The Digital Factory framework: an international standard for semantic interoperability

By Kaoru Onodera, Yokogawa Electric Technology Marketing

As society and the economy globalize and commercial values ​​shift from goods to information, the international community faces challenges such as the explosion of data, difficulties in knowledge transfer, decarbonization and sustainable development goals. New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help solve these challenges, but there are also concerns that they threaten safety and security and cause new problems such as job insecurity.

Under these circumstances, developed countries have initiated activities aimed at building a global social and economic ecosystem. The most striking examples are “Shaping Europe’s Digital Future” proposed by the European Commission, its related project GAIA-X and Society 5.0 as promoted by the Japanese government. The manufacturing industry is also responsible for responding to social and economic changes, and the concept has been discussed internationally. This article introduces the Digital Factory framework, an international standard that specifies core technologies to achieve smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing and international standards

Smart manufacturing is a concept that represents a common international understanding of the ideal state of the manufacturing industry, spanning the manufacturing value chain and the entire life cycle of products and production systems. Smart manufacturing aims to create new added value by using digital technology and connecting a wide variety of systems. To achieve this, the systems must not only be connected but also comprehensible to each other. ISO and IEC, which are both international standards organizations, define smart manufacturing as: “Manufacturing that improves its performance aspects through integrated and intelligent use of processes and resources in cyber spheres, physical and human resources to create and deliver products and services, which also collaborates with other areas within business value chains.

Collaboration with management information is essential to improving manufacturing performance, and the ultimate goal of a business is to improve its management performance through this collaboration. This can only be achieved when all elements of the supply chain work together. Since the manufacturing industry has become deeply globalized, its supply chains are not limited to a single country but extend all over the world. Therefore, to achieve smart manufacturing, it is necessary to establish universal definitions and rules independent of language, culture, country, region, industry, type of company and role. In other words, smart manufacturing requires international standardization.

Its importance in smart manufacturing is evidenced by the fact that international standardization is positioned as the heart of Industry 4.0, which is Germany’s initiative to achieve smart manufacturing, and that the EU and many other countries such as the United States, China and Japan have expressed their support for this initiative. International standardization is an important measure to achieve smart manufacturing. It is important that companies and consortia work on smart manufacturing independently and from the bottom up.

However, if they proceed without considering international standardization, they can become internationally isolated. In such a state, they cannot collaborate with companies and customers from other countries, so smart manufacturing only applies to a specific region or technology. The concept of semantic interoperability, which can avoid international isolation and achieve global collaboration, is attracting major attention in international standardization to achieve smart manufacturing.

The Challenges of Achieving Semantic Interoperability

Semantic interoperability is described in “Semantic Interoperability: Challenges in the Age of Digital Transformation” as “The ability of computer systems to exchange data with shared and unambiguous meaning” plus “A requirement to enable logic, inference, knowledge discovery and data federation between information systems.

Of course, this includes the ability of machines to not only understand themselves, but also to make information understandable to humans. Semantic interoperability is the ability of systems with different architectures, using different languages ​​and protocols, to exchange information and use it without compromising its meaning. In other words, the systems not only connect to each other, but also understand each other regardless of differences in language, culture, country, region, industry, business category and role.

Semantic interoperability is an essential element to achieve intelligent manufacturing.

As manufacturing continues to globalize, supply chains that cross company and country borders are common. For example, a company in France designs a product, companies in Bangladesh and Brazil manufacture its parts, a company in China assembles them, and a company in Japan brings the finished product to market. The tools and mechanisms used by each company in this supply chain generally have architectures adapted to the culture of each country. If this supply chain is fixed, this collaboration can be maintained through the efforts of the companies involved.

However, we are in the era of VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – full of unexpected incidents such as the COVID -19 pandemic, natural disasters, political changes and technological innovations. This puts supply chains at risk of sudden disruption for virtually any business. In response, a global system must be in place to select the most appropriate supply chain elements at all times and implement them with minimum time and effort, not only within a company or a specific supply chain, but also from a variety of open options independent of implementation technology.

To enable flexible horizontal collaboration and optimize the value chain, it is necessary to integrate information throughout the life cycle of products and production systems (from planning and design to disposal) and to allow each stakeholder to use the information transparently. This is achieved through semantic interoperability. Currently, the following obstacles hinder the establishment of semantic interoperability:

· Decentralized information: information on manufacturing systems is scattered in various documents, drawings and lists

· Fragmented information: even if digitized, information is stored in different software systems and needs to be re-entered or converted for use in other systems

· Isolated information: data updates in one system are not automatically reflected in the other systems

Currently, significant human intervention is required to achieve this state of operation. Meanwhile, digitization has caused an explosion of information and the amount of data already exceeds the capacity of human beings to process it. Semantic interoperability should free people from this flood of information. This is a fundamental problem to solve in order to achieve smart manufacturing.

Next week, in part 2 of this feature, we explore some of these solutions. Stay tuned…

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