Reaching for the Golden Ring: 4 Key Elements for Industrial Convergence

October 2, 2018

By: Jeff DeAngelis
Managing Director, Industrial Communications, Maxim Integrated

If you live near a beach community with a boardwalk, then many of you remember the thrill of riding an iconic carousel as the organ pumped out upbeat carnival music. With each spin of the carousel, the thrill would build as you approached the ring dispensing station with an outreached hand straining to triumphantly snatch that coveted Golden Ring to win a prize or a repeat ride on the carousel. The thrill of obtaining that elusive Golden Ring represents the same excitement as companies today search to achieve the powerful benefits of industrial convergence.

Do a simple Google search on the key elements needed to achieve industrial convergence and the amount of information obtained is staggering. The four fundamental elements required to achieve industrial convergence are:

  • The industrial internet of things (IIoT)
  • Cloud computing
  • Data analytics
  • And artificial intelligence (AI)

A search on the first three elements of industrial convergence results in finding 1.4 billion articles, while the topic of AI netted more than 2.3 trillion articles on its own. Needless to say, the volume of articles written around these four essential elements of industrial convergence suggest that momentum is building as many companies strive to create intelligent manufacturing facilities that improve manufacturing throughput and efficiency while reducing operational costs.


Figure 1: The excitement over reaching the elusive Golden Ring from a carousel is not unlike the excitement companies feel today as they work to achieve the powerful benefits of industrial convergence.

These intelligent factories will provide real-time communication via a 4G/5G network to receive and confirm orders using web-based apps. They also provide the necessary flexibility to customize orders by leveraging powerful AI technology for real-time decision-making based on a lake of cloud-based information gathered from a host of intelligent manufacturing machines, robots, and intelligent sensors provided through the IIoT. This sounds like a pipe dream, but companies such as Ocado Technology Group have brought this vision of industrial convergence to life. Imagine an automated warehouse facility that can pick a typical 50-item order in a matter of minutes while managing inventory mix and replenishment through AI and machine learning to predict changes in customer demand for its 50,000 items. While this is a great example that shows a level of industrial convergence, consider the net impact of picking a wrong item and shipping the box to a customer. This mishap ends with a single frustrated customer who needs to return the item.

Now imagine a mistake made at a nuclear power plant; for example: misjudging the cooling water level of a reactor or opening/closing the wrong valve on an oil processing rig. This could result in the meltdown of the core, causing a radiation hazard or dumping millions of gallons of oil into the water. It's safe to say that the stakes are higher in these process automation examples if a bad decision is made by an automated system governed by an AI algorithm. The immediate challenge is to achieve a higher level of performance where AI and decision making are done in real time and at the edge of the manufacturing line where equipment can be monitored and actions taken to improve environmental and human safety. Mariya Yao, CTO of Metamaven, co-author of “Applied Artificial Intelligence,” and part of Women@Forbes, has written an article called the 4 Unique Challenges Of Industrial Artificial Intelligence. In the article, she compares typical AI versus industrial AI needs, outlining the potential consequences when technologies make bad decisions. If we venture to take this concept One Step Beyond, then the technology needed to support this level of real-time intelligence requires a new class of nimble products that provide real-time information to enable edge-based decision-making.

Maxim has been on a journey to empower design innovation in the area of industrial automation since 2014. Maxim began this journey with a simple goal to create pathways for our customers to achieve Industry 4.0 (the digital factory), which is at the heart of achieving industrial convergence. The first step of this journey required shrinking the size of the industrial controllers to move the control to the edge of the manufacturing line or processing plant. Maxim delivered this solution at electronica 2014 in the form of a micro programmable logic controller (uPLC) technology demonstration platform and a Beer Mug Factory. This uPLC platform showcased 75+ ICs working in concert to provide a 10x reduction in size and more than 50% in power savings versus the typical PLC on the market circa 2014. In 2016, Maxim delivered its second-generation industrial automation chipset in the form of the Pocket IO demonstration platform and a Soccer Ball Factory. This solution showcased the second critical element in achieving the digital factory by providing a flexible manufacturing capability that allowed dynamic adjustments of the manufacturing line on the fly. The Pocket IO demonstration platform (shown in Figure 2) provided full analog and digital IO capability, motion control, and IO-Link intelligent sensor technology using 28 ICs, reducing the PLC footprint by another 2.5x to just under 10 cubic inches while achieving another 30% in power saving compared to the uPLC platform. A third critical element to enable industrial convergence is to harness the power of an IIoT-enabled factory. This critical element centers around monitoring the health and status of a factory so decisions can be dynamically made based on accessing real-time information to ensure throughput is optimized and lost productivity is minimized to keep the factory running 24/7/365 days per year. Maxim’s first and second generation of industrial automation chipsets accelerated the industry’s evolution towards industrial convergence, and our third-generation industrial automation chipset promises to continue this tradition by unleashing the full power of the IIoT.

Pocket IO PLC platform

Figure 2: The Pocket IO platform operates for at least two hours using AA/AAA batteries or at least eight hours from LiFePO4 rechargeable batteries.

If attending electronica 2018 is on your agenda for this coming November, then I would like to personally invite each of you to stop by the Maxim electronica booth to say hi and celebrate the production release of our most inspiring IIoT platform to date.