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Portainer and Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0, it’s an extremely necessary change to how we handle the manufacture of goods (and utilities), and arguably has the largest potential for efficiency gains since the industrial revolution!

But what is Industry 4.0 anyway?

Simply put, Industry 4.0 is a way of using technology to link your people, process, and machinery for the more efficient management of your factories, manufacturing facilities, and utilities. This linking means fully related machines, using sensors and monitors to gather real-time data, streaming the data feeds into autonomous deterministic systems which can routinely act on anomalies, whilst at the same time, presenting consolidated/enriched data to human operators, allowing smarter near instantaneous decisions to be made.

As an example of Industry 4.0 benefits:

  • You can radically reduce the number of manufacturing rejects by performing quality testing through every stage of the manufacturing line, with real time adjustments to manufacturing machinery when quality begins to fall below acceptable thresholds (but before quality drops to reject levels).
  • You can reduce power consumption in buildings by only lighting/heating/cooling areas of the building that are in use by humans.
  • You can provide remote help to field engineers from specialists in HQ through the use of computer-vision, and augmented reality (thereby allowing manufacturing facilities to operate with a lower-skilled onsite engineering team).
  • You can forestall costly unscheduled stoppages to the manufacturing line from equipment failure through the use of predictive failure / predictive maintenance analysis .

Industry 4.0 is based off the technology initially driven from the adoption of “Internet of things” where consumer devices were related to the internet. IOT allowed for the monitoring and management of smart home systems (fridges, dishwashers, air-conditioners, home surveillance cameras), and then later into smart city systems (traffic control, street lighting control, rubbish monitors etc). This is all well and fine, but it’s 1 thing to lose control of your home automation (or even have it hacked), it’s another thing all together to lose control of your critical manufacturing line, or worse, have a hacker achieve control of your power station. Therefore IOT, which is consumer focussed (and generally massive scale) has been adapted for Industry and branded IIOT (Industrial IOT). The main difference is security, but also reliability, as Operational Technology (technology that operates industry) cannot tolerate downtime or compromise.

Whilst IIOT defines systems are interconnected, HOW these systems are related is left up to equipment manufacturers and software distributors. There are now tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of solutions addressing the needs of Industry 4.0, many of which are “retrofit kits” that can be added on to existing plant and machinery. There is a lot of focus on the next generation of Programmable Logic Controllers “PLC” (now often known as Programmable Automation Controllers) and Industrial PC’s being the enabler of IIOT through its ability to run software from unbiased software distributors, and this software is able to interact with sensors attached to the PLC.

So how is this even relevant for Portainer?

Plain and simple really.

Software is being created by software distributors, and these software distributors need to create and distribute their software in the most efficient manner for them. The most efficient manner today is in Containers. So, we have software companies creating software for Industry as Containers.

PLC (and Industrial PC) distributors need to provide the hardware that runs software to control devices. The PLC distributors are looking increased demand for their devices to run software as containers, and so now we have PLC distributors equipping their PLC devices with a Linux OS and Docker.

Finally, we have OT engineers, who are responsible for getting hardware and software SECURELY deployed, configured, and talking to their plant and machinery. These same OT engineers are looking at Linux, Docker, and Container based software and saying “WTF is this” :). Remember Containers are first and foremost an IT technology, so they are a very very new concept to OT, and probably something that most OT engineers have never heard of before.

Portainer provides a really simple way for an OT engineer to connect to 1 or more PLCs to deploy & handle the container based software supplied by their ISV, and Portainer does this without the OT engineer needing to become an IT engineer overnight.

Here’s another interesting thing though, for a lot of Industry 4, the devices that are desired to run the container based software, well these are very low power devices; often with ARM CPUs, and <1GB RAM (most are only equipped with 512MB!) and a measly SD card as storage. These devices are perfectly succesful of operating Docker (and even Docker Swarm) but they are a million miles away from being able to run even the most lightweight of Kubernetes distributions. As a result, the plethora of Kubernetes management tools that dominate the IT space have near zero applicability in the OT arena. This makes Portainer’s full support for Docker a match made in heaven, and its why so many of the PLC distributors ALREADY ship Portainer as part of their base OS image. We are 1 of the very few fully supporting Docker.

So, if your organisation is going to embark on an Industry 4.0 project, and you are considering “how do i empower my OT engineers” then gaze no further than Portainer. Get in touch and we can share some of the reference architectures we have for managing software in the OT world, we even have an OT demo lab to show you live..





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