Industry 4.0 Glossary

What Is Interoperability In Manufacturing?

Interoperability is the ability of disparate systems to communicate and share information or resources with one another. In other words, it is the integrated compatibility established between two or more unlike systems to facilitate communication and data exchange by leveraging networking protocols. The most common example of interoperability is the client-server model that enables web browsers and web pages to exchange information.

The manufacturing environment is defined by a vast expanse of digital devices such as accelerometers, IoT sensors, vision systems and scanners. These devices continuously collect and transmit data. It is the power of interoperability that enables data to be transformed into digestible formats. This data is then analyzed to identify useful insights that continually improve the efficiency of various processes involved.

How Interoperability Works

Implementation of a comprehensive interoperable system involves highly technical protocols, standards, and APIs.

The interoperability between two or more systems is based on their ability to communicate, exchange, and interpret data in a way that is understood by the other. This can be achieved with the help of establishing syntactic interoperability.

Syntactic interoperability is the process of adopting a common data format and a common data structure, which allows the addition of metadata that helps connect each data element to a controlled and shared vocabulary. Much like people from completely different cultural and ethnic backgrounds using English to communicate. This shared vocabulary will house links to an ontology, which will serve as a data model to define the relationship between the systems. A lot like the English dictionary and a grammar rule book.

Advantages Of Interoperability

Interoperability is the core principle that drives Industry 4.0. The vast and complex mesh of networks connecting disparate systems functions based on the power of interoperability. Here are a few notable advantages of interoperability across industries.

Improving Operational Efficiency

As different units along the production line begin communicating with one another automatically, the possibility for the transmission of errors or consistencies becomes very narrow. It also eliminates the need for physical intervention. This helps build a seamless system that is effective and efficient.

Reducing TAT

Picture having to pull a report from an ERP system, and then having to extract some information from the warehouse management system. This is when you realize the last piece of your jigsaw lies within a legacy AS400 system. Now you require an auror or at least programmer to realize the last piece before you can start putting the pieces together. With an interoperable system in place, procedures like these can be automated and the necessary data can be extracted swiftly. This will help to reduce the overall TAT involved.

Boosting Employee Productivity

Without interoperable systems in place, employees become responsible for the transmission of data from one node to another. Besides just taking more time, it also becomes vulnerable to certain errors and inconsistencies and can affect the productivity of the employee and the process. Interoperability and digital collaboration enable real time availability of information. Instant access to information and interoperability between personal computing devices and machines delivers an increase in production and productivity.

Challenges Of Interoperability

There exist a few challenges when establishing an interoperable system within your organization. As industry 4.0 continues to evolve there is a wealth of new components and technologies that facilitate the ecosystem every day. Let us take a look at a few challenges in building interoperable systems:

Technical Barriers

With the ever-increasing surge in IoT devices and components, the most common problem is that of technology integration. It is likely that completely disconnected components with contrasting native data formats are essential in a manufacturing environment. The presence of legacy components with little scope for sensor integration for interoperability is also another common challenge. In such cases, interoperability though is necessary, can seldom be achieved.

Security And Standards Compliance

As the world continues to move more and more online every day, data thefts and security challenges are becoming commonplace more so online than offline. Cybersecurity systems are compulsory in every cloud-based operation. Besides cyber threats, there is also a need for systems to be compliant with the dictates of government-based regulations like that of HIPAA compliance in healthcare systems. Implementation of interoperation should not increase vulnerability to MITM or penetration attacks and compromise system integrity.

Financial Barriers

Financial barriers on the road to interoperability include the cost of developing, implementing, and optimizing the infrastructure involved. Cybersecurity programs need to be constantly updated. Changing requirements will necessitate revisiting the underlying framework. These costs are only likely to grow over time as technologies continue to evolve every day.