Introduction: Taking a Collaborative Approach
Festo and Weeve have been working together for the past 12 months on a technology that enables Festo to move towards innovative business models in the industrial automation domain.As a German family-owned multinational industrial control and automation company, Festo is engineering-driven, producing and selling pneumatic and electrical controls, as well as drive technology, for factory or process automation.
Weeve’s technology enables Festo to explore machine-as-a-service business models.
The proof of concept (POC) scope is to incorporate Weeve’s technology to increase data integrity and process efficiency for Festo machines whilst operating in an alien environment on customer production lines. The scope of the POC sees odometer data readings from Festo’s industrial automation machines to be recorded on a blockchain via Weeve’s technology. Key objectives include elements such as data integrity, immutability, and process efficiency while positioning Festo as a hardware-as-a-service/pay per use model that facilitates a sharing economy approach via machine leasing.
As a secure IoT solution for the future Machine Economy, Weeve’s mission is to enable pioneering companies to securely extract new value from an increasingly connected world. Secure devices, secure data collection, and process integrity is key to the successful digital transformation of 21st-century companies. Weeve is central to this theme.
What is the Goal of the Project?
The goal: To highlight the benefits and capabilities of Weeve’s technology to enable pay per use models for the products/services provided by Festo.
PoC with hardware prototype: To securely transport odometer data from Festo’s machines and to then store that data on a blockchain to ensure data integrity and immutability. The demonstration was completed via an exemplary set of hardware representing the Cartesian robots of Festo.
Analysis: We hope to prove through our secure technology that machine payments and service transactions to all prospective clients are done autonomously, reliably, and securely.
A High-Level Technical Introduction:
Extending and improving processes by elevating them to the next technological level often requires developers to adapt their techniques and software to the existing product on which it is being built.
In our case, Festo provided us with a Cartesian robot that was used to measure and map certain areas. While the sensors of the said robot will generate a lot of data while it’s being used, only one specific value is of high value for this proof-of-concept: the mileage.
With the help of the mileage value (and thus its history), Festo is able to bill customers in perfect accordance with their personal usage of a certain robot. But how can we ensure that the values haven’t been tampered with? How are values linked to a certain user at a specific time in a verifiable way?
This is where Weeve’s technology comes into play — by leveraging secure technology to integrate it onto the blockchain to store the mileage values on an immutable ledger in a verifiable way. Through making use of a private Ethereum blockchain, in combination with a deployed smart contract, we are able to store the mileage values together with a corresponding time stamp for each machine. These values can then be accessed by our frontend (or any other software) in order to display and evaluate the data.
For the development of our blockchain-IoT-extension, we didn’t want to change anything about the protocol that is being used as well as the hardware that we were provided with. The robot communicates with certain software provided by Festo over the “ENGP” protocol. We piggybacked on the communication bypassing the Ethernet messages through a Raspberry Pi.
On the Raspberry Pi, a certain piece of software analyzes each packet that is passing through and relays the sensor value messages to the Weeve backend via MQTTS — a secure and incredibly lightweight messaging protocol developed by the Weeve team. On the receiving end of these values — our backend — we forward the desired values (in this case only the mileage) to the blockchain.
Under the Hood: Assessing the Backend
The Weeve backend offers high flexibility and all of the features that are needed in order to realize a complete IoT-to-blockchain connection without any large overheads. We made use of a light version of the Weeve Gateway, receiving data from the device and storing parts of it on a blockchain.
None of these values can be changed afterward due to the incorruptible nature of blockchains. This is very important, especially for liability and invoicing reasons.
The whole process is divided into three steps:
- Data Transfer
The backend receives data sent by the device via our secure and lightweight MQTTS protocol, where everything is encrypted. Overheads are kept to a bare minimum.
2. Parsing the data
The incoming data is parsed, extracting only the desired values from the data stream. In this case, the mileage value is extracted from the data.
3. Blockchain Interaction
The parsed mileage value is stored onto a private Ethereum-based blockchain via a smart contract. A smart contract mainly has two functionalities: read and write. While anyone is allowed to read any value, no one is allowed to overwrite any of the previous values. Only new values can be appended to the current dataset.
Project Outcomes and Next Steps
We are entering an era of radical automation in which most of our clients value access over ownership and experiences over assets. Realizing this, Festo plans to move to a pay-per-use business model for its industrial machines to improve flexibility for clients to rent out machines rather than own them, thus reducing asset overheads. This involves the application of new technologies (blockchain and IoT) in the current process flow and researching what implications it will have.
Festo is taking serious action to move toward the next digital frontier to enable higher machine autonomy across a wide variety of business operations.
Within our scope of work, our next steps are to develop a detailed feasibility analysis with all stakeholders in the company and proceed towards developing a launch plan.
Watch this space for exciting project and development announcements!
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