Our portfolio as an IoT service provider

Our services portfolio for IoT, Industry 4.0, and IIoT comprises the following:

  • Thorough analysis and critical examination of your business fields and business models
  • Tapping of your opportunities with new technologies
  • Implementation of IoT projects
  • Platform solution and consulting in various areas (IoT, business process management, cloud etc.) for your future applications

We’ll take you on a tour of the IoT landscape, encompassing IoT essentials, use cases and rudimentary design thinking, Internet of Things application examples, and a final summary to finish things off.

We’ll teach you the difference between IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0. Benefit from the different perspectives that we bring with us as an IoT service provider. 

You can count on us to help at all times. Because we’re just as individual as your requirements are!

Internet of Things (IoT) essentials

There are many reasons for digitalizing your products, services, machines, and business model. What are yours? Let’s put it this way: Your reasons are our reasons, since potentially, we are your customer. We buy your products, machines, and services. And as your customer, this is what we want:

  • To buy products that develop further
  • To buy products that fit in seamlessly in our house, our factory, our environment
  • To rent machines, since our objective is to fell the tree, not own the ax
  • To use, network, and control machines without having to be on-site all the time
  • To be informed about the progress of purchased services
  • To have the impression that the digital world corresponds to our real world

Do you feel the same as a customer? If so, then the reasons for digitalizing your company are clear! If not, then we’ll help you to see things from your customers’ point of view. Here, the same applies to us all: We can only be successful if we offer our customers what they want and need.

Digitalization means placing customers at the center of the business model. Value creation takes place when the needs of the customer are taken seriously. And not just when customers place their orders – online on your Website. It’s just as important when your service, product, or machine is being used, after the purchase has been made. The IoT is the next step in the digitalization process, and it allows precisely this.

Join us on a journey of discovery and knowledge acquisition: What is the IoT? Where is the IoT? And how can I use the IoT to digitalize my company?

Internet of Things – what it is and what it’s not

The Internet of Things (IoT) or would it be better to say: “The Internet for Things”? After all, it’s all about depicting the real world in the digital world.

The term “IoT” encompasses everything to do with communication with “things”. After all, in the digital world, we have possibilities that we daren’t even dream of in the physical world:

  • We can access information without being on-site.
  • We can make custom transactions without being on-site.
  • Machines can be optimized by monitoring processes.
  • The production quality rises due to the improved exchange of information.
  • Components with faults are noticed before they can cause damage. Predictive maintenance is a key term here, and you’ve surely been aware of it for years.
  • Software updates allow your customers to benefit from the latest developments even for products that have already been delivered.

And why is this? In the digital world, many things that are really difficult (inefficient) or simply not possible in the physical world are much easier:

  • Fast and efficient communication between small parts (sensors & actuators)
  • Computing, networks, and data stores that are becoming more cost-effective and more energy-efficient
  • Increasing degree of networking in society and industry

If, with this knowledge, we’re asked for a definition of the IoT, we’ll probably come up with an answer similar to that of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy: “With the Internet of Things, objects […] become intelligent due to programmability, storage capacities, sensors, and communication functions. For example, […] machine tools are controlled using software and […] networked […].”.

A bit vague? Not at all! Because each company must find out for itself what the IoT means. And that’s some job. The IoT is an enabler, and the way in which you use it sets you apart from your competitors. The main question here is this: What added value can my customers gain through the IoT? When answering this, it’s vital to consider the following:

  • Customers are digital and networked.
  • The context consists of today’s possibilities at all levels (sensors, network, computing, artificial intelligence, and more).

Before getting specific, let’s take a look at why it’s now exactly the right time for the IoT.

Why the IoT is growing

Regardless of which curve you look at: The costs for the infrastructure of digitalization – processors, storage devices, bandwidth – are halved on a regular basis. Or: If you take a look at the pure technical data, you’re always going to get more for your investment. This also applies to:

  • Prices of sensors and actuators
  • Sensor dimensions
  • Energy consumption of sensors and other digital components
  • Costs for energy storage systems

Source: The Atlas, charts, average cost of IoT sensors

The consequences of these developments are diverse:

  • Applications that were previously too bulky can now be realized elegantly. The best known example is the mobile computer (smartphone).
  • Increasingly efficient sensors (and batteries with a higher capacity) enable cost-effective usage where this was not previously possible.

What seems impossible today will be reality tomorrow. Small conveniences gradually make life, production, work, and placing orders easier:

This exponential development forces us to rethink strategies constantly. But why now exactly? Because we need to make up some ground – and because together we can better integrate our customers into production, the supply chain, and the value creation process.

