5 Ways Cyber-Physical Systems are Transforming Manufacturing

Dr. James Truchard discusses cyber-physical systems and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“How many of you are wearing a physical watch right now?” Dr. James “Dr. T” Truchard asked the audience during his keynote at MD&M West 2014. Then, holding up his smartphone to laughter from the crowd, “And how many of you are wearing the redundant alternative?”

It's a basic example, but it also illustrates Truchard's point that cyber-physical systems (CPS), platforms that use computational elements to integrate various physical measurement systems, are streamlining and improving manufacturing across medical and all industries. “A platform gives you the leverage to integrate ideas,” he said.
 
According to Truchard, who was also honored this week with a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Mousetrap Awards, CPS are ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. It will be an age he calls “Industrie 4.0” and it will go beyond IT and electronics and be driven by systems that integrate both digital and analog data across computational and physical environments.
 
It's already happening and it's changing industry in come key ways that Truchard illustrated:
 
1.) Big Analog Data
 
Many of us are already familiar with Big Data and IT sources of data, including social data. But Truchard says the biggest source of data is what he calls Big Analog Data. This is the information that comes from the real world around us such as light, sound, temperature, vibration, current, time, location, and more. “If you look at the universe there's a virtually unbounded amount of data,” Truchard said. “The question is how do we bring it to bear in our day-to-day work in the manufacturing arena?” Having the ability to measure vibration that affects product quality was just one example he used.
 
Outside of the manufacturing arena, Truchard used the example of a music app that can tell you what song you're listening to. The platform takes analog data (the music) and leverages computing power and information stored in the cloud to identify the song. “An exampl like this helps gives us insight into how data can be used.”
 
2.) Smaller Size, Better Performance
 
Why is it that no one carries a watch, calculator, radio, phone, and various other devices separately anymore? It's because your smartphone is a platform that integrates all of these functions and more. CPS can do this same sort of thing for manufacturing machine functions.
 
The versatility of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), integrated circuits that can be programmed after manufacture, allows designers and engineers a greater degree of freedom in process control. “Field programmable gate arrays gives us the capability to replace what in the past would've been custom design,” Truchard said. Coupling FPGA with multicore processing drastically reduces the size of the platform needed to accomplish multiple functions. “It's this combination of being able to program, in one platform, multicore processors simultaneously with FPGAs and then be able to integrat with virtually any I/O,” he added.
 
The heterogenous system on a chip (HSOC) which combines multicore processing with FPGA creates the “high-speed signal processing that we really need to bring power down and size down in a way that we can really bring a lot of high performance high end technology into many different applications.”
 
That power is only increased when HSOCs are networked either directly or across the cloud – multiplying their processing power and also expanding their reach over mutliple locations. “There's technology coming that will greatly improve our ability to synchronize the computation among distributed devices.”
 
3.) Empowering Small Design Teams
 
In more traditional manufacturing models processes are integrated across multiple factories where components are being designed at different factories and assembled into one system. The process can be very time consuming, especially when large teams and multiple factories are involved.
 
CPS can make manufacturing eduction easier and more efficient. 
“If you look at the past to create advanced applications you'd assemble a team of experts,” Truchard said. This would include domain experts such as mechanical engineers or specialists in certain domains, in addition to software designers, processes designers, FPGA designers, and others – all with the domain expert trying to drive the process forward.
 
“In the new view you can have a much smaller team of system architects and domain experts that put together systems in a fraction of the time,” he said. By working from more integrated platforms “engineers will be able to bring forward new ideas and make changes to their approach in a small amount of time.”
 
4.) Geography Becomes Irrelevant
 
Utilizing the information cloud means that computation can come from anywhere. “A sophisticated IP can be shared, duplicated, and leveraged across the globe,” Truchard said. “Virtually any complex design can be duplicated because, with a platform, a lot of people can contribute to one solution around the globe to build these systems. You can collaborate in a new way.”
 
5.) Easier Education
 
CPS platforms can be brought into the academic setting to allow for training across multiple engineering disciplines using the same platform. “It's the same technology of FPGA with multicore processing,” Truchard said. He pointed to NI's myRIO inventor research board which students can customize to learn a variety of concepts including controls, robotics, mechatronics, and embedded systems. We're trying to integrate it into the educational process to help get kids excited about science and engineering so that the next generation is up to the curve on these types of technologies and can really work in this new world of cyber-physical systems”  
 
[image courtesy of NATIONAL INSTRUMENTS]
 
-Chris Wiltz, Associate Editor, MD+DI
Christopher.Wiltz@ubm.com