Initial results show that Europe’s largest project for industrial digitization and automation is on track to exceed expectations. At a recent conference, results from industrial partners demonstrated that the Eclipse Arrowhead project is delivering solutions that can be used in a wide variety of industrial applications. Eclipse Arrowhead solutions are helping modern production units reduce engineering costs while improving quality and speed. The results include improved industrial efficiency, better energy management and a reduced environmental impact for a range of sectors. With one year still remaining, it is clear that the project is leading the way for a new era of European industry.
For a long time, Europe has been at the forefront of industrial automation, in recent years, however, rapid technological development has seen a global focus on harnessing the power of the Internet and smart devices to increase productivity. This means that Europe needs to quickly progress from the heavy legacy systems that form the basis of much European production today and make full use of AI, Big Data and the Industrial Internet of Things. It is, therefore, no surprise that Industry 4.0 occupies a primary place on the European agenda. The Eclipse Arrowhead project is providing approaches and solutions that will contribute to the advance of European digitization and automation. The project began two years ago and involves more than 50 industrial partners supported by research institutions in 18 countries. At the launch of the 90 million Euro project, coordinator Professor Jerker Delsing (Luleå University of Technology, Sweden) announced the ambitious goal of reducing the costs of developing and building automation systems by up to 50%. Based on results presented in a recent review of the project, this goal will be achieved by some margin.
The Eclipse Arrowhead project is developing tools that allow digitized and automated systems to be implemented in industrial settings. This includes the capacity to upgrade and integrate existing systems into secure, fully integrated systems of systems at a relatively low cost. A key to this is interoperability, the ability of systems to exchange information with each other. Poor or non-existent interoperability can be costly because it results in monolithic system structures specializing in one specific area of production and operating in self-contained environments. Adding new components or upgrading such systems often requires numerous technician hours, extensive testing or solving issues by manually transferring important data from one system to another. By providing an open source framework and tools that allow the implementation of a Service Oriented Architecture, the Eclipse Arrowhead project creates opportunities for manufacturers to integrate existing legacy systems with new, more dynamic systems that are not dependent on a single vendor. This allows the capacity of existing systems to continue to be used. Project coordinator Delsing refers to this concept as “wrap and reuse rather than rip and replace”.
In addition to interoperability, the Arrowhead approach focuses on integrability and independence. Integrability is the ability for any device to be added to any system through hardware or software adaptors and independence means freedom from being tied to one specific vendor or system supplier. Digitization is quickly becoming a significant market that is expected to experience growth of anywhere between 800 to 2000% within the next decade. Cloud solutions and networks of interconnected smart devices present opportunities for flexible, dynamic systems that can be adapted and upgraded at a relatively low cost. They also present access to more real time data points from production processes and operational climate. Adding easily integrated independent devices and services allows industrial processes to be more closely monitored and controlled as well as automated to a much greater degree. The three pillars of the Arrowhead approach mean a focus on runtime engineering, where systems and resources can be managed dynamically in real time. Dr Germar Schneider, manager at German semiconductor company Infineon Technologies Dresden GmbH & Co. KG, explains in an interview that the Arrowhead approach can significantly reduce the time needed to implement new sensors in a cleanroom. Sensors play a vital role in monitoring and controlling the highly complex processes that form an integral part of the semiconductor industry.
Open source solutions are also a fundamental principle of the Arrowhead project and coordinator Delsing is keen to ensure that the project, its results and insights do not remain locked away behind closed doors. During the course of the project Arrowhead has become a partner in the Eclipse Foundation, something that lends an important seal of quality as well as expertise in open source solutions that greatly increase the reach and impact of the project. An open source platform retains the code at the center of any collaboration, making it available for new partners – new research labs, new software vendors and new industries can be invited to join – without it being vulnerable if one partner decides to leave. Open-source may seem like an unconventional solution for software vendors and SMEs who are used to competing with one another on an open market. However, by sharing the investment and development costs for common pieces of code required by all parties, resources are freed up for stakeholders to focus on activities that add value. As Philippe Krief, Director of Research Relations at the Eclipse Foundation summarizes, “Why reinvent the wheel, when we can work together to build a car?”
Results from industrial partners show that Delsing’s vision of reducing engineering time by half is clearly within reach. Lindbäcks bygg, a manufacturer of prefabricated building solutions based in Northern Sweden, have reduced lead times from seven weeks to only one week. “Three years in this project will probably move us six years ahead and puts us in a position where we may improve margins to the extent that we can expand our current market base,” says Product Manager Lars Oscarsson. For Lindbäcks the reduction in engineering time comes from digitizing and automating the coordination of the planning process streamlining the complex communication network of pre-production communication. Emerging technology specialists DAC Digital in Poland has successfully employed Eclipse Arrowhead solutions to achieve a 30% reduction in engineering time for the deployment of sensor networks. DAC’s Chief Scientific Officer, Marek Tatara sees this as simply the beginning, “Our hopes are that we can reduce costs even more – down to 50% and demonstrate the move from design-time to run-time engineering, where all the sensors deployed can be continuously monitored and reconfigured on demand.”
New opportunities are a recurring theme among Eclipse Arrowhead partners. Jotne, a Norwegian SME for data interoperability using ISO 10303 (STEP) and open BIM standards, entered the Arrowhead Tools project two years ago with limited knowledge in cyber physical /Internet of Things (IoT) systems and have now successfully used the open-source IoT software for 24 months. In an interview Vice-President, Kjell Bengtsson, explains that Jotne has successfully deployed systems together with other Norwegian partners, made its STEP compliant product life-cycle management module IoT compliant, and also attracted the interest of many other organizations in mobility, power, manufacturing, and electronics. And there have been numerous spillover effects. A series of other EU projects focusing on Industry 4.0, including Kyklos 4.0, Change2Twin, DAIS, DRYADS and EFFRA, have understood the power of the Eclipse Arrowhead framework. Bengtsson ends by expressing the power of the momentum generated by participation in the project, “as for Jotne as a company, we are now able to deliver new solutions to the market, we are now producing the next generation of “Standard Based Digital Twins” for business verticals like Aeronautics, Space, Defense, Automotive and the Built Environments.”
In the case of the Eclipse Arrowhead project, benefits to industry are also benefits to society. Gains in efficiency mean more efficient use of energy and resources, which in turn reduce the environmental impact of industrial production. It also means a shift in the labour market with better use of human capital and the elimination of repetitive or unnecessary tasks. For Hans Forsberg, Senior Project Leader at system developers BnearIT a fast transition to Service Oriented Architecture and System of System solutions is a matter of survival, “companies with systems that do not have the capacity to quickly and dynamically upgrade will struggle to remain competitive in the coming decade. The cost of keeping up with technological developments will simply become too great without a strategy that allows fast adaptation in the way that Eclipse Arrowhead does.” This is very much where the vision of the Eclipse Arrowhead project lies, as Kjell Bengtsson of Jotne concludes, “for an SME to be part of Arrowhead Tools has enabled us to bring the company in to a new era with a transformation that increases sustainability and allows us to provide new and more robust products.”