The very structures of industries around the world are undergoing massive transformation as the result of digitalization in what is being called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The impact is especially pronounced for the manufacturing industry, with economic value shifting from the conventional functional value of things alone to the usage and experience value provided to customers through the use of things.
To survive in this new era and become even more competitive, it is becoming increasingly important to shift to a new business model which creates greater value for things by leveraging digital technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), big data, and AI (Artificial Intelligence).
In order to support this digital transformation, as well as to transform itself, Toshiba has released its new IoT architecture, “SPINEX.” SPINEX combines the latest technologies of the Toshiba Group with the experience and expertise it has cultivated in a wide range of industries and worksites, including the energy, social infrastructure, and manufacturing fields.
SPINEX is a collection of industrial IoT solutions that connects technologies, products, and services to transform customer business models.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Famed SF author Arthur C. Clarke, writer of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
As Clarke said, the innovations produced by digital technologies such as the IoT and AI are making it possible to achieve things which have so far been impossible for people to achieve, such as selecting optimal moves in games such as chess or shogi (Japnese chess) from the massive pool of possible combinations, analyzing complex factors to make future predictions, and discovering new relationships and meanings in large sets of data.
We may be entering an era in which those that skillfully deploy technologies such as these, which would appear magical to someone unfamiliar with them, will be the ones that emerge victorious over their competition.
The tides of digitalization, software implementation, and networking, which have spread and accelerated with the popularization of technologies such as the internet and smartphones, are beginning to take over the industrial world. Functions, which until now have been tied to things due to physical limitations such as time and location limitations, are starting to be offered in part through software, producing a shift from things to services. Networking is making it possible to freely alter these functions and forms, extending across national borders, producing services which instantly connect things and people.
Countries such as the U.S.A. and Germany, which are at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are investing in these new technologies, accelerating innovation and taking it to the next stage.
In Germany a revolutionary framework is being used to build a “Cyber Physical System” that will form the core of the national project, “Industrie 4.0.” Software known as an “Administration Shell” is used to wrap individual devices, components, business processes, and the like, enveloping and abstracting their differences, supporting standard-compliant communications interfaces and data formats. They make it possible to freely connect products, components, devices, equipment, people, business processes, and more in digital space. Through this they create “digital twins” of real-world manufacturing processes in digital space, using them to perform consistent detailed simulation, product design, prototyping, and manufacturing. This effort is also aimed at creating overwhelmingly advanced manufacturing, such as manufacturing products tailored to individual customer requirements, modeling data for entire factories, and evaluating process designs, placement, and the like entirely within computers.
The U.S.A.’s “Industrial Internet,” on the other hand, aims to raise usage value at the point at which customers use products. The idea is to achieve this through “software-defined machines,” which use software to provide some of the functions of products. For example, the results of analysis of product usage condition data, gathered by sensors, can be used to increase product usage value by remotely updating the software embedded in products and tailoring functions and capabilities to individual customer usage styles and environments, or by remotely assessing product conditions and implementing optimized operation and fault prevention. This initiative also aims to contribute to the creation of new business models based on services such as these.
In Japan, as well, many companies are beginning to make moves towards implementing industrial and social innovation through digital transformation using the IoT. However, they face various hurdles. It is easy to discuss connecting factory infrastructure, social infrastructure, industrial devices, and the like, but actual worksites are home to old machinery and equipment and devices which operate independently. Even if this equipment is connected and data is collected, there is still the question of how to utilize data, and what type of data to collect. Other issues facing companies which use the IoT in their activities include how to perform advanced analysis and how to provide prompt feedback to worksites.
In order to tackle these problems head-on, in November 2016 Toshiba announced the release of its new IoT architecture, “SPINEX.”
SPINEX combines Toshiba’s extensive expertise in broad-ranging business fields such as energy and other social infrastructure, semiconductors, and electronic devices with state-of-the-art technologies such as the IoT, AI, and voice and video recognition, helping optimally resolve customers’ digitalization challenges. It offers the three features of “Edge Computing”, “Digital Twin”, and “Media Intelligence”, providing a total environment that encompasses the collection of data from connected equipment, devices, and products, data storage, visualization, analysis, and utilization. SPINEX uses open architecture and is capable of multi-cloud, multi-device connectivity thanks to its global partnerships.
Toshiba is using SPINEX to freely connect a wide range of devices and products, working with customers and partners, combining technology and global innovation from Japan to bring the world of worksite-tailored autonomous digital transformation to the customers in the manufacturing field and a wide range of industrial and social fields (Fig. 1).
