• Karl Grun

The Hunt for Universal Interoperability in B2B platform economy

The lack of interoperability or data standardisation hampers the development of B2B platform economy in Europe. This is one of the findings of the EU study on "Support to the Observatory for the Online Platform Economy" from 2021. This study, which was implemented in 2018 – 2020, conducted an extensive gap analysis concerning specific types of B2B platform services, including services relating to the industrial Internet of Things. It identified a clear potential for establishing standards on data interoperability. This is because monopolisation of data by incumbent platforms has been perceived as a barrier to new entrants to the market, and platforms have incentives to limit data sharing and enforce exclusivity. The barriers to data sharing are of both legal and technical nature such as a lack of interoperability or data standardisation.

It might be argued that there is no lack of interoperability and/or data standardisation but rather a mushrooming of such standards. There are indeed hundreds and more standards dealing with interoperability aspects. In the Horizon 2020 Project EFPF this huge standardization ecosystem was analysed in depth. Examples of interoperability standards and standards for data exchange in the industrial domain are IEC 61499-4, IEC 62714, ISO/IEC 19464 (AMQP), ISO/IEC 20922 (MQTT), ISO/IEC 21823, ISO/IEC 30161, ISO/IEC 30162 (IIoT), ISO 11354, ISO 10303 (STEP) or ISO 20534. These and other standards are implemented as building blocks by EFPF in its platform tools and services. The compliance with standards enhances the confidence in, and the market uptake of, EFPF's tools and service.

Despite the fact of having numerous standards for interoperability and data exchange there is the reality, that there is no "universal standard" for these topics. Having analysed the standardization landscape EFPF identified the need to elaborate such a standard taking into account the nature of EFPF, i.e. establishing an European Connected Factory Platform ecosystem for Agile Manufacturing through federating manufacturing platforms. Such a federated platform having as a central Portal and Marketplace is the foundation for supporting growth and sustainability due to connecting with other platforms as well as with single enterprises.

This standard (CEN-CENELEC Workshop Agreement, CWA), proposed by EFPF, is under development at the two European Standardization Organisation CEN and CENELEC in a Workshop called EFPFInterOp, European Connected Factory Platform for Agile Manufacturing Interoperability.

The objective of this CWA is to ensure the interoperability in an ecosystem of federating manufacturing platforms, including a central portal and marketplace. It will provide a reference architecture for federating manufacturing platforms focusing on the interoperability on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), protocols, security and data model level. Additionally, a reference implementation in the form of the EFPF Data Spine and associated components will be described as well as including identified best practices.

The CWA EFPFInterOp will contribute to creating trust and confidence as well as supporting sustainable growth for a European B2B platform economy through a standardized interoperability framework. It will enable an open market infrastructure for European manufacturing and interlink digital manufacturing platforms, smart factory tools and Industry 4.0 concepts. With this a connected and smart ecosystem will be realised and sustainably supported.

A draft of the CWA for an open commenting phase is expected to be available in summer 2022. The publication of the CWA is planned for the end of 2022.