They are the service centers of the Internet of Things. IoT platforms connect devices and applications, machines and factories in the Internet of Things. With the large number of providers, obtaining an overview is often not very easy.
Standardized IoT platforms are increasingly replacing individual solutions in small and medium-sized enterprises too. Internet heavyweights such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, software manufacturers such as SAP and Software AG, and automation specialists such as Siemens, Bosch and GE offer their own IoT solutions that differ in orientation, functions and, of course, pricing.
They can be roughly divided into the three areas of infrastructure, platform and software services – or in the language of IT specialists:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft with Azure, provide IT resources based on which machine manufacturers and automation experts can develop solutions for their end customers. For example, the control technology specialist Beckhoff uses the cloud platform from AWS to supplement its in-house Twincat automation platform with additional service: This includes an analysis tool, with which all process and production data can be recorded synchronously with the machine cycle.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers are one level higher in the cloud tier model and provide programming models, runtime environments, and developer tools to create and run cloud-based applications. PaaS providers include the software specialists PTC and the Darmstädt-based Software AG.
In 2017, DMG Mori, Dürr, Zeiss and ASM PT together with Software AG founded the joint venture ADAMOS, a “strategic alliance for the future topics Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things”. Today, 15 companies from the field of mechanical and plant engineering belong to the alliance. It provides the partners with a manufacturer-independent IoT platform, the technical basis of which is the IoT platform technology Cumulocity from Software AG and with which the mechanical engineers can implement digital services for their end customers.
One example is Dürr's data analysis solution for robot-based painting systems. The analysis software records all data from the painting process without any gaps. This creates a digital fingerprint for each painted car body. For example, it contains information about robot movements, paint consumption and the exact position of the car body during painting. If a quality problem occurs, the cause can be determined immediately from the recorded data. The streaming analytics function of the software is used, for example, for online quality control when cars are painted. Algorithms analyze data from the painting process in real time and indicate anomalies. The operator can react immediately before further car bodies are painted incorrectly.
Adamos partners such as mechanical engineer Dürr, use the PaaS functions of the Cumulocity platform to provide their own special software services (i.e., SaaS). Among other things, Siemens and Bosch provide services for predictive maintenance of machine tools and intelligent device management.
Actually, the US cloud specialist Salesforce comes from the customer management software market. But since there is a person in the role of a consumer or a business customer behind every connected device, Salesforce introduced its IoT Cloud in 2015, which is intended to map actions across all business areas (among others, sales, service and marketing) in real time in companies and consequently increase customer success.
AWS and Microsoft provide not only the infrastructure, but also IoT software services, such as artificial intelligence services. For this, special skills often have to be developed as well as resources for processing the large amounts of data built up in production companies. This is what cloud providers want to simplify. “We more or less offer an entire set of solutions,” Oliver Gürtler stated, Senior Director of the Cloud & Enterprise Business Group at Microsoft Germany. “This also includes solutions that allow the user to implement IoT without in-depth informatics expertise.”
Nevertheless, this does not mean that IT giants such as Microsoft and AWS will dominate the industrial market as the example of the mechanical engineering company Velco, which was looking for a cloud solution for remote maintenance, shows: “We excluded the big cloud providers because they don't have any industry-relevant offerings. Ultimately, our solution must also work in extreme environments such as steel plants,” Velco's electrical engineer Michael Sundmacher explained the basis for his decision to opt for cloud solutions from automation specialist Turck.
And the need for such special offers will continue to grow. The analyst firm IDC expects the market for IoT platforms to grow by an average of 29 percent over the next five years worldwide. According to a recent study by IDC, 42 percent of German companies have already implemented IoT projects or are in the process of concrete pilot studies for them. Almost every third company uses a corresponding platform.
Which IoT platform is to be implemented in a company is a highly strategic decision, especially given the large number of providers. An incorrect decision necessitates an elaborate platform change and consequently additional costs and process delays. It is therefore worthwhile to evaluate the market of IoT platforms carefully and determine which solution is best for a company in an individual requirements analysis.