The significance of Industry 4.0

The definition of Industry 4.0 has been advanced by government-supported projects and work groups. Accordingly, descriptions and examples can be found on the Web pages of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Source: © Plattform Industrie 4.0, Principles graphic

Particularly in Germany, the term Industry 4.0 (see Plattform Industrie 4.0) has attained a great significance. It’s about the networking of industry, networking at the factory – primarily automations in production.

In our country, small and medium-sized businesses have a special importance: Tailored production that’s been optimized to the smallest detail, perfect logistics, and seamless communication. We’re perfectly honed – and our products are perfect. We’re both innovative and cost-effective.

We could talk for much longer about how Germany’s small and medium-sized businesses have made it so successful. And we really must not forget why. But… what is the connection to the New World like? Let’s take a look at Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber, Lyft, Spotify and More. Once thing’s clear: Business models are used there that we do not yet benefit from. Why not? How about having a kind of Amazon for our products and services? What if end-users could inspect and configure our machines via Facebook? Can I display location-specific information on my tablet in a production hall? Can I take this information into account when searching for spare parts?

There are many examples of Industry 4.0 applications. What’s important is that instead of being swamped by the digital world, we learn to swim as quickly as possible:

  • Learning what Industry 4.0 means for us, today and tomorrow.
  • Learning what our business partners expect from us, today and tomorrow.
  • Implementing, adjusting, driving things forward.

The difference between IoT and Industry 4.0

Let it melt in your mouth: According to the Internet of Things 2019 study, quality assurance is one of the main application areas to date. German engineering – known top quality. Capitalizing on an existing advantage – it’s definitely possible with the latest technology. And if production costs can be reduced at the same time, by precisely predicting when each machine must be maintained, then we’ve done everything right.

A few words about the difference between the IoT and Industry 4.0: To sum up, the IoT generally relates to the general networking of “things”, with most of these developments affecting us all: Smartphones, the concept of a smart home, package tracking etc. Industry 4.0 uses the same technologies but in an industrial context, usually in production halls. As you can imagine, industrial requirements are generally more stringent than those for end-users in the field of smart homes. 

Now, the customer enjoys double the benefit:

  • The digitalization and usage of the IoT brings customers closer to production or creates new services entirely (for example, the purchasing of services instead of machines).
  • More efficient production processes increase quality and reduce costs.

Industrial IoT (IIoT)

The different terms for similar things might already have made you realize that this is a complex topic. In addition to the IoT and Industry 4.0, there’s the term “Industrial IoT”, “IIoT” for short:

Differences between Internet of Things and Industry 4.0The IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0 build upon a broad shared basis. Generally, we speak of networking, sensors and actuators, data, and central security concepts. However, the different elements give us different perspectives on IoT technologies:

Generally, this includes scenarios where the end-customer comes from the consumer area, so smart home applications, for example.

Here, the factory is what the smart home (IoT) is for the end-customer. Production machines are networked in order to satisfy increasingly stringent quality requirements, automatic orders are placed, and new services are discovered. Industry 4.0 goes one step further than the IoT by digitalizing the entire value creation chain and optimizing whole production processes.

Welcome to the industry that discovered the networking of production processes! Protocols now need to meet industry standards, as do sensors/actuators, (IIoT) gateways, and network connections.

Once you and your company get to grips with the IoT, you’ll realize this: The different viewpoints cannot be clearly separated. Because with advancing digitalization, you’re going to have to take in all views at once:

  • The end-customer view that requires you to dive into the IoT or Industrial IoT.
  • The internal view that – if you’re a producer – makes the Industry 4.0 perspective necessary at all times.

Convinced? Then stick with us, and be inspired by real solution scenarios!

Use cases or design thinking?

Are you designing use cases or thinking about new possibilities already? Often, innovations in place overseas take a little while to reach Germany. You might think that’s for the best – they reach us when they’re already mature solutions. But did you know that Hasso Plattner (the founder of SAP) is a big fan and exponent of design thinking, and has been teaching the concept in the US for almost 15 years at his own dedicated institute? The learning process never comes to an end! But let’s start at the beginning…

The added value of use cases

Do you know the IoT use cases used in your sector? They’re easy enough to find out. There’s plenty of reading material. However, “easy to find out” is not something that’s going to set you apart from the competition. You have the information and understand the contexts that make you unique. And that’s why you’re successful. But how can you use your knowledge for Industry 4.0 technologies and the IoT? And that’s success factor no. 1: Using your knowledge and experience in conjunction with new technologies and concepts.

