By The Open Group
The Open Group’s Internet of Things (IoT) Work Group is involved in developing open standards that will allow product and equipment management to evolve beyond the traditional limits of product lifecycle management. Meant to incorporate the larger systems management that will be required by the IoT, these standards will help to handle the communications needs of a network that may encompass products, devices, people and multiple organizations. Formerly known as the Quantum Lifecycle Management (QLM) Work Group, its name was recently changed to the Internet of Things Work Group to more accurately reflect its current direction and focus.
We recently caught up with Work Group Chairman Kary Främling to discuss its two new standards, both of which are geared toward the Internet of Things, and what the group has been focused on lately.
Over the past few years, The Open Group’s Internet of Things Work Group (formerly the Quantum Lifecycle Management Work Group) has been working behind the scenes to develop new standards related to the nascent Internet of Things and how to manage the lifecycle of these connected products, or as General Electric has referred to it, the “Industrial Internet.”
What their work ultimately aims to do is help manage all the digital information within a particular system—for example, vehicles, buildings or machines. By creating standard frameworks for handling this information, these systems and their related applications can be better run and supported during the course of their “lifetime,” with the information collected serving a variety of purposes, from maintenance to improved design and manufacturing to recycling and even refurbishing them.
According to Work Group Chairman Kary Främling, CEO of ControlThings and Professor of Practice in Building Information Modeling at Aalto University in Finland, the group has been working with companies such as Caterpillar and Fiat, as well as refrigerator and machine tool manufacturers, to enable machines and equipment to send sensor and status data on how machines are being used and maintained to their manufacturers. Data can also be provided to machine operators so they are also aware of how the machines are functioning in order to make changes if need be.
For example, Främling says that one application of this system management loop is in HVAC systems within buildings. By building Internet capabilities into the system, now a ventilation system—or air-handling unit—can be controlled via a smartphone from the moment it’s turned on inside a building. The system can provide data and alerts to facilities management about how well it’s operating and whether there are any problems within the system to whomever needs it. Främling also says that the system can provide information to both the maintenance company and the system manufacturer so they can collect information from the machines on performance, operations and other indicators. This allows users to determine things as simple as when an air filter may need changing or whether there are systematic problems with different machine models.
According to Främling, the ability to monitor systems in this way has already helped ventilation companies make adjustments to their products.
“What we noticed was there was a certain problem with certain models of fans in these machines. Based on all the sensor readings on the machine, I could deduce that the air extraction fan had broken down,” he said.
The ability to detect such problems via sensor data as they are happening can be extremely beneficial to manufacturers because they can more easily and more quickly make improvements to their systems. Another advantage afforded by machines with Web connectivity, Främling says, is that errors can also be corrected remotely.
“There’s so much software in these machines nowadays, so just by changing parameters you can make them work better in many ways,” he says.
In fact, Främling says that the Work Group has been working on systems such as these for a number of years already—well before the term “Internet of Things” became part of industry parlance. They first worked on a system for a connected refrigerator in 2007 and even worked on systems for monitoring how vehicles were used before then.
One of the other things the Work Group is focused on is working with the Open Platform 3.0 Forum since there are many synergies between the two groups. For instance, the Work Group provided a number of the uses cases for the Forum’s recent business scenarios.
“I really see what we are doing is enabling the use cases and these information systems,” Främling says.
Two New Standards
In October, the Work Group also published two new standards, both of which are two of the first standards to be developed for the Internet of Things (IoT). A number of companies and universities across the world have been instrumental in developing the standards including Aalto University in Finland, BIBA, Cambridge University, Infineon, InMedias, Politechnico di Milano, Promise Innovation, SAP and Trackway Ltd.
Främling likens these early IoT standards to what the HTML and HTTP protocols did for the Internet. For example, the Open Data Format (O-DF) Standard provides a common language for describing any kind of IoT object, much like HTML provided a language for the Web. The Open Messaging Interface (O-MI) Standard, on the other hand, describes a set of operations that enables users to read information about particular systems and then ask those systems for that information, much like HTTP. Write operations then allow users to also send information or new values to the system, for example, to update the system.
Users can also subscribe to information contained in other systems. For instance, Främling described a scenario in which he was able to create a program that allowed him to ask his car what was wrong with it via a smartphone when the “check engine” light came on. He was then able to use a smartphone application to send an O-MI message to the maintenance company with the error code and his location. Using an O-MI subscription the maintenance company would be able to send a message back asking for additional information. “Send these five sensor values back to us for the next hour and you should send them every 10 seconds, every 5 seconds for the temperature, and so on,” Främling said. Once that data is collected, the service center can analyze what’s wrong with the vehicle.
Främling says O-MI messages can easily be set up on-the-fly for a variety of connected systems with little programming. The standard also allows users to manage mobility and firewalls. O-MI communications are also run over systems that are already secure to help prevent security issues. Those systems can include anything from HTTP to USB sticks to SMTP, as well, Främling says.
Främling expects that these standards can also be applied to multiple types of functionalities across different industries, for example for connected systems in the healthcare industry or to help manage energy production and consumption across smart grids. With both standards now available, the Work Group is beginning to work on defining extensions for the Data Format so that vocabularies specific to certain industries, such as healthcare or manufacturing, can also be developed.
In addition, Främling expects that as protocols such as O-MI make it easier for machines to communicate amongst themselves, they will also be able to begin to optimize themselves over time. Cars, in fact, are already using this kind of capability, he says. But for other systems, such as buildings, that kind of communication is not happening yet. He says in Finland, his company has projects underway with manufacturers of diesel engines, cranes, elevators and even in Volkswagen factories to establish information flows between systems. Smart grids are also another potential use. In fact his home is wired to provide consumption rates in real-time to the electric company, although he says he does not believe they are currently doing anything with the data.
“In the past we used to speak about these applications for pizza or whatever that can tell a microwave oven how long it should be heated and the microwave oven also checks that the food hasn’t expired,” Främling said.
And while your microwave may not yet be able to determine whether your food has reached its expiration date, these recent developments by the Work Group are helping to bring the IoT vision to fruition by making it easier for systems to begin the process of “talking” to each other through a standardized messaging system.
Kary Främling is currently CEO of the Finnish company ControlThings, as well as Professor of Practice in Building Information Modeling (BIM) at Aalto University, Finland. His main research topics are on information management practices and applications for BIM and product lifecycle management in general. His main areas of competence are distributed systems, middleware, multi-agent systems, autonomously learning agents, neural networks and decision support systems. He is one of the worldwide pioneers in the Internet of Things domain, where he has been active since 2000.