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Spimes, Cyber Physical Systems and Industrie 4.0 [1]

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 27 juni 2013

Ben van Lier
The term spimes was introduced by Bruce Sterling in 2005. According to him, spimes are manufactured objects that start out in a different way from traditional objects and end up as data. From their origin to their recycling, he states, spimes form ‘material instantiations of an immaterial system’ [2].

The physical object is increasingly being created and integrated into the virtual environment of interconnected and communicating networks. Throughout its lifetime, the behaviour of the spime in terms of time, place and performance is able to be tracked and analysed within the virtual networks in which it is linked.

Industrial Internet of Things

In 2012, General Electric (GE) published its vision on the development of the Industrial Internet [3], in which intelligent machines are connected to each other in networks, even at the component level. Within these networks, intelligent machines are able to communicate with each other and with people, irrespective of the time and place in which they find themselves. In GE’s vision, intelligent machines are thus combinations that consist of options emerging from the industrial revolution and the IT revolution. The new revolution of the Industrial Internet is shifting the existing boundaries between people (minds) and machines, and in some ways also blurring those dividing lines. Slowly but surely, according to GE, this revolution is leading to an Industrial Internet of Things, and is poised to radically transform our daily lives and ways of working [4].

Cyber Physical Systems

Another name for Intelligent Machines is Cyber Physical Systems. The American Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describes these Cyber Physical Systems as ‘smart systems that encompass computational (i.e., hardware and software) and physical components seamlessly integrated and closely interacting to sense the changing state of the real world’[5]. In the philosophy of the NIST, examples of Cyber Physical Systems include robots, intelligent buildings, medical implants, self-steering automobiles and aircraft that can fly unmanned. One of the most important challenges in designing, developing and managing these Cyber Physical Systems is the collaboration between Cyber Physical Systems and people. Issues that play a role in the context of this collaboration concern being able to define and model ‘situational awareness’ (in other words, being aware of what is going on around you), the human experience of these systems and the environment created by them, and changes in circumstances and/or parameters that can be critical when taking decisions, to name just a few examples. In the vision of the NIST, Cyber Physical Systems form the foundation for developments like Smart Manufacturing, Smart Health, Infrastructure for Smart Grids and Utilities, Smart Buildings and Infrastructure, Smart Transportation and Mobility, and Defence.

Industrie 4.0

In Europe, Germany is not only the leading country in the field of industrial production but also in the production of industrial components. It also closely monitors the developments towards an Industrial Internet of Things and Cyber Physical Systems and has come up with its own answer in the form of Industrie 4.0. The German vision is based on the notion that after mechanisation, electrification and IT – as a result of the integration of the Internet of Things and Services in the industrial environment – a fourth revolution is about to be set in motion. The basis for this vision lies in the conviction that in the future: ‘businesses will establish global networks that incorporate their machinery, warehousing systems and production facilities in the shape of Cyber Physical Systems’.

In these global networks, three points of departure are key:

  • horizontal integration in value networks
  • end-to-end digital integration of components within the network
  • vertical integration of production systems interconnected by means of networks.

In the German vision, the development of Industrie 4.0 forms an evolutionary process in which existing technologies and knowledge are adapted to the new and specific demands of developing, producing and maintaining products linked together via networks.

Net-centric working

As already stated, the hybridisation of man and technology, organisation and technology, and society and technology has become an irreversible process [6]. Whether we welcome it or not, our world is being digitised and interconnected in networks at enormous speed. Slowly but surely, within these networks, the traditional boundaries between man and machine are becoming blurred. Communication in these networks is done by exchanging and sharing information. And it is becoming increasingly accepted for this information to be used by man and machine to function, to take action, or to produce goods and services. The time has come for more attention to be paid to the consequences and possibilities that this process of hybridisation is bringing with it for us as individuals, for organisations, and for society as a whole. I believe that this process of hybridisation cannot be reversed. Shouting for it to stop or to be regulated is like demanding that electricity or telephony be forbidden. We owe it to ourselves to pay more attention to the way in which we wish to develop and function in a net-centric world as individuals, organisations and society. I am convinced that this will provide more than enough space for further growth and development.

  • [1] Securing the future of German manufacturing industry. Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative INDUSTRIE 4.0. April 2013. Final report of the Industrie 4.0 working group. Federal Ministry of education and research
  • [2] Sterling B., (2005) Shaping Things. The MIT press
  • [3] Evans P.C. and Annunziata M. (2012) Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines
  • [4] van Lier B., Industrial Internet Of Things 
  • [5] Foundations for Innovation in Cyber-Physical systems Workshop Report January 2013 National Institute of Standards and Technology Securing
  • [6] Lier van B., Luhmann ontmoet the Matrix. Uitwisselen en delen van Informatie in netcentrische omgevingen. [Luhmann meets the Matrix. Exchanging and sharing information in net-centric environments] Eburon ISBN 9789059723085 

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.

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