The design thinking method

We use tried-and-trusted and new methods here. Design thinking is a method that’s grown particularly close to our hearts. However, it always comes down to the challenge, to you and the problem you face. In workshops, we’ll find out together which customer benefits you can extract from the IoT. We’ll find out how you can pick up modern, digitalized customers – in the real (physical) world and in their digital world, too. You’ll be amazed at the possibilities.

Even if you cannot set yourself apart from the competition with use cases, that’s no reason not to be aware of them. On the contrary: It’s your duty to get to know the usual use cases (application scenarios) and to know how they can be used and what this requires. Below, we list some of the best known, most often used usage cases in German small and medium-sized companies at present:

IoT use case

The customer can track their package, check the state of their machine, or re-order resources that are running low.

Machines are monitored with sensors and processes can be modeled and optimized. Devices that have been delivered to customers can be checked to make sure that they’re being used as intended.

Sensor data allows behaviors to be recognized. And this allows the imminent failure of a machine to be predicted using machine learning, for example. Spare parts can be ordered ahead of time before a failure occurs.

But what’s awaiting you when you implement a project driven by the IoT and/or Industry 4.0? The next paragraph will answer that for you.

Application example of Internet of Things in practice

Imagine that your company has, until now, been really successful at manufacturing machines. There’s some competition, but nobody in your sector has the skill set in your niche that you’ve been able to build up. Despite this, you encounter a stroke of bad luck: Your competitor appears to be doing well with the “Rent instead of selling” business model. And you’re not. You do rent out your machines, but this business area only makes up a small part of your turnover, and an even smaller part of your profit. Why is this?

Naturally, you’ve been keeping an eye on the IoT and Industry 4.0 for a while, since as is always the case, these are associated with new business models. And perhaps renting rather than selling is one of these. To get to the bottom of things, you commission a service provider (such as Novatec) so that you can find out more in a design thinking workshop. And, as it turns out, a 4-day workshop turns everything – all of your issues and what you’ve achieved so far – upside down. You’ve now had the opportunity to discuss matters and discover possibilities separately from your past experiences. And this is what you’ve found out: Your future market is the renting out of low-maintenance machines. The hypothesis: Your target customers don’t want to own your machines; they just want to be able to use them – with 100% availability. Because if your machine’s at a standstill, so is your customer’s production.

The concept is that the high availability of the machine is achieved by means of a whole range of sensors (vibration sensors, temperature sensors, pressure sensors, distance sensors, and humidity sensors) that collect data to enable the health of the machine to be evaluated in a subsequent step. Your consultants are convinced that this data – processed by neural networks (machine learning) – provides the information you need. Then, maintenance and the replacement of spare parts can be scheduled in advance and in a timely manner, before the machine suffers a failure.

In the next step, a prototype (MVP – minimum viable product) is created. In your scenario, a decommissioned machine is appropriated and fitted with sensors that use a Kunbus RevPi to pass data to a powerful computer. You’re fortunate in that WLAN is available throughout your premises, so this doesn’t pose a problem. Experts in data science (to be precise: machine learning) have already created models that can be used to calculate the health of the machine. However, these work only once they’ve been trained with real data. This requires the simulation and recording of a large number of scenarios: Scenarios in which the machine is healthy and no problems occur. And scenarios where the machine has signs of failure or will soon do so. The hypothesis is that the senors then send significantly different signals. For example, a component starts vibrating, the temperature of a join goes up, or the gaps between machine parts start to change.

Following this time-intensive phase, the machine learning modules can assess whether the machine is behaving normally or whether a failure is on the cards. In time, it’s even possible to predict what type of maintenance will be required. Soon, you’ll have enough data to be able to improve the machine itself (and this will save on service interventions). But that’s enough dreaming! It’s now time to test your machine, gain some confidence, and confirm your hypothesis.

Once you’ve proven that you can maintain machines – fitted with sensors – to prevent failures, it’s time to design the following:

  • The right business models for your customers. For example, guaranteed 100% availability, with you taking responsibility if this is not achieved. You’re happy to do this, since you now know that you’ve minimized the risk. In addition, customer surveys provide you with the certainty that you’re thinking in the right direction.
  • The industry-grade use of sensors with neural networks: The interpretation of the data can now take place on the machine itself or in a controlled environment. Which of these is easiest to implement depends on the sensitivity of the data. However, in both cases, you need to be able to communicate with the machine.
  • Your reference architecture. In an initial step, this can be really simple, but it should already contain the most important components. Depending on which platforms, providers, and products you’re using, you may be able to build upon existing reference architectures.

