How Siemens is driving Industry 4.0 in Saudi Arabia with its IoT platform, MindSphere

How Siemens is driving Industry 4.0 in Saudi Arabia with its IoT platform, MindSphere

Our lives are more connected than ever before. In fact, Gartner reports that consumers own on average four Internet of Things (IoT) devices which communicate with the cloud whilst, globally, an estimated 127 new devices connect to the internet every second. This cutting-edge technology is not exclusive to consumer goods; it is also upending industries across the globe. In sectors such as aviation, energy and manufacturing, connected IoT devices have quickly become the norm. But with reams of data and information at our fingertips, are we truly getting value from this information?

This is where Siemens has entered the fray with its latest innovative solution. Recognising that only a tiny fraction of industrial data is used and intelligently analysed, the technology giant has created MindSphere – a cloud-based, open IoT operating system which it likens to a ‘swiss army knife’ for IoT. It allows businesses to connect products, plants, systems and machines, equipping firms with the concrete application data that they can analyse and draw insights from.

As the first CTO of Siemens Saudi Arabia, Prof. Dr Rainer Speh says that MindSphere is much more than a system, it is a new way of thinking. “MindSphere isn’t just a platform, it’s about co-creation. With our MindSphere Application Centre, we work alongside our customers to address their specific operational needs and improve their processes,” he explains. “Together, we discover their pain points and co-create solutions that fit their needs.” Today, Siemens has 20 MindSphere Application Centres serving 50 locations in 17 countries. These centres employ around 900 data specialists and engineers and focus on the specific needs of a sector. In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Siemens’ MindSphere Application Centre is able to offer digital solutions spanning several areas including ‘Industrie 4.0’, smart infrastructure, smart cities, agriculture including vertical farming, energy, hydrocarbon industries and cybersecurity. By bringing digital experts, domain experts and customers under one roof, Speh believes that the firm is driving the co-creation of digital solutions together with customers.

With Industrie 4.0 being a reality, many businesses see digitalisation as an opportunity to drive productivity, efficiency, speed and quality in their operations. Siemens and its network of partners are co-creating tailor-made applications to suit industrial customers. “When you’re getting information in real time, it’s important to have the right tools to analyse and interpret this data,” Speh explains. “This is where data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning adds tremendous value. At the end of the day, it’s about drawing conclusions from this data. By using this data, we can monitor a whole plant or do predictive maintenance down to a single device. This is where we need to combine Siemens’ expertise with that of the client.” 

Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a visionary transformation. With its eyes set on Vision 2030, the Kingdom is aiming to diversify its economy away from oil and establish globally competitive industries in fields such as renewable energy, manufacturing, healthcare and smart cities. Speh believes that Siemens is playing a key role in this Vision. “As part of Vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to diversify and establish new industries. It’s not just about diversifying local industry; it’s about becoming a major exporter too,” says Speh. “There is no way around this without Industrie 4.0. This is what the Kingdom hopes to achieve, and this is what Siemens can deliver.” Indeed, Siemens has contributed to the economic and social development of Saudi Arabia for nearly 100 years, with offices in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Al-Khobar, Yanbu and Jubail. With this local expertise combined with its innovative MindSphere platform, Speh believes the firm is set to take this one step further.

Just as digitalisation has turned books into e-books and music into mp3 files, it has also allowed us to create digital copies of physical industrial assets. Known as ‘digital twins’, many companies are looking to keep pace with Industrie 4.0 by creating a real-time replica of their assets. This can help firms identify defects or show how they could improve operations and drive revenue. “If you design a new operation you can simulate it and optimise it with the help of IT,” adds Speh, noting how Siemens not only has MindSphere to offer but that it is also a market leader in areas such as automation and product lifecycle management (PLM). With this range of industrial expertise and its cutting-edge MindSphere platform, Speh believes the opportunities for Saudi industry are limitless.

Take the energy market, for example. According to Vision 2030, the country’s energy consumption will increase drastically by 2030.  The National Renewable Energy Program aims to substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix, targeting the generation of 27.3 GW of renewable energy by 2023 and 58.7 GW by 2030. To meet this growing demand, Siemens offers a range of renewable energy solutions, from wind turbines to lithium ion battery storage. Additionally, Speh highlights how the MindSphere IoT system monitors, analyses and optimises grids for grid operators and utilities. “Vision 2030 is also about energy efficiency, another area where Siemens has strong IoT capabilities,” Speh says. “We can also offer digital and practical solutions like more efficient electrical motors. Additionally, whether you want to remotely monitor your power plant, chemical plant, food and beverage industry, you name it – this is where MindSphere can come into play.”

Renewable energy is just one of the main sectors found in the Kingdom’s blueprint for 2030. “The country also aims to have three Saudi cities recognised in the top-ranked 100 cities in the world,” explains Speh. Saudi Arabia is already an urban nation with 82% of its citizens living in cities and so it will have to tackle issues such as transportation, energy use, air quality and more. Indeed, the UN forecasts that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, so in order to have healthier, more liveable and relaxed lives, those cities will have to become more efficient – and smarter. Siemens is well-versed in Smart City development and it believes that IoT, and indeed MindSphere, could help to transform urban life and infrastructure. “We are building air quality measurement tools, but we’re also addressing traffic jams and implementing variable speed controls.” A transportation system is the lifeblood of any city and it’s certainly been a key area of focus for Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has seen its population double to more than 6 million inhabitants since 1990, and to address traffic congestion, it is working on the world’s largest metro project with a total route length of 175km. Siemens has played a leading role in the metro project, equipping two of the six lines with 67 Inspiro metro trains, an electrification system, and signaling and communication equipment for fully automated, driverless operation.

Running on either public or private clouds, Speh also points to how the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is “easy to deploy” and “less effort to maintain” because of its cloud-based nature. Nevertheless, at the MindSphere Application Centre, it’s clear that it’s not about state-of-the-art technology as much as it is about state-of-the-art thinking. Recognising that business leaders know their organisations' blind spots, bottlenecks and headaches best, “collaboration” and “co-creation” are words that best encapsulate the ethos behind the centre. “We sit down with clients and identify their pain points. They’re always different, and there is always a potential to improve,” observes Speh. “Time-wise, effort-wise, you name it – we’re offering change management and helping them become digital companies.” Through its centres, Siemens offers a space to co-design applications which aim to optimise processes, speed up performance, maximise energy efficiency and, ultimately, contribute to Vision 2030. “It’s really about fostering strong relationships,” adds Speh, “We have an ecosystem of around 200 companies now supporting us.”

It seems that Vision 2030 has offered Saudi businesses a fresh slate to reshape their operations and sharpen their digital capabilities. This has encouraged companies to embark on digital transformation journeys, promote localisation, and nurture a more diversified economy. It’s an ambitious roadmap ahead, but with its MindSphere Application Centre, Siemens wants to co-create a better future with the Kingdom. 

David Fritz