The topic of cloud has long ceased to be new, just like apps. But in the context of real-time engineering, up to now both keywords were if anything theory. AUCOTEC's cloud app concept fills this gap: it not only allows machines, plants and mobile systems to be planned without their own server hardware and with any scalability in the cloud. The cooperative platform Engineering Base (EB) can also be used independently of hardware and client installations on any end device. This enables EB to be offered in-house as Software as a Service (SaaS). The use of the engineering platform as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in a "private cloud" has long been normal practice. In addition, AUCOTEC offers the highest possible data security with the Microsoft Azure Cloud Germany.
Six questions on the future of mobile engineering solutions posed to Eike Michel, development manager at AUCOTEC:
Mr. Michel, why is cloud engineering becoming increasingly important?
"Tying software to a fixed work station is simply outdated. Putting together teams, even ones spread globally, is coming increasingly to the fore. To do this, the administrative input to provide the necessary work environment for such teams must be significantly reduced. In order to also be able to cover additional use cases via apps with access to the same database, central availability of the engineering toolset from the cloud is essential."
What makes Azure Cloud Germany unique in terms of security?
"Due to the separation of data centre operation (Microsoft) and data trustee (T-Systems), the data is subject to the legal framework applicable in Germany. Accessing the data from abroad, even by court order, is not possible."
And what are the apps all about?
"Apps will not replace the classic engineering work station, but they are an ideal add-on. As mobile specialists for special applications, on the one hand they offer users just that part of the data that is required for their tasks and, on the other, an optimized user interface. The focus is not on the widest possible range of features of the application, but on the efficient execution of the task in question. This allows completely new user groups to be reached. Their work results are generated on the same database that engineers use, and integrated into it, without the need for users to master the full complexity of the engineering system.
Once the data is created, apps also increase its value as its areas of application multiply and redundancies are avoided. However, both the design and development of apps and their operation bring separate challenges compared with classic desktop applications. Therefore, the implementation of a use case as a mobile application only makes sense if mobility is a mandatory requirement."
Can you give an example of such an application?
"For example, a large AUCOTEC customer, that also offers worldwide maintenance of the plant it has sold, uses an app developed for it for mobile inventory especially in older plants by its service department. It documents the as-is status of the plants directly at the customer's site and transfers the data to EB. The aim is to use the information to simulate and offer new services or plant extensions tailored to the customer, or to continuously optimize self-operated plants. A business model that without EB and its mobile application would only have been possible with disproportionately high costs."
And what sort of advanced applications are still conceivable?
"For example, a technician with a mobile device that fits in any trouser pocket can see all the relevant EB data from anywhere at any time and feed back his information directly to the design. This app is no longer a hypothesis but actually in use. And there are many more ideas:
A manager receives an app overview of the status of all tasks in his area. He could also display how many components of a manufacturer are installed over all his plants to optimize orders or conversions. It is also conceivable to link apps with your own scheduling system or with other web services. For example, for spare parts orders or to book the train ticket for the next outside appointment of a service employee directly from the maintenance app. EB as an engineering platform and big data source is flexible and open for the integration of all conceivable application areas."
Can that be done with any engineering system?
"No, because for these capabilities a flexible data model, the right system architecture, and open APIs are essential. EB is based on a three-layer architecture with separate application server between the database and client allowing direct access to the business logic of the system and ensuring the consistency of the data. In addition, there is a web communication server based on REST and WSDL, without which the service-oriented linking of apps and machine-to-machine communication would not be possible.
EB keeps its data in a flexible, configurable model in a central database and enables scalable access via the layers mentioned. File-oriented systems and engineering platforms with data held in distributed databases cannot provide this integrity of data and access."