Note: Don’t use the data produced by the machines just to plan the dispatch of service technicians. Use it to improve the actual machines, too! You’ll now get daily feedback and be able to draw conclusions from it. You can also get more creative with your business models – depending on the industrial designs. The IoT and Industry 4.0 will give you a massive advantage when it comes to possibilities for marketing and improving your product.

IoT reference architectures

Once we’ve dealt with the basics of why the IoT and Industry 4.0 are good ways to move towards the future, we’ll take a look at reference architectures. Reference architectures provide guidelines for the direction of an implementation. Some even talk about crash barriers. These are particularly useful if there are not yet any specifications for this kind of project at your company. Often, it’s not enough to simply define where a function is to be housed. Example: You want to use machine learning to enable the camera detection of whether a component has been produced correctly. The question is where the neural network (the technology with which machine learning is realized) should make this check: Directly in or on the camera? On your local computer? Or in the cloud? All of these are valid possibilities – but you need to decide on one. The clearer your requirements for all implementations, the easier it will be later on to get an overview of your IT landscape, rectify errors, and introduce enhancements.

The benefits of reference architectures

Reference architectures make sense for the following reasons:

  • They create standards for your IT applications. This makes troubleshooting, general maintenance, and the introduction of enhancements easier. Overall, you save on costs and retain flexibility.
  • You gain comparability – and can easily check whether a change (such as switching to another cloud provider) would be a good move. Because your IT is structured and transparent.
  • As your IT becomes more ordered, the speed at which you can get a grip on your IT applications and interdependencies increases. New employees can be trained up quickly – special knowledge, which is often restricted to employees with a history, is kept to a minimum.

It doesn’t matter whether your company pursues a known reference architecture or introduces a specific reference architecture for you alone. But before you get started on the task of defining your reference architecture, you should take a look at some suggestions and assess whether they would work for you. Note that reference architectures generally cover specific functions, tasks, and dimensions. They’re rarely complete, and often you only require a part of them. Knowing this allows you to protect yourself from unnecessary complexity, especially when introducing a new topic. In addition, you will need to extend your existing reference architecture in line with your needs.

Reference Architectural Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0)

The Reference Architectural Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0) was created by Zentralverband Elektrotechnik- und Elektronikindustrie e.V. (ZVEI) and Plattform Industrie 4.0. It allows a solution or scenario to be positioned on the basis of its most important coordinates. A 3D image with the following axes is used for this:

  • The “Hierarchy Levels” axis depicts the various functions in a factory.
  • The “Life Cycle Value Stream” axis describes the life cycle of plants and products.
  • The “Layers” axis depicts the software or machine using a layered architecture.

Source: © Plattform Industrie 4.0

Several things are of note here:

  • The concept of interlinking these three axes and arranging Industrie 4.0 applications accordingly is extremely attractive, and enables the visualization of aspects that were previously hidden from view.
  • A certain amount of initial training is required in order to understand the complexity of the model and to interpret it. Only then do the benefits become apparent. In our experience, however, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the model and procedure. Even an examination of the thought processes of the creators of the model is extremely helpful.

One last comment here: Basically, RAMI 4.0 is a reference architecture model that aims to describe Industry 4.0 solutions in general. The flexibility that the model requires is, naturally, reflected in its complexity. When looking at it, find the topics that are particularly relevant for you. Set priorities. Alternatively, the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture (IIRA) is worth taking a look at – but the focus is different (Industrial IoT).

The Azure IoT reference architecture, which we describe below, is much more tangible.

Microsoft Azure IoT reference architecture

The Microsoft Azure IoT reference architecture is primarily tailored to the offerings of Microsoft, but can naturally be transferred to other providers of IoT platforms, too (whereby these also describe reference architectures). We recommend that you examine at least one reference architecture in detail.

Source: Microsoft Azure IoT reference architecture

In the first abstraction, the reference architecture is divided as follows:

  • Things – The sensors (IoT devices), edge devices, and – in some cases – cloud gateways. The fact that software that needs to be updated from time to time (bulk service provisioning) is installed on sensors and other components should not be underestimated.
  • Insights – Components that receive, transform, and save data and analyze this data in the traditional way.
  • Action – Lastly, the execution of actions with the IoT (real actions or making decisions, for example).

