How to design, build, and operate an IIoT system

For several years I have been asking PLM suppliers, “What do you offer your customers to help them create an IIoT system?”  Until now, the answers I’ve gotten have usually been a compendium of available design, simulation, modeling, and information management products.  But the essence of my question really has more to do with the need to deal with the inherent complexities of IIoT systems which go well beyond traditional electromechanical product design.  Product designers must account for the range of environments and desired use cases for the product.  Smart watches, for example, may alter behavior when coupled to a human arm acting as an antenna.  Certain software techniques may drain the battery too fast for the target specs.  The list isn’t endless, but it can be large, and there are many interdependencies.  Designers need a way to model and interact with the product and system  requirements, behaviors, environments, and interdependencies throughout the process.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tuned in to a recent briefing by Olivier Ribet of Dassault Systèmes, which focused on Dassault’s approach to the “Internet of Everything.”  (I’m not a big fan of the term, “Internet of Everything,” but there are no good terms for the Great Digitization of industry that is underway.)  First, allow me a small disclaimer:  I’ll discuss Dassault’s vision here, but I’ll leave the details about availability, completion, packaging, and the like to others on my team, in particular Will Hastings and Dick Slansky, who follow the company closely.

One good thing about Internet of Everything vision is that it explicitly contemplates Things, their interactions with the Environment, and their interactions with People (and their experiences).  When this is combined with a “Design and Experience” platform which bridges between the real world and the virtual world, or between the physical and virtual worlds, this can be a powerful approach.  Ribet described it as a multi-scale, IoT-aware system modeling & simulation of connected experiences platform for continuous experience value creation.  Quite a mouthful, but exactly what’s needed.  Again, I’ll leave it to others to say how well and completely Dassault’s CATIA functional and logical design tools, and simulation, 3D, and other tools do the job.

It’s worth spending a couple minutes about Dassault’s vision as it relates to the technology stack required to deliver IIoT benefits.  Dassault conceptualizes the stack in much the same way as ARC does:  at the base, Devices and Machines, then Gateways, Network, Data Platforms, and Apps.  Dassault’s strategy is to focus on the bottom and top layers, and partner for the rest.  Quite sensible – but does it cede the important IIoT software platform (PaaS) to others?  At the devices and machines level, Dassault offers tools to support the design, engineering, manufacture, and delivery of systems for connected cities, connected machines and plants, and connected devices.    At the top level (apps), the vision is to support apps for Smart Buildings, Smart Factories, Smart Transport, Smart Energy, and Smart City.  Smart Home, and Smart Health.  This allows the collection of operational data, extraction of data for modeling and analytics, and display of real-time information in a 3D environment.   And it sets the stage for creating a 3D digital plant that mirrors the real plant, or for mixed real and virtual experiences like letting a physical controller interact with a virtual master and a physical machine.

But let me come back to what Dassault calls the ‘data platform.’  Here they partner with the likes of Microsoft Azure, Xively, and GE Predix.  In cases like Microsoft, GE and others, these platforms are certainly much more than just data platforms.  They are cloud application platforms with their own IoT services.  These platforms support the development and deployment of applications, and typically provide advanced analytics services as well.  A platform vs. platform competition is developing in the industrial marketplace, part of which involves app-creating partner ecosystems.  One challenge for Dassault will be to determine how best to participate in what could become a turbulent space.  In the meantime, there is plenty of room in the growing market for digital transformation and IIoT to accommodate all sensible approaches.