In the Industry 4.0 area, Big Data is often both a curse and a blessing. The huge quantities of information are the necessary foundation for a high degree of automation, yet many systems are reaching their limits faced with the increasing tidal wave of data. An ERP solution for Industry 4.0 should be designed to overcome these challenges – right down to its core. This is why Asseco Solutions, an ERP provider for midsized companies, is currently giving the architecture of its ERPII solution APplus an extensive overhaul. As well as restructuring the basic architecture, the company is also introducing an interface framework that optimises the way business processes are distributed across systems. The company’s ambitious goal is to create a platform for Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT), a sort of “ERP 4.0”. Asseco will be presenting all the new features, along with a first prototype of its upcoming solution for the Industry 4.0 trend predictive maintenance, on stand F16 in Hall 5 at this year’s CeBIT, which takes place from 14 to 18 March in Hanover (Germany).
“All components must work together in perfect harmony if Industry 4.0 and IoT are to really deliver on the promise of increased efficiency, cost-effectiveness and flexibility in factories – just like the cogs in clockwork. This is why the overall system in a smart factory can only run as efficiently as its weakest component. For ERP, it’s not enough to extend the solution with a few Industry 4.0 functions and talk about it with trendy words. An ERP solution that’s really designed for Industry 4.0 must support the performance and speed needed for Industry 4.0 – right down to its core, on the software and architecture level. This is why we’re currently giving APplus a complete Industry 4.0 overhaul.”
More performance for high data volumes
At the heart of the changes are two main aspects relevant to Industry 4.0, in that they will ensure more efficient processing for larger quantities of data and better distribution of business processes across systems.
Redesigned, scalable basic architecture
Until now, the solution architecture of APplus has usually been implemented based on three components: a database server, an application server and a web server. The disadvantage of this constellation is its limited scalability. If a company grows faster than expected or the number of users increases rapidly, the systems will not be able to provide limitless support as very large quantities of data will affect their performance. This type of architecture can feel the strain, especially in complex Industry 4.0 scenarios. To prevent this happening, APplus will support the parallel use of several application servers that can be topped up as required, depending on the application concerned. They process the user-initiated application transactions that they receive from the relevant web server, which ensures fast response times – even with large data volumes.
In the context of Industry 4.0 and IoT, the number of systems to be interconnected is increasing all the time. For this reason, APplus will include a separate document transaction server in parallel. This will enables processing for all asynchronous document transactions transmitted to the ERP system via interfaces. It covers data transfers from systems that manage master data (e.g. PLM systems), EDI processing for sales, purchasing, incoming and outgoing goods, as well as bidirectional data sharing between manufacturing execution systems (MES), operating data capture, systems that log staff work time, and quality assurance. The dedicated document transaction server carries out all the transactional data processing quickly and efficiently without impacting the actual production systems.
Distributed business processes with an internal intranet-based supply chain
To implement end-to-end business processes in the Industry 4.0 environment, the interconnection of a growing number of third-party systems is unavoidable. However, for ERP solutions this implies an increasing communication requirement and more data input from external systems. APplus helps companies maintain a high level of efficiency and minimise the effort required for configuration and maintenance. It does this with an interface framework that gives firms an easy way to connect external systems to APplus without the need for programming. Instead of developing and programming an interface for each individual connection, a special communicator converts the information from the source system into an encrypted, generic data structure – independently of the type of system concerned and its native data structure. It then sends this generic information to the target system, where it is decrypted by another communicator. This approach enables companies to connect the two systems with no programming. It also reduces the need for maintenance, as changes to one system do not require changes to the interface or to the other system.
The advantages of the APplus interface framework go beyond communication with external systems, as they can also provide better performance and more flexibility within a company. Working in the same way as the communication with third-party systems, which implements a complete, external supply chain process, the interface framework lets companies view their internal organisational entities as systems that work together to carry out a business process. With APplus, these entities can be self-sufficient and have their own ERP installation that uses the interface framework to connect it to other systems. The result is an internal – instead of external – intranet-based supply chain. This approach makes it much easier to distribute data wherever it is needed, so that business units could keep frequently-used orders locally and distribute less-needed ones on other systems. The result is increased efficiency for the system itself and for the network infrastructure, as the lower level of data traffic reduces its workload significantly.
Product prototype for predictive maintenance
Dealing efficiently with large quantities of data is also a requirement for the Industry 4.0 trend of predictive maintenance. At CeBIT, Asseco will be giving an exclusive presentation of the prototype of its upcoming predictive maintenance solution. It is also a good example of how external systems can easily be connected using the new APplus interface framework. With three modules, the new Asseco solution provides end-to-end and fully integrated coverage of the entire service and maintenance process, on both the manufacturer and the customer sides. At regular intervals, the machine requiring maintenance sends data from its location on the customer’s premises to the manufacturer, who is always informed of the functional efficiency of the machine. The Asseco solution also enables users to connect devices that were not designed to be “smart”. If the data shows that there is an imminent risk of failure of one of the components, the system triggers a service call before the issue impacts the productivity of the machine.
All the relevant data is sent automatically to the service engineer’s mobility solution so that he or she has all the relevant information to hand about the machine, its maintenance history and the problem description. The documentation resulting from the service call is also stored on the mobility solution, including the duration of the visit, the components replaced, and the paperless signoff by the customer. Once the visit is complete, the solution transmits all the data about it back to the main system, which can then trigger the invoicing process or synchronise with the ERP system. The machine customers also benefit, as the Asseco solution includes a special service app that gives them access to all the machine’s operating data. That enables customers to monitor all parameters in real time and integrate them into their own service processes. If failures or problems arise, the customer can use the app to request a service ticket immediately.
“ERP 4.0” on the Asseco stand at CeBIT
Interested visitors can come and see the predictive maintenance product prototype and the new features in the APplus architecture for themselves on the Asseco stand F16 in Hall 5 at this year’s CeBIT, which takes place from 14 to 18 March in Hanover (Germany). Asseco specialists will be on hand to answer any questions on Industry 4.0 and IoT, as well as to present the latest version of the APplus solution using multiple practically-oriented demos. Existing and potential customers who would like to book a meeting with Asseco Solutions specialists at CeBIT 2016 may do so by emailing email@example.com. The agency phronesis PR will be happy to deal with press enquiries by phone on +49(0)821/444-800 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.