For this to succeed, adaptable, digitised, interconnected and ultimately autonomous machines are needed. Digital assistants for industrial machines are paving the way. The new “Josef Ressel Centre for Intelligent and Secure Industrial Automation” (ISIA) at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences is researching the necessary foundations in the field of system architectures, artificial intelligence and cyber security in the context of industrial systems. The Josef Ressel Centre is funded by the Federal Ministry for Digitalisation and Economic Location and works closely with industrial partners. This interdisciplinarity is a prerequisite, challenge and opportunity at the same time.
Digital assistance for human operation
Autonomous machines must be able to exchange data with other machines across the boundaries of a factory. This autonomous, permeable data communication comes at the expense of security, cyber security plays a major role in this. Artificial intelligence creates methodological synergies between cybersecurity and assistance for machine operation, especially with regard to anomaly detection.
“The methods and mechanisms required for intelligent and safe industrial automation require a system architecture that offers the necessary environment, mechanisms and flexibility,” says centre director Stefan Huber, explaining the goal of the new research centre. It is primarily about artificial intelligence in