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We conducted a survey of open platform providers for the Smart Automation page on this news portal, which is currently under construction. 9 of them took part, giving us an insight into this marketplace. The new platforms are opening doors to the Industrial Internet of Things that go beyond the mere automation of production. While the terminology used by the providers is not yet uniform.

The participants are an interesting mix of IT providers and companies previously known as automation providers. This alone shows that the previously rigid boundaries between Operation Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) are currently becoming blurred or more permeable.

The providers participating in the survey and their platforms in alphabetical order of company names: Bosch Rexroth with ctrlX AUTOMATION; Contact Software with Elements for IoT; German Edge Cloud with ONCITE DPS; KEBA with Kemro X; Lenze with NUPANO; Phoenix Contact with PLCnext Technology; Siemens with Industrial Operations X; WAGO with WAGO ctrlX OS and WAGO OS; Weidmüller with easyConnect.

Some of the platforms mentioned were also presented in two articles by Michael Corban at KEM in mid-March. Additional information and a second view of this marketplace can be found in German language as Part 1 and Part 2 at KEM.

Neutral view of the new open platform market

Even the first overview on the Smart Automation page will show that it is not just IT providers such as Contact Software and Siemens that are addressing completely different topics from the huge field of the Internet of Things in addition to manufacturing.

It is becoming apparent that the industry’s entry into the practical use of Internet technology with small containers and microservices is suddenly opening doors that were previously closed.

One example of such new possibilities is the management of energy consumption linked to products and production, as is a goal at Rittal with ONCITE DPS from German Edge Cloud.

Composable software consisting of containerized apps based on Linux makes possible what seemed almost unthinkable with monolithic systems or did not work well and fast enough.

The direction is: Openness

Almost all of the platforms listed are based on the open Linux operating system, which has established itself in the industry with its possibilities for near-real-time support. When various providers – such as Bosch Rexroth or Weidmüller – describe their solutions as with their “own operating system”, this usually means that they have their own runtime environment based on Linux. An alternative operating system to Linux is not yet known. And why should there be?

Most platforms offer customers and third-party software developers either their own development environment, such as PLCnext Engineer from Phoenix Contact, or they support the use of standard development environments and programming languages for app development, such as Kemro X from KEBA. Another option is offered by Lenze, by taking over the deployment and management of delivered and containerized apps for NUPANO.

There are also already ecosystems around individual platforms in which companies that previously only acted as competitors are partners and one uses the other’s open platform for business. WAGO, for example, relies on the ctrlX AUTOMATION platform from Bosch Rexroth. This points in the direction that Lenze has set as a desirable goal with the slogan “United Federation of Platforms”. So that the platforms also practice the greatest possible mutual openness.

With the open platforms for smart automation, a development has begun that gives us hope. Step by step, the industry is tearing down the walls that have partially slowed down innovation in recent decades due to proprietary hardware and software in OT and IT.