SPS 2023: Introducing the Novel Flagship Store
for the OI4 Community by Hilscher for Industrial Applications
Encryption and licensing, courtesy of CodeMeter technology.
Authors: Uwe Schnepf, Head of Product Management Industrial IoT, Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH, and Elke Spiegelhalter, PR Officer for Wibu-Systems
Originally announced for Hannover Messe 2023 and now ready for launch in November at SPS 2023: Members of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance (OI4) have teamed up in a special task force to turn the vision of an open, vendor and hardware-agnostic app store into reality. Their mission was to create an open and transparent process that can work on different app stores and that empowers industrial app publishers with a simple, standardized, and secure means to market their apps to industrial users as free or paid downloads from a dedicated app store.
Prospective users can go virtual window-shopping in such app stores to find the right apps for them and to buy, integrate, and operate them in the simplest and most secure way possible. The standardization efforts of the OI4 mean that apps that subscribe to the relevant standards should run without issue and be able to share data on as many end devices as the user wants.
Planned for SPS 2023, the formal launch of the Flagship Store for the OI4 Community , developed and operated by Hilscher in cooperation with the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance, will be a vivid example of the impact of OI4 work in this area. It will give the makers and users of industrial apps a simple and trustworthy way into their future cooperations in the area.
A white paper is being readied for SPS 2023 to get app providers that want to use this App Store informed about the technical requirements for launching OI4 compliant apps through the OI4 Community App Store. Apps that do not meet all of these specifications can also be included in the app store. Another white paper will include the manifest needed to define the technical details for uploading apps into the App Store.
The technology behind the Flagship Store for the OI4 Community
Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH has worked in close partnership with the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance, specifically the working groups tasked with facilitating the digital transition in industrial production. Together, they created the concept of a Community Store for OI4 Members with a fully featured and scalable e-commerce platform on http://flagshipstore.hilscher.com/. Preparing for the official launch at SPS 2023 with other app partners from the OI4 universe, Hilscher is responsible for running the new marketplace. And a true marketplace it is, as each app publisher brings their app(s) to market. The system allows real transactions, that is, the purchasing of apps from the App Store, using industry-standard payment methods, such as credit cards, direct debit, or invoices. The app publishers are the legal sellers of the apps, which means that any contract that is formed exists directly between the app publisher and the app users.
The technology making the App Store possible relies on so-called containers, an open source solution for virtually running apps on industrial PCs and edge gateways. Any app that is available as a container app (e.g., for Docker) can be delivered through the App Store. Once delivered, running the apps is also made easier by the OI4’s efforts at simplification and standardization. A concept has been prepared for integrating an interface, defined by OI4, into the already available edge management systems. The API could in the future make it possible to deliver apps from the App Store to a type of digital delivery address. The edge management system can then distribute and install the apps around the shop floor. Hilscher’s own device and application management solution is one such edge management system and will work in tandem with the Hilscher App Store for the OI4 Community.
But the app store should not be limited to apps alone: Consulting and other services and hardware like gateways, edge gateways, or industrial PCs designed for industrial communication could also be sold over the Internet. With this in mind, Hilscher already started before the launch of the App Store to search for interested partners and providers, a search that will intensify after the launch. All enterprises interested in the OI4 marketplace’s concept and the ability to use it as vendor or customer can contact Hilscher for more information.
Encrypted and licensed
Automatic encryption means that the IP in the app is safe from product piracy and reverse engineering. The right software key (ticket) to activate the app after download from the Hilscher Community Store is made available as part of the transaction. When the license is activated, it is bound to the device it is activated on, which stops the software from being duplicated, e.g., by cloning the Docker container.
To keep rights management as straightforward as possible for the app users, Hilscher has worked with Wibu-Systems to create a dedicated license server app, the netFIELD App License Server, that can run on the same edge device as the actual application. The license server app stays in the background to communicate with CodeMeter License Central, where licenses are created, rolled out, and managed automatically. The end users simply select the available licenses for the app they want and activate them with a single click.
In practice: Reading out PROFINET network traffic
Hilscher’s portfolio includes so-called tap apps. These are container-based apps that can passively read out the data shared between machines and industrial controllers on the shop floor via e.g., the PROFINET or EtherCAT protocol. This ability to read the data needs no intervention in the controllers themselves; all that is needed is one or two more passive components in the network, such as an edge gateway, dropped right into the flow of data with Hilscher's netMIRROR and a mirror port on a PROFINET switch. The PROFINET tap app on the edge gateway uses the integrated Hilscher network card to tap into the PROFINET data flow and capture the data for later processing (e.g., for storing, visualizing, adding alarms, or feeding it on into the user’s wider IT infrastructure).
Wibu-Systems and Hilscher are working to make using the container technology for digitalizing and connecting industrial production as simple and safe as possible for all parties involved. This extends not just to the app users in factories that can use the container technology and edge computing to counter the double-punch impact of greater productivity expectations at a time of skilled labor shortage. It also includes the app publishers who want a simple, but secure opportunity to bring their apps into smart manufacturing environments they might not be familiar with – without worrying about the security of the intellectual property they had invested in their software.
In the case of the netFIELD PROFINET Tap App, this means that the app is protected by the CodeMeter technology in a way that it can be launched and run on the edge gateway, but would not produce any actually meaningful data without a valid software-based license. This license is created by Wibu-Systems’ CodeMeter License Central, and the Tap App immediately starts delivering usable data with the active license, hosted on the very same edge gateway using the so-called “App License Server Container”. No need for an external license server anymore! At the same time, the app is encrypted by CodeMeter and protected from snooping and fraudulent use.
Wibu-Systems and Hilscher are reaching out to other members of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance to create the Hilscher Flagship Store for the OI4 Community as an open platform to help all providers and users along their way to truly digital and connected manufacturing.
Image 1: The use case in practice – Reading PROFINET network traffic.
Image 2: How the Community App Store and the Open Operator Cloud (e.g. netFIELD.io) cooperate
Image 3: The workflow for uploading apps, with CodeMeter encryption by Wibu-Systems integrated