Smart Factory Web Testbed: From concept to reality

The Smart Factory Web Testbed aims to set up a marketplace for industrial production that comprises a web-based platform to allow factories to offer production capabilities and share resources to improve order fulfillment in a more flexible way than is currently possible with available technology.

By Kym Watson September 19, 2019

The Smart Factory Web Testbed [1] is designed to be a step towards establishing a marketplace for manufacturing where one can look for factories with specific capabilities and assets to meet production requirements. Factories offering those capabilities can then register to be located and participate in the marketplace. This requires up-to-date information about the capabilities and status of assets in the factory. The characteristics of the products — availability, quality, price and so on — provides a basis for possible negotiation between competing offers.

For this application to work, international standards such as OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) and AutomationML are needed to link factories into the testbed to provide information about the factories in a standardized way. This innovation enables production facilities to offer their services in a global market business and adapt their production in a very efficient way. The testbed also enables cross-site usage scenarios with secure plug and work functions and data analytics.

It reduces information technology (IT) system integration and installation costs, allowing for faster engineering and ramp-up time of components, machines, plants and IT systems—improving upon the utilization of equipment, as well. The core functionality is to describe the capabilities of factory assets in a standardized way, to find assets with the necessary capabilities and to access status data about these assets so they may be included in the overall order management.

The testbed is directed mainly towards small-lot size environments rather than large manufacturers because companies working with larger line orders usually have their own supply chain management system and do not need to be as flexible and responsive due to the size of the orders. For smaller-scale production, there are many more examples of where a moderate or smaller number of a particular part is to be produced, and machine capabilities need to be configured for this particular order. Furthermore, spare production resources may be offered through this marketplace in order to improve the degree of utilization.

The testbed’s primary use cases involve manufacturers seeking a factory to produce certain parts. The manufacturer accesses the database to find a factory with the right capabilities, and a potential target is identified. After negotiating with the target factory about delivery route, schedules, price and other factors, an order can be placed. The target factory may need to adapt its production to meet the requested product specifications, and it wants to do this as efficiently as possible. Once the production order is finished, the factory provides the finished or partial product to the original manufacturer or to another element in the overall supply chain.

This usage scenario, Order Driven Adaptive Production, is a combination of the application scenarios “order controlled production” and “adaptable factory” as defined by Plattform Industrie 4.0 (PI4.0)[1]. In further detail, this scenario is split into six sub-scenarios:

Sub-Scenario 1.1 Publish: Registration of Smart Factories: Realized in Phase 1: “Geospatial Mapping and Factory Information” with the help of AutomationML to describe factory capabilities and assets.

Sub-scenario 1.2 Find: Discovering Smart Factories: Realized in Phase 1: “Geospatial Mapping and Factory Information” to find smart factories registered in the smart factory web with the desired capabilities best matching the order requirements.

Sub-scenario 1.3 Order: Management and execution of orders in the Smart Factory Web: The workflows to broker, orchestrate and process production orders in the testbed constitute this sub-scenario, but they are so far not yet part of experimentation in this testbed. A proof-of-concept implementation in the Smart Factory Web Testbed will handle the ordering workflows and modeling of supply chains.

Sub-Scenario 1.4 Adapt: Adapting the Factory Production: Realized in Phase 2: “Plug & Work” to flexibly and efficiently adapt a production facility to meet order requirements.

Sub-Scenario 1.5 Bind: Smart Factory Web Asset Connectivity and Monitoring: Realized in Phase 3: “Data & Service Integration” to provide current information on product and asset status (including availability of free capacity) for exploitation in the Smart Factory Web, especially to support the discovery process and linking of supply chains through secure data exchange. The Smart Factory Web information model will be updated dynamically.

Sub-Scenario 1.6 Collaborate: Collaborative Engineering: To be realized in Phase 4: “Collaboration” to enhance the efficient adaptation of factory production with shared engineering workflows and software plug and work.

Technologies and experimentation for the testbed

There are three primary technologies involved in the testbed. The first is the IEC 62541 standard OPC UA, used to implement data communication within and between factories in the testbed. Second, the IEC 62714 standard AutomationML is used as a framework for the necessary information models — the semantics of the data transport from the factory to the testbed. The other fundamental technology is the testbed portal, a web-based information management system and application development environment which provides full support for access rights, workflows and ontology-based information models.

The primary experimentation for the testbed is working out an effective way of describing assets and capabilities and developing very efficient ways of achieving the overall software engineering where a new asset can be introduced. An asset can be described in terms of its capabilities, but also in terms of its information model as interfaces. The asset must be integrated into the information flow of a factory, the testbed, and potentially cloud platforms. The testbed’s core challenge lies in the software engineering processes, in an effort to make a factory adaptable. Other considerations include the electrical and mechanical interchangeability of a new device.