The main functions of the Azure IoT reference architecture

The functions of the individual components in the Azure IoT reference architecture are  Microsoft Azure IoT reference architecture displayed clearly there. The most important ones are described in brief here in the form of an overview:

  • IoT (edge) devices are the sensors, which can optionally already make data analyses (edge analytics). The sensors are assigned to an (Azure) IoT hub individually or by means of the DPS (Device Provisioning Service).
  • The cloud gateway is responsible for managing the sensors. It provides secure communication between the sensors and the cloud.
  • Data processing is divided into several stages. There are different paths here: The “warm” path is intended for the immediate interpretation of the data, so when you need to react to an event on an ad-hoc basis, for example. The “cold” path is used for the downstream interpretation of the data in order to generate new information from the data by means of machine learning, for example. The “stream” path provides traditional methods for the data processing of large datasets.
  • Lastly, services are offered for the visualization and implementation of business logic (UI reporting, business integration services).

In comparison with RAMI 4.0, the Microsoft Azure IoT reference architecture is significantly more tangible with regard to logical components. In addition, the fact that data can be processed ad-hoc (warm) and downstream (cold) is beneficial. The focus is not on Industry 4.0 applications here; instead, the processing of data and the use of the Azure IoT is in the foreground. However, the breaking down of an automated factory into its various layers and the associated product life cycles is not described and must be solved on a case-by-case basis (if required).

Simplified definition and structure of an IoT reference architecture

A simple structure of an IoT reference architecture might appear as follows:

Reference architecture

Sensors and actuators – this means sensors that record data and pass it onto the next level: Temperature data, telemetry data, humidity, pressure etc. In addition, actuators can be addressed here.

The Data transport – is the connection of the sensors and actuators with the layer above. Different protocols play a part here, such as MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport).

Data evaluation is where the gold embedded in the data is mined. The possibilities are manifold, and you’ll hear terms such as data science, data analytics, big data, stream processing, complex event processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and more.

At the application/visualization/dashboard level the results of the data evaluation are used: The service technician is told if a machine requires a maintenance run so that it does not fall victim to a failure during the next few weeks. And a single glance at the dashboard is enough to get an overview of the production status.

Securityis important at all levels and in all functions. This can affect the design of the hardware (for example, the use of TPM 2.0 chips) or just the software and configuration.

You can now see that a reference architecture can be extremely simple. However, you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t yet mentioned the fact that this simple reference architecture requires interpretation!

  • The individual blocks can be seen as layers, but in fact they depict individual functions.
  • The (cloud or IoT) gateways that securely forward the data – but can also evaluate it – should be assigned to data evaluation or data transport.
  • Data can be saved at all levels.

The bottom line: The significance of the Internet of Things for the customer

You can approach the topics of the IoT or Industry 4.0 from different perspectives:

  • Take a look at use cases and think about how your company can implement these.
  • Use your specific knowledge and transform it into valuable (new) products, services, and business models with design thinking.
  • Reference architectures offer a natural introduction to the topic. Start by loading and testing out a reference architecture that fits in with your state of knowledge and your company.
  • Just imagine: Networks will get faster and faster, sensors will get smaller, computing power will increase, batteries will have extra capacity, and actuators will become ever more powerful! In addition, these things will get cheaper and cheaper year after year (notwithstanding local fluctuations). Are you now getting ideas about the effect this might have on your business models?

Have faith in yourself. The journey into the age of distributed intelligence and networked devices has just begun. You can’t avoid being dragged along, so you might as well actively shape the future! The Internet of Things forms the basis, here, upon which further achievements will build. Become a visionary:

  • Let your appliances order goods themselves. Distributed ledger technology (DLT, e.g. Blockchain) safeguard the transactions.
  • Machine learning, data science – there are many names. And behind them are the tools that can help you to become a gold miner. There are numerous possibilities for profiting from data generated by machines. For customers, and for you!
  • Cloud technology allows you to be flexible without requiring high levels of investment. Take small steps forward, make daily tests, and adjust your direction each day, too. Adjusting direction on a daily basis? Isn’t that unprofessional? No! Because you learn something new every day, and this allows you to hone existing decisions even further.

What you need is constant interaction between pragmatism and dreams of a better future. This keeps you on the ball and means you’re ready to pounce when the moment’s right.

Naturally, as an IoT service provider and consultant, we’ll be there to help you:

  • Method and software independence
  • An agile, target-oriented way of working
  • Professional activity with daily investment in new technologies

Your direct contact


Jonas Grundler

Director New Business Development
Jonas Grundler Director New Business Development