Categories: Automation

Hilscher – Germany – Automation

Making access to industrial apps more democratic with smart licensing

Hilscher’s Flagship Store for the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance (OI4) Community brings the ease and openness of app stores to the industrial world. Powered by CodeMeter licensing and safeguarded by CodeMeter encryption, the store gives industrial users access to a library of apps and solutions for their shop floor automation and connectivity needs.

The Challenge

Apps rule modern industry: By collecting, analyzing, sharing, and processing data, they make factories smarter and more efficient. But in the fragmented world of industrial automation, even the strenuous standardization efforts by communities like the OI4 Alliance are struggling with opening up access to industrial apps and services. Announced at Hannover Messe 2023, the Flagship Store for the OI4 Community was envisioned by industrial communication specialists Hilscher and OI4 working groups to create a truly open, vendor and hardware-agnostic app store that could serve as a conduit for apps and services and pave the way for a smarter and more connected industry.

The Solution

App stores are a boon to end users, but also a free-for-all for copycats, unscrupulous users, and outright software pirates. Both the IP invested in legitimate apps and their correct use by authorized users need to be secured without encumbering the process. For greater access and a smoother app integration process in industrial PCs, controllers, or other edge devices, Hilscher and the OI4 Alliance opted for Docker containerization as a virtualization-driven solution. Looking for a way to secure the process, they turned to Wibu-Systems’ CodeMeter technology, known as an excellent combination with Docker systems. Apps created in any development ecosystem, from JavaScript, to C++, Java, .NET or Python can be encrypted and secured against theft. Smart licensing options ensure safe and reliable sales and even allow innovative options like per-feature licensing or freemium models without affecting the workings of the app store.

The Result

The CodeMeter-powered app store was launched as the “Flagship Store for the OI4 Community”. Apps by Hilscher and other automation specialists and industry outfitters like Bytefabric.AI, Lenze, and UReason are available for download by registered clients. Built around Docker technology and CodeMeter protection and licensing, the store is set to simplify access to the industrial app market. With continued standardization efforts by the OI4 Alliance, it will soon work hand-in-hand with a standardized Open Operator Cloud that can automate and streamline the integration and commissioning of apps on the shop floor, as already exemplified by Hilscher’s own device and application management solution,

Uwe Schnepf, Head of Product Management Industrial IoT, Hilscher
“With our Flagship Store, we can show how easy it is for developers and users to bring applications to the shop floor. We launched it with partners from the OI4 community, and we hope to find more partners who can all help solve specific problems with their particular technology – without worrying about the safety of their IP, thanks to CodeMeter.”

The Company

Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH bills itself as the market leader for industrial communication: Its products and solutions enable machines all over the world to communicate and make production processes smart, reliable, and elegant. Founded in 1986 in Hattersheim, Germany, Hilscher has grown into an international technology leader whose connectivity solutions make the idea of Industry 4.0 possible for manufacturers everywhere.

Revolutionizing Industrial Innovation: A New Era of Flexibility and Security

For Uwe Schnepf, Head of Product Management Industrial IoT at Hilscher, the app store is not just another sales channel. It is a paradigm shift in how the creators of industrial apps and industry automation specialists engage with their target audiences. With the diverse and fragmented nature of the manufacturing industry, he sees traditional closed or proprietary solutions as a dead end. Diversity and openness mean that more solutions are available and can fulfill more and more diverse needs of the people on the shop floor. “Every one of our partners solves particular problems”, he believes. “For example, you gather data from a PLC. Then you analyze that data through some local AI. And then you forward the data to business intelligence.” Every link in the chain comes with its own specific needs and problems and may require different apps from different vendors.

Standardization alone does not suffice to make the industrial app world truly democratic with freedom of choice, instead of being locked into a specific vendor’s ecosystem. The standardization efforts by communities like the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance (OI4) level the technological playing field, but they cannot solve the question of where end users can get genuinely free access to a choice of apps. This is why Hilscher, the industrial communication specialists from Hattersheim, Germany, teamed up with OI4 working groups to create the app store that would upend the old landscape: Open to any vendor interested in using this channel and not limited to any proprietary hardware or software ecosystem, the store first announced at Hannover Messe 2023 would launch within this year as the “Flagship Store for the OI4 Community”.

Concerns about the security of their IP and the control they would have over their product out in the market often proved a hindrance for app store models, as developers and vendors stayed wary because of the risks of piracy and theft. From the beginning of Hilscher’s app store journey, attention was paid to this factor, and Wibu-Systems was brought on board. The Karlsruhe-based software protection and licensing pioneers brought years of experience and expertise to the table in the form of CodeMeter technology. CodeMeter is the premier encryption and licensing solution when it comes to versatility combined with sheer protection performance: The encryption tools included in the CodeMeter Protection Suite can protect software written in virtually any language, including Java and Python, in their native form. An implementation in Docker containers – as chosen for Hilscher’s app store – or other virtualization environments is also no problem for CodeMeter, as the technology can protect the IP and enforce licensing reliably even in these notoriously difficult settings for other licensing technologies. Rüdiger Kügler, VP Professional Services, from Wibu-Systems sees the market-making potential of the technology, as it helps the best app and not the least scrupulous vendor in the market win: “A developer spends maybe multiple years to create an application that is faster, more precise, and better than all the rest. We make sure that the effort for copycats is so high that it’s not worth trying.”

The apps created by Hilscher or other developers for sale through the Flagship Store are automatically protected. Licenses are created and bound specifically to the device the software is activated on to prevent unauthorized copying, even when Docker containers are duplicated. Everything is designed to work in the background with the least noise for the end user. A special license server app, “netFIELD App License Server”, was created to take care of communication with CodeMeter License Central, where the licenses are created and managed. A simple click is enough for users to activate their licenses and enjoy their apps.

“We launched this app store with partners from the OI4 community”, Uwe Schnepf explains. But for him, it does not stop there. More partners, more apps, and even more services will come on board over time, making the Hilscher’s Flagship Store a safe, vibrant ecosystem for the industrial automation community.

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