Digital platforms stand for growth and innovation. They connect users, markets, merchants and customers – and are reshaping entire industries. No wonder then that five of the ten most valuable companies in the world are providers of digital services . Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft rule the market and are making it impossible for the competition to get a toehold against them. Impossible? Actually, no. Some technology firms are pursuing a consistent course of challenging the major players – and developing their own industrial platform economy.
An "Android for Industry 4.0" would offer a uniform, dominant software platform to link logistics processes to those in production. The goal is to connect devices and applications on the Internet of Things (IoT) with data networks. There are already numerous industrial IoT platform solutions. The most extensively developed at present is the "Predix" platform from General Electric (GE) , the giant American firm. A variety of large customers, including Eon and BP, use the GE solution, which links together industrial devices of all kinds to allow for central monitoring, control and analysis using real time operating data.
Lots of hands grappling for a piece of the pie
BP uses the technology to control its drilling platforms worldwide. Predix is built atop Open Source software, not unlike Google's Android mobile operating system; this makes it easier to link to both the company's own devices and third-party products. But GE is hardly the only provider on the market. German competitor Siemens's product is known as Mindsphere . Its cloud-based IoT operating system is also based on Open Source code, making it a more affordable alternative to its American rival. Siemens is advertising the fact that manufacturers can achieve precise analysis of when, where and how its products are being used, making them better tailored to customer requirements. While GE has designed Predix to serve customers in all possible industries, Siemens is instead narrower in its approach, appealing to the production, energy and medical technology sectors.
Not a question of size
Other industry names are not content letting the early leaders claim market share uncontested. IBM has released its own contender, Watson IoT, into the fray. This solution is a particular favorite of developers, as it allows them to implement their own IoT applications on the platform. With tools for analysis, device management, data backup and more, the IoT suites from Bosch and Microsoft (Azure) are also interesting alternatives. Start-ups are also wrangling for their spot in the elite group: Axoom is the latest project from Trumpf, a manufacturer of laser cutters for sheet metal. The IoT platform from the Karlsruhe-based start-up integrates process flows to enable real time analysis using live data. Within Trumpf's own production halls, for example, this promotes better utilization rates for its metal cutting machines. The application is open, meaning machines from other manufacturers can be used and positioning it as a worthy competitor in the battle against the tech titans.
The list of IoT platforms is almost inexhaustible. The key question is in fact whether any standard will gain dominance and bind users, like Facebook among social networks. The demands of the companies are too variety and the industrial internet is too varied. The mix of markets, business practices and standards worldwide makes it difficult to establish and "Android of Industry 4.0". It may be that the "Winner Takes all" principle simply doesn't apply in this case and that – like Android and iOS – two providers ultimately coexist. Experts suspect that it will take at least five years for any real dominance to take effect. So the race is still far from over for competitors from the US, Germany and Europe in general.
Digital Factory , the flagship fair taking place under the umbrella of HANNOVER MESSE in Hannover, Germany, is the ideal place to swap ideas about platform strategies for production firms and explore paths into the digital future.