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The supreme discipline of digitisation is machine learning

03 August 2020

In this interview, Lenze CTO Frank Maier talks about how the company supports machine manufacturers in increasing the performance of their machines, in detecting problems in the machine early on and what possibilities the IoT Gateway x500 and the associated data service X4Remote offer for networking in the cloud.

Which new fields of application do you see in drive technology against the background of digitalisation?   

Digitalisation naturally has a lot to do with data and, in this respect, a drive controller is a real treasure. A modern inverter processes, depending on the complexity of the device, some 100 to 1000 parameters. Our Lenze Servo-Inverter 9400, for example, knows about 5000. It is easy to imagine that many of them provide a lot of information, about the device itself as well as about the connected devices, e.g. the geared motor – about its condition, possible defects plus a lot of operating data. 

So, there is no lack of data. Logging these parameters and making them available via a field or diagnostic bus, is in itself no problem. The much more exciting question is: what exactly are they and what can they be used for? Data itself has a rather low value. The added value lies in the condensation to information or, even better, to expert knowledge. It's like in semiconductor technology: sand has quite a low value, crystalline silicon already has much more and as a microprocessor the sand is suddenly worth a fortune. 

Developing this potential is naturally a joint task between the drive specialist and the OEM customer. Which data can help the machine builder to increase the machine performance, more throughput, higher yield, ...? How are problems of the machine reflected in the data of the drive technology, how can I detect them early? The variety seems to me to be almost limitless. I believe that in the coming years this field will be less a product business than rather a service that we must provide for our customers.

Do you already offer or have in development intelligent drive solutions for networked production with regards to Industry 4.0? 

As always at this point I would like to emphasise that intelligence in the drive is really nothing new. With the Drive PLC and the possibility of operating drive-based automation via our system bus, we have been contributing to intelligent and networked production for many years. 

We have now extended these possibilities to networking into the cloud with our x500 IoT gateway and the associated X4Remote data service. To this end, we are supplying a very simple tool that enables our customers to familiarise themselves quickly and pragmatically with the cloud world. Solutions of this kind are indispensable for remote access to machines. The lock-down due to the coronavirus pandemic has shown us how quickly this can suddenly become important. 

Via our Asset Administration Shell (AAS) we abstract our solutions into the RAMI 4.0 administration shell, which was defined by the National Platform Industry 4.0 of the Federal Government. In this context we are certainly pioneers in the industry. 

However, in my view, the supreme discipline of digitalisation in drive technology is machine learning to recognise errors in the machine in a preventive manner, to name but one example. We are working intensively on this topic and are involved in the research landscape of “it's OWL”, among others. We have already attracted a great deal of attention at various trade fairs with our demonstrators. Of course, these projects also make a special contribution to the new fields of application that we have already discussed.

Which challenges do you think drive technology will have to face in the near future?

Above all, we should not forget that there are also other issues that are not sold under the label "digitalisation", but which are nevertheless of great importance for our customers and even for our society. 

A central example of this is the issue of sustainability. Here, the intelligent, controlled drive with energy-efficient solutions can and must make an important contribution. With the European Eco-Design Directive 2019/1781, the next stage of legal regulations was published on October 1, 2019. It will come into full force on July 1, 2021 and will require our customers to make a considerable effort to switch to more efficient motors

However, concepts such as DC INDUSTRY also play an important role in this context, although not quite as soon. This is a project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy and entitled "Energy turnaround meets I4.0".
It combines the two major topics that are occupying us these days. The aim of this research project is to redesign the power supply of industrial plants via a smart, open direct current network and to digitise the industrial energy supply architecture. In phase 2 of this project, 33 companies and 6 research institutes have been working together since last October to investigate the DC power supply of an entire production hall. (Source: In this project Lenze is contributing the drive technology for this revolutionary architecture.

This interview, with CTO Frank Maier, was originally published in the online German magazine der Computer&AUTOMATION.

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