has to take this information and create a meaningful package out of it, not just within but also outside of process control.

Every component must be able to be uniquely identified electronically and will communicate over its entire life cycle. With the Smart Pneumatics Monitor, AVENTICS is heading in the right direction. Currently, committees are working to develop architectural models that are also relevant for components and ensure interoperability between products of different makes.

Does that mean users should wait for binding standards?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: We need standards, but if we first want to standardize the entire world, we’ll have to wait twenty years before anything happens at all. It would make much more sense to combine existing standards in a way that leaves little uncovered area. As I always say, “Don’t wait, start now.” Just start out taking small, reasonable steps.

What do small, reasonable steps look like?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: Currently, for example, manufacturing companies have a high demand for solutions for assisted assembly. Users want to minimize fault rates as well as reduce training required for varying assembly. To date, usually paper instructions are still used. Digitalization isn’t about simply converting this information from paper to digital media, but creating added value with intelligent assistance systems. Users can experiment with the Internet of Things – testing digital assistance systems, either parallel to existing stations, or integrated, and can measure the advantages. They can involve their employees and only have to implement solutions that benefit them.

What role does the SmartFactoryOWL in Lemgo play?

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite: We consider ourselves the connecting link between research and education on the one hand, and company environments on the other. With our SmartFactoryOWL “Centrum Industrial IT” research and development center, we fulfil four tasks as a neutral third party: We provide information on the Internet of Things. In our SmartFactory, we demonstrate the opportunities and potentials presented by digitalization based on concrete automation solutions. For companies, we qualify employees at different levels and support them in planning and implementing digital production processes. The Internet of Things begins with small, reasonable steps.

Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite is the head of the research institute for industrial information technology (inIT) at the OWL University of Applied Sciences in Lemgo, Germany, where he is responsible for computer networks in the electrical engineering and computer engineering department. He is also head of the Fraunhofer Application Center for Industrial Automation (IOSBINA) in Lemgo. Prof. Jasperneite is one of the initiators of the Centrum Industrial IT (CIIT), the first science-to-business center in the area of industrial automation in Germany. He also initiated and conceptualized the setup of a research and demonstration factory for IoT technology on the Innovation Campus Lemgo with the SmartFactoryOWL.