Advantech joins hands with NextWarehouse to establish fully automated intelligent factory

Johannesburg, 16 Mar 2020
Read time 5min 40sec

Introducing Advantech’s WISE-PaaS IOT Cloud Platform and NextWarehouse – a system integrator/distributor of IT and industrial operational technology, which completed the last mile of industrial input and output (I/O) by connecting a cloud network for real-time local monitoring and optimisation.

Using this technology, their customer was able to build a fully automated intelligent factory. The barrier for most traditional factories in entering Industry 4.0 is that the appropriate technology is not readily available. However, NextWarehouse’s (founded in 2005) solution fits the mould by helping traditional factories establish relevant architecture, enhance their IOT infrastructure, and streamline production automation. And when paired with Advantech’s WISE-PaaS platform, it not only created a complete data computing platform, but also provided solutions to problems that traditional factories encounter on a regular basis.

Cloud data integration, connecting traditional production data and digital networks

Many problems in establishing IOT connections still exist due to the difference between traditional and technological industry methodologies. John Kuo, CEO of NextWarehouse, said: “Everyone in this industry is aware of the importance of IOT, but when asked, ‘Is there any IOT plan?’ the answer is usually ‘no’.” Automation control technology has been widely applied in factories, but there are still many roadblocks in traditional factory operations that limit the adoption of IOT. Take data conversion, for example.

Common factory machines cannot directly connect with WiFi. A machine that is expected to be used for several or tens of years would not be able to keep up with the rapid iteration of different communication protocols. Therefore, the general I/O module in the factory cannot directly connect with the digital network.

“The standard protocol of many machines does not support wireless transmission, and no one will make this specific support format for them,” said Kuo. He continued on to explain that since a group of industrial machines and tools may be used for 20 years, the protocol must be rewritten almost every three years, if the machines need to be connected with the newest transmission technology all the time. Regarding stability and universality, the new communication specifications are difficult to enter the field of industrial application.

The advantage of WISE-PaaS is that it can automatically integrate the collected data for the application and docking of all types of machines, and the factory does not need to deal with the different data protocols of different machines.

Kuo said: “We originally needed to send engineers to the factory to help them solve protocol problems; now we can just teach them to use the WISE-PaaS platform and related solutions so that they can make their own interfaces.” He thinks the biggest advantage of the Advantech WISE-PaaS platform is that it enables data to successfully enter the IT level from OT, and solves the most difficult link in data processing.

Provides the most suitable solution for all types of hardware, machines

After years of data accumulation, WISE-PaaS proves it can provide the most suitable solutions for different types of machines. Therefore, traditional factories are more willing to try new production methodologies.

In the past, traditional factories were reluctant to accept orders with special specifications even if the hardware conditions were good enough, because automated processes were so precise that even slight differences could easily lead to poor production quality. Kuo pointed out that if setting a customised system is compulsory to deal with a special process, the rate of return on investment is bound to be uneconomical.

What traditional factories really need is a system that can be quickly installed and applied immediately to the production line. This is what the WISE-PaaS platform can provide; it can not only send back the status of the production line, but also gives specific recommendations for improvement. “WISE-PaaS provides a lot of detail, which is very impressive,” said Kuo with appreciation.

Convenient for teamwork division, members can get hold of it quickly

From the perspective of service suppliers, the biggest problem for NextWarehouse’s move towards Industry 4.0 is personnel turnover. Kuo pointed out the cultivation of OT engineers is not easy. Although most IT engineers are very familiar with the program, they don’t know the connection mode of I/O in the factory. It’s difficult for them to take over the task of OT directly. He also stressed: “A qualified OT engineer needs a long time training. If he job-hops to another company, the new engineer has to be trained again, which is not what we like to see.”

The WISE-PaaS platform can solve the talent shortage problem for NextWarehouse, as well as many service suppliers. It allows the team to work under certain a framework, which not only makes the division of labour more clear, but also the transfer easier. On one hand, it reduces the inconvenience caused by personnel turnover. On the other hand, it makes the existing framework more applicable to new projects. The work that an experienced engineer handles from beginning to end, now under the WISE-PaaS framework, can be distributed to several engineers. It not only makes it easier for team members to get started, it greatly reduces the cost of debugging in the middle of the process.

“Advantech has implemented a complete and practical IOT scheme, which I think is a very successful attempt,” said Kuo. Through the WISE-PaaS platform, NextWarehouse successfully shows the possibility of IOT adoption in traditional factories. Kuo praised Advantech highly for this, and regards it as a milestone for the whole industry.

Kuo repeated that the key to choosing partners for NextWarehouse is not the price, but the corporate culture and expertise of the team. During the communication with Advantech, he noticed that Advantech always provides corresponding solutions to the needs of its partners. “In particular, Advantech has been engaged in the IOT field for many years, and also has a lot of experience in serving customers. They integrate every link perfectly and know how to respond to customers’ problems and needs. Therefore, I have every faith in the products and teams of Advantech,” he stated. He is also very confident in the future co-operation between the two sides.