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How open source software is revolutionising Industrial IT

Jeroen Coussement on


For years, large-scale yet closed software platforms ruled the world of Industrial IT, as only they could guarantee both maximum performance and reliability. Today, open source tech is rapidly changing the way industrial companies think and strategise. What does this shift toward open source mean for them? And which opportunities are still left to explore?

Previously, industries, including the process and manufacturing industries, depended on the proprietary hardware and software products of a few traditional automation vendors. Nowadays, the tables have turned: open source technology and software are rapidly gaining ground. Although they won’t necessarily replace traditional automation systems, they do enable new possibilities for data-driven engineering.

It's open source software's time to shine

In recent years, many open source software platforms have found their way into the world of Industrial IT. Popular software and tools include InfluxDB for industrial data collection, Grafana for data visualisation, Metabase for Business Intelligence and JasperReports for project reporting. The most commonly used open source protocols include OPC-UA and MQTT .

The importance of Enterprise Open Source is also on the rise in other industries. According to a 2020 Red Hat report , no less than 75% of global IT executives indicate open source is very or extremely important to their business. Of those respondents, 77% expect to even further increase their use of Enterprise Open Source in the next year.

Aerial photo of production plant

Benefits of open source technology & software

In any type of niche industry, open source software can add great value by enhancing user adoption and improving interoperability, while drastically reducing costs to scale-up or enter the market. Other advantages include remote access, and greater interchangeability and portability of data.

However, for many people, open source software still remains uncharted territory. The question remains: how can a community-based technology that anyone can modify, be a solid response to the industry’s extremely high standards for security, safety and accountability? The answer is simple.

Businesses are trying to make their production processes more efficient, while improving quality and reducing costs. Open source technology enables just that, in a creative, flexible and user-friendly way. It offers unique solutions to build the smart factory of the future, leveraging its ability to integrate factory hardware with enterprise IT and automation software, supervisory control and data acquisition applications. Clearly, open source technology opens up a whole new world in terms of usability, process intelligence and data sharing.

Data has a better idea

And then there is simple economics. Developers can now cost-effectively create software based on libraries and foundation blocks, rather than coding it all from scratch or relying on a large upfront investment to get into a closed source technology stack. This allows companies with unique software and hardware requirements to quickly and economically reach new business goals in an innovative way, which gives them a much-coveted competitive edge. Also, this increases companies’ ability to take a bottom-up approach to smaller initiatives.

Industry application of open source software

The value of open source technology is recognized by both industry start-ups and multinational businesses such as Puratos Group, specialised in developing ingredients for the patisserie and chocolate industry. Back in 2016, Puratos Group rolled out the open source Factry Historian tool in order to capture and visualise industrial machine and process data. Following a proof-of-concept, the open source tool was implemented in over ten sites.

"Puratos has 65 sites, 40 of which are small to medium-sized", says Klaas Dobbelaere, Solution Architect for Production Operations at Puratos group. "For larger sites, we use classic automation tools, with skilled people on-site to support them. However, these tools come at a price. The challenge we face is to also enable data acquisition for smaller sites with fewer resources and less time."

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Industrial bakery

Versatile, simple and peer-reviewed coding

Most traditional industrial software is built for a relatively small number of businesses. Open source components such as InfluxDB and Grafana, which allow anyone to have a peek under the hood, have hundreds of thousands of instances running over many different applications. This requires the functionalities that are developed to be versatile, simple and extremely robust. Specialised software companies such as Factry apply this open technology in specific verticals, which is a very powerful combination.

Conclusion

Today, the main question industrial businesses have to ask themselves is: should my Industrial IT system be open or closed? And, secondly: how can we leverage the power of open source software to improve our manufacturing process? Admittedly, in a number of use cases there are some benefits to well-known, supported and stable proprietary protocols and applications. However, there is no doubt that new open source technology and software is the better option when it comes to creating the factory of the future.


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