To date, the main deliverables of the testbed are documents describing the key concepts, standards application and implementation architecture of the testbed. These concepts can then be adapted and adopted for use by a company. Another planned output of the testbed is the experience of how to describe asset capabilities, integrating assets into an overall software architecture. The testbed is also driving standards by providing feedback to the relevant standards bodies and Industrial Internet initiatives — the OPC Foundation, AutomationML e.V., and also standards work within the IIC and PI4.0. While other organizations are working in the area of asset administration, the tested is designed to tackle the whole combination of technologies involved.

Testbed planning

The IIC ecosystem has played a significant role in the planning of the testbed. Regular presentations of the Testbed and resulting discussions with IIC members at quarterly meetings and special IIC events were important mechanisms, which allowed for continuous discussions and constructive feedback about the Testbed’s purpose and function. Participating in the IIC Member Pavilion at events such as IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona and Hannover Messe has led to high visibility of testbed activities and a better understanding of the requirements and potential applications.

In establishing alliances for various extensions to the testbed, the IIC ecosystem played an instrumental role. The IIC’s collaboration with PI4.0 is enabling the realization of the I4.0 component concept and its selected assets in the Smart Factory Web Testbed. An I4.0 component comprises an Asset Administration Shell (a digital representation with a well-specified meta-model) and the respective asset. Working with IIC member Microsoft, the integration of factories into the Microsoft Azure platform led to visualizing factory process data. The new IIC testbed Negotiation Automation Platform for the brokering and bartering of production and logistic services led by IIC member NEC will apply and further develop concepts and technologies of the Smart Factory Web. A collaboration with the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA) investigates trustworthy data exchange between factories and the Smart Factory Web portal as well as requirements on data usage control and data provenance for the negotiation phase between the participants of the ecosystem. Furthermore, the IIC ecosystem fostered collaboration between PI4.0 and the IIC, facilitated the international dissemination of the benefits of standards in a testbed, and promoted work on the description of assets of IIC members.

There have also been benefits for the companies operating the model factories—Fraunhofer IOSB and KETI. Both organizations perform applied research and development for industry. Through the Smart Factory Web Testbed, they aim to improve and better market their own offerings in the field of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and smart manufacturing. In addition, the Smart Factory Web Testbed is a showcase for products and technologies of participating companies.

Testbed standards

The testbed employs several standards. When possible adaptions to a standard are identified, the testbed reports to the relevant standards body. This report may involve submitting a change request or undertaking an accommodating process, depending on the standards organization. Regarding open-source projects for example, the open source communities can process comments submitted and incorporate changes into the latest releases of the software. The testbed supports standards with open source development as a way of trialing a standard and receiving practical feedback about the specification.

IEC 62541 standard OPC UA is used for the data transfer between automation devices within a factory, between different factories and between the factory and the testbed. The standards work in OPC UA is supported by the Open Source project open62541 where Fraunhofer IOSB has made major contributions. KETI is also contributing to open62541 in 2019. In addition, Fraunhofer IOSB has developed the Fraunhofer Open Source SensorThings API Server (FROST), which is an open source implementation of the SensorThings API standard of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Both open62541 and FROST are deployed in the testbed, and these Open Source projects contribute to the maturity and onward development of the respective standards.

IEC 62714 standard AutomationML is used to describe the semantics of the data, which data will be integrated into the Smart Factory Web, and how the data is going to be visualized. The Testbed uses AutomationML to provide the basis for the automatic generation of OPC UA servers, following the standard Companion Specification OPC UA for AutomationML. Experience gained in the Testbed is fed back into the onward development of the companion specification.

Certain areas of relevant standardization are not yet fleshed out in the industry but are needed to fulfill the overall use cases, such as geospatial or location oriented data, in a smart factory. The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) has standards in this area, but they are not yet integrated into the standards used in the manufacturing automation domains, that is, OPC UA and AutomationML. Another gap lies in the information models available for IIoT. While there is progress in the companion standards being worked on for OPC UA, the development process is ongoing.

Multiple technologies may be easily integrated depending on the needs. OGC’s SensorThings API is used to integrate additional sources of data, particularly sensor data, into a web of factories.

More work is also needed in the integration of commercial ERP systems according to Industrie 4.0 concepts and interfaces in order to support asset and order management.

Testbed results

There are four phases in the testbed:

  • Phase 1: Geospatial mapping and factory information
  • Phase 2: Plug and work
  • Phase 3: Data and service integration
  • Phase 4: Collaboration
  • Phase 5: Eco-system development

The testbed’s architecture and experiences gained in the testbed over all phases will be documented in a technical design report to be published as a whitepaper in 2019. The testbed team plans to extend the report to describe the work being done in the Digital Twin/PI4.0 Component testbed, a project under the IIC-PI4.0 Joint Task Group and on data sovereignty following the concepts of the International Data Spaces Architecture.

The first three phases have been completed up through the data and service integration. Phase 4 involves the collaborative software engineering of these systems and overlaps with Phase 5 covering cooperative projects with other initiatives. There is on-going work on the overall system architecture to include new developments with the Asset Administration Shell, as well as extensions of the testbed to support the Negotiation Automation Platform from NEC. Currently, the collaborative software engineering phase is ongoing — intensifying the work on the Asset Administration Shell, on the extension of the Smart Factory Web platform for other testbeds, and for the work with IDSA.

The technical report highlights the description of assets in AutomationML, covering:

  • Their capabilities based on an ontology (to discover and integrate them as resources in a factory or supply chain),
  • The definition of data to be sent to Smart Factory Web and Microsoft Azure through OPC UA or SensorThings API and
  • The visualization of asset data in Smart Factory Web and Microsoft Azure.

Phase 4 focuses on collaborating to achieve the necessary software engineering to integrate factories, and therefore requires the engineers and assets in the factories to provide data and semantics of the assets in a way that can be integrated into a cloud—Smart Factory Web or Microsoft Azure.

There has been a notable level of interest in the testbed coming from the industry, resulting in several types of customer engagement. Fraunhofer is working to form advanced, leading-edge cooperation models and move them into the industry. To enable this entrance into the field, the testbed has had ongoing discussions with industrial companies to transfer research and development results from the experimental environment.

In addition, Fraunhofer IOSB is transferring general knowledge and training as part of its mission, and the testbed has already conducted a number of training exercises on OPC UA and AutomationML for the industry.

Fraunhofer IOSB has also transferred this knowledge to its testbed partner KETI, which is conducting similar training sessions for Korean companies. Another example of customer engagement is consultancy work on how to design factories of the future and how to set them up to include new emerging technologies.

This area represents a challenge because there are so many new technologies arising, and it is difficult for anyone to assess if these technologies will have a real impact and can be relied upon for the next fifteen years. In addition, the testbed must be able to transfer these technologies to client applications, help set up the necessary software environments and concepts, and take a multitude of steps to implement the Smart Factory Web Testbed or aspects of the testbed in the clients’ own workflows.

It is crucial to increase the level of understanding and skills about certain technologies — trust in those technologies needs to be established so there is a sufficient level of proven experimentation and best practices on how to apply the technologies. This level of trust is necessary before using these technologies in critical manufacturing applications where large production costs and employee well being is at stake.

One of the major lessons learned is open interfaces based on standards are essential to realizing a system architecture that can be adapted to changing requirements and technologies with a reasonable effort. The technical design report will contain best practices and how to set up the overall system architecture. It will be a blueprint comprised of advice on how to accomplish this integration in a sustainable way.

The testbed derives different forms of business value from participating in the IIC Testbed Program. The testbed has been able to procure new projects in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) domain based on the experiences gained, as well as IIC’s marketing support.

Visibility and the number of clients in major IIC regions — Europe, North America and Asia — have grown. From the perspective of the IIC member companies, it is hoped there will be value for new clients to be able to apply some of the key technologies from the testbed more efficiently and with a higher degree of confidence.

The Smart Factory Web Testbed offers three pieces of advice to other testbeds and companies considering an IIoT implementation:

  • Follow open standards as far as possible on both the communication and data modeling level
  • Develop a sustainable, robust and flexible implementation architecture where one can make adaptations and demonstrate new technologies.
  • Ensure there are sufficient accompanying projects to maintain synergy, funding and stakeholder commitment — this will bring the testbed from concept to reality and help maintain it over a period of several years.

Cross-facility collaboration

Now in phase 4, the testbed team finds they did not encounter many major surprises in the technical area, but were surprised by their findings in marketing. The level of interest in Smart Factory Web for various application scenarios involving cross-facility collaboration is more prolific than originally expected. There are many different ideas and opportunities to transport these ideas to different applications, especially where cross-organization or cross-facility collaboration is needed.

The level of effort put into the smart factory web testbed correlates with the high level of output and discovery, and it continues to be a model example of innovation in the IIoT domain.

Kym Watson, Fraunhofer IOSB and Industrial Internet Consortium member, on behalf of the Smart Factory Web Testbed team comprising Fraunhofer IOSB, KETI and Microsoft. Smart Factory Web is an IIC testbed. The IIC is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: Industrial internet, testbed, Industrie 4.0

The Smart Factory Web Testbed allows manufacturers to find factories with specific capabilities and assets to meet production requirements.

The testbed also employs international standards such as OPC UA and AutomationML.

Even with the testbed, there needs to be trust in the companies and a high level of transparency.

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What benefits could your company gain from the Smart Factory Web Testbed?


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Author Bio: Kym Watson, Fraunhofer IOSB and Industrial Internet Consortium member, on behalf of the Smart Factory Web Testbed team comprising Fraunhofer IOSB, KETI and Microsoft. Smart Factory Web is an IIC testbed