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  • Nubix

Prepping Industrial Infrastructure for Digital Transformation

How to Bring Agility and Intelligence to Constrained Devices

A little over a year ago, Nubix embarked on a journey with a leading global industrial manufacturer. Their team was driving a Digital Transformation strategy to digitally enable their entire portfolio of products. Digital transformation is focused on the enablement of better products, services, experience, or business models with a central focus on data as the heart of those initiatives. What they need is more agility, flexibility, and where they dare to dream – intelligence. While they have this in the cloud, it is still very challenging for constrained devices that make up the majority of the compute at the industrial edge.

However, when it comes to devices at the edge such as industrial drives – which can range from small motors that cost only a few thousand dollars to behemoths that cost more than $1,000,000 – there is a new challenge:

How do we balance the agility required to improve efficiency, mitigate unscheduled down-time, deliver new functionality to our customers to improve their operations, and generate increased revenues while still preserving the extreme reliability required for critical infrastructures?

Nubix teamed up with this industrial manufacturer to prove they could deliver on these requirements. Together we focused on the following goals:

  • How to make it easier to deploy updates without compromising reliability

  • How to reduce risk when deploying updates to industrial devices

  • How to perform real-time analytics directly on a device, reducing the need for this to be done on gateways or in the cloud

  • How to operate infrastructure autonomously with unreliable connectivity back into their core enterprise platform

The Drives division, a world leader in electrical drives, offers a broad portfolio of drives to power industrial infrastructure, from hydroelectric power plants to factory floors and more. The small processors used to operate these drives require firmware – embedded software that controls these devices. Upgrading firmware brings with it multiple risks that could result in impairment or non-operational devices. Because of this risk, companies rarely update the firmware, which means new capabilities, bug fixes, and security updates may not be made available to customers as quickly as they are developed or needed.

The business impact of doing nothing

The lack of agility in releasing new software to drives, or any device in the field, harms businesses. Companies want to bring cloud-like agility to their devices in order to rapidly deliver a broad range of new functionality, instead of having them sit on the shelves.

According to Stephen Berard, CTO at Momenta Ventures, a lot of companies spend a great amount of time and effort trying to connect equipment securely and remotely – often creating a patchwork of bespoke pieces such as secure boot, patching, firmware updates, and telemetry – but they aren’t solving the heart of the problem. While these activities are not part of their core business, they are necessary for a complete solution; however, they consume a lot of resources and distract the organization from its true purpose.

...and the benefits of doing something

If companies can bring more intelligence and agility to their drives and devices, they can realize significant benefits:

  • Improve security – Ensure that all devices are up-to-date and patched reducing vulnerabilities and addressing security threats

  • Improve agility – Update and refine all device and quickly respond to customer demands

  • Improve insight – Leverage new techniques such as A/B testing and deliver real-time analytics that responds to conditions early in order to prevent disasters or change power consumption (e.g., a misaligned shaft, a sticky bearing, broken temperature sensor)

  • Reduce the cost of service – Access to data provides greater insight to effect repairs more quickly and enables engineers to solve problems without a site visit

  • Develop new business models – Deliver the opportunity to lease drives based on usage levels, changing purchases from CapEx to OpEx, and improve the resale value of drives with reporting on drive history

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