Using software to provide IIoT value

Schneider Electric is expanding its industrial software platform offerings to provide value for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to companies.
By Stone Shi, Control Engineering China January 6, 2018

Cui Jingyi is in charge of software business of Schneider Electric China Region. Courtesy: Control Engineering ChinaSoftware defines the future manufacturing industry. As hardware becomes increasingly convergent, this assertion becomes more realistic. Schneider Electric, a global industrial automation provider, began acquiring industrial software companies a few years ago to expand its software offerings.

During the Schneider Electric industrial software user convention, Control Engineering China interviewed Cui Jingyi, who is in charge of software business of Schneider Electric China region, and Geok Kee Tay, chief technical officer of software business in the Asia-Pacific Region to better understand Schneider Electric’s software strategy.

Software, which is seen as the future core of competitiveness for manufacturing, also provides value for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). 

Life cycle software foundation

Schneider Electric, while regarded as a hardware provider, expanded its software offerings with the 2014 acquisition of Invensys. The company has become one of the few industrial software product and solution suppliers that cover process, hybrid, and discrete manufacturing.

Jingyi said the existing software product lines of Schneider Electric includes six parts: process engineering, operation control, information management, asset management, operation management, and supply chain management. Each stage covers the full lifecycle including design, planning, operation, analysis, and optimization.

At this point, software offerings already covered the breadth of the industrial supply chain and in each market niche.

Jingyi said Schneider Electric began to engage in mergers and acquisitions five or six years ago and continued to invest in its original software offerings. In 2014, Schneider Electric established a software department to integrate related assets, technologies, and personnel. The number of global software business personnel numbers 3,000. In addition, Schneider Electric has 10 R&D centers and more than 1,000 R&D personnel. Schneider Electric has 2 million software authorizations, serves more than 100,000 factories, and has 4,000 partners globally. 

Core of the platform strategy

Facing an upsurge in global intelligent manufacturing, Schneider Electric released EcoStruxure IoT architecture at the beginning of 2017. However, EcoStruxure, as a three-layer architecture, is neither an IIoT platform nor an industrial cloud platform. The bottom layer includes various hardware products with interconnectivity capacity. The intermediate layer is edge point control. The uppermost layer comprises various applications, analytics, and services. These three layers are not mutually independent.

IIoT only can be realized through intercommunication of these three layers regarding information, data, communications, and applications. In this case, a software platform at operating system level is needed to support and connect this three-layer architecture.

At the convention, Schneider Electric released its Wonderware System Platform 2017 software to assume this responsibility.

Geok Kee Tay is CTO of software business of Schneider Electric in the Asia-Pacific Region. Courtesy: Control Engineering ChinaTay said System Platform 2017 was a responsive, expandable, and open software platform designed for application development personnel in industrial fields. The platform serves as a connecting link between the second layer and the third layer and is capable of realizing integration between information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT). It is the core of the EcoStruxure and plays a decisive role.

Three core values of System Platform 2017 are it is easy to build, easy to use, and easy to own. By using the platform, users may import functional models needed through component construction and application, such as monitoring, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution system (MES), data analysis, and asset management applications. System Platform 2017 can realize seamless connection with system platform and realize data sharing and interaction. It also is backward compatible with Wonderware products.

Openness also is important for a platform. Tay said the system platform was open even though it integrated basic functions like human-machine interface (HMI) monitoring and construction of data architecture.

Users or third-party software partners may develop their own industrial applications in the system platform, or ask Schneider Electric to develop application programs based on individual requirements. 

IIoT value through software

At the start of 2017, Schneider Electric released two key transformational strategies to become a digitalization leader and industrial application expert. To realize these two transformation strategies, software business plays a crucial role by "reflecting the value of Industrial IoT by software," a theme emphasized at the software convention.

1. Data management: Jingyi said the three-layer architecture of EcoStruxure corresponded to four stages (connection, collection, analysis, and operation) if analyzed from the perspective of IIoT. Data generation, transmission, collection, analysis, and decision-making could not be realized without application software in each stage. Jingyi said data acquisition was the only first step.

Data alone cannot bring value. Enterprises must upgrade original data acquired to information, conduct knowledge mining from information, refine knowledge to wisdom, and feedback to decision-making and execution layers to realize a closed loop of personnel, assets, and operations designed to bring value to enterprises. The powerful software strength of Schneider Electric from operation control to operation management helps enterprises realize the IIoT’s potential.

2. Software as a service (SaaS): Schneider Electric also has launched a cloud-based software consumption model for its software business, a subscription-based model. Users may purchase the software based on functional models and points needed. Software is upgraded free during the subscription. Jingyi said this authorization model can lower users’ costs and provide more flexible and convenient product portfolios and even bring more financial flexibility to users or partners to help realize the IIoT’s business value.

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS Automation software, IIoT

  • Schneider Electric expands, outlines software strategy
  • Industrial automation software lifecycle is considered
  • A subscription model includes updates.

CONSIDER THIS

When considering manufacturing software, is a platform view taken? If not, why not?