Individual solutions also need standards

For HARTING, the implementation of the digital twin by way of the asset administration shell is the logical way to bring corresponding components into interaction with higher-level applications and thereby supplement a system with new functionalities.

In concrete terms, the technology group is expanding its portfolio in the direction of active connectivity with the "SmEC" (Smart Electrical Connector) connector. For the first time, a complete digital twin of the connector has been implemented, mapping the condition of the components throughout the entire life cycle.

On the one hand, this involves access to information about the connector. This can be, for example, permissible or actual current flowing, manufacturer information or information on reusable raw materials.

On the other hand, the state of the real connector is permanently compared with its digital twin, whereby the locking status is of particular importance here.

This enables lifecycle services for connectors as components in modular systems, resulting in high resilience and flexibility.

An instance-related administration shell is the basic precondition here, and, in this context, an active, bidirectional communication into it. The condition-based locking function is one of the SmEC’s product features. Accordingly, it can be defined that the connector locks as soon as current flows, preventing the connector from being pulled in a critical state.

When we initially referred to the interaction of components with higher-level applications, the question arises as to the interface between these two. Industrial automation systems, consisting of a combination of components and control systems, have been around for a long time. These solutions will continue to have their justification, as such systems offer the highest performance in terms of their real-time capability.

Entirely new systems, however, appear conceivable if components and higher-level applications can communicate within the context of the Internet of Things (IoT) by way of a standardised interface. This would give rise to markets consisting of independent innovative players from different sectors on both sides of the standardised interface. Take, example, the case of SmEC, which involves the connector manufacturer, ERP manufacturer and cloud provider. This enables a far more flexible design of value chains that offers complete transparency and thereby also maps the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF), for example.

Therefore, relevant subsets of the specifications of the management shell must be standardised accordingly.

Initial concepts for this are currently being addressed by a DKE working group. Initially, central elements here involve definitions as well as class and state diagrams. In general, it is envisaged that real-world instances of such connectors will have to meet the basic electrical safety requirements as set out in IEC 61984. Concrete design standards will be application-specific and will arise in a second step through the established standardisation channels.

This creates an interface at the connector’s component level that integrates these originally purely passive components into extended lifecycle services through a standardised asset administration shell. Ultimately, this development must be seen in the context of Industry 4.0 given that the digital twin of the components is the decisive meta-level that also enables the autonomous functions of a production process.

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Andreas Huhmann
Strategy Consultant C+N, HARTING Technologiegruppe
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Andreas Nass
Sr. Principal Key Expert Techn. Roadmaps, HARTING Technologiegruppe
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Andreas Starke
General Manager IP, HARTING Technologiegruppe