* The name SPINEX was chosen to reflect Toshiba’s desire to create an architecture that serves as a core framework (spine) supporting living and evolutionary mechanisms that fit differing environments based on diverse experience, and concepts, in the same way that vertebrate animals perceive environmental changes and phenomena in the real world, rapidly react, store the information they perceive through a nervous system, and obtain information from others in the form of speech, video, and the like.
One of SPINEX’s features is its use of edge computing technology, which combines real-time processing at “edges” (worksites) and advanced processing in the cloud. The cloud and edges work together to perform distributed processing not only of large amounts of sensor data, but also of audio, image, video, vibration, and other data. This minimizes network lag and produces worksite environments capable of sophisticated data processing such as deep learning using AI, enabling error detection and autonomous control by devices and equipment, and highly responsive potential failure detection.
Another of its features is its technology for creating digital twins. This key technology makes tremendous use of Toshiba’s extensive experience in areas such as manufacturing and social infrastructure. Visualizing and analyzing constantly changing worksite conditions requires the digital replication of phenomena occurring in worksite devices and products in the form of a data model. When doing so, it is essential to select which data will be useful in solving the problems encountered in one’s industry and worksites, as well as how to collect and analyze this data. Toshiba has accumulated extensive experience through its manufacture, operation, and maintenance of an extremely wide range of devices and products. It uses this worksite experience to create and supply highly practical “digital twins.” These digital twins are combined with Toshiba’s advanced AI and simulation technologies to produce the sophisticated CPS (Cyber Physical System) needed by diverse customers.
The third feature is the application of media intelligence technology, developed by Toshiba over the years, to the IoT. This technology can be used for high-precision identification and analysis of audio, images, video, and other data. It enables the IoT to not only connect equipment, devices, and products, but also the intentions and situations of users, dynamically optimizing processes and systems based on these conditions.
SPINEX is used to efficiently prepare total infrastructures for resolving the various challenges encountered by customers implementing digital transformation. Select hardware, software, networks, security, and services from around the world are combined to increase the operation rates and productivity of devices and equipment, optimize value chains, eliminate operation costs, and create new services which produce rich experience value.
Toshiba has released highly convenient SPINEX solutions which use core elements. One of these is the “IoT Standard Pack,” used to rapidly visualize and remotely control industrial machinery in use worldwide.
It not only connects to devices and equipment in the field, but provides an all-in-one package which covers everything from data collection to visualization. It uses templates to efficiently and quickly perform the operations required to introduce IoT technology. This streamlines the preparation and engineering processes and simplifies worksite operations. It enables the rapid launching of IoT systems which use edge computing, only sending detailed worksite data when irregularities occur and performing software updates remotely. It uses UX design* methodologies developed by Toshiba in its intuitive, easy-to-use visualization screens. This makes it possible for anyone to easily assess device and equipment operating conditions and changes from a variety of perspectives.
* UX design: Design method which uses human-centered design methodologies to improve the user experience
* The IoT Standard Pack will be introduced in-depth in #02.
The “Next Generation Manufacturing Solutions” excels at the visualization of factory worksites and global manufacturing. The “Meister Visualizer” visualization solution for connected factories uses the IoT to gather data from manufacturing sites. Toshiba’s unique real-time data processing technology and user interface technology is combined to create connected factories. This solution enables detailed visualization and real-time assessment of the constantly changing production conditions and quality information of factories across the globe.
The IoT Standard Pack and Next Generation Manufacturing Solutions not only provide the backbone, flexibility, and advanced capabilities needed for corporate activities, but also the convenience of making it easy to rapidly introduce IoT systems tailored to actual operation issues. The expansive scope of situations in which this solution can be introduced is one of the key attractions of SPINEX (Fig. 2)
The Toshiba Group has used IoT systems built with SPINEX to improve the quality and productivity of its Yokkaichi Plant, which manufactures NAND flash memory, and has achieved tremendous results with the operation of building facilities at its Smart Community Center (Lazona Kawasaki Toshiba Building). IoT systems built with SPINEX have also been deployed by numerous customers, and are demonstrating their true value.
SPINEX flexibly connects people, things, and services, linking technologies, products, and services in real-time. It’s helping to predict the future and provide long-term security to society. It is using unexpected discoveries to create more convenient products and new services. It is creating a new industrial revolution, starting in Japan, led by digital transformation. SPINEX is delivering new “magic," dramatically changing business models in diverse industrial and social fields.
* The corporate names, organization names, job titles and other names and titles appearing in this article are those as of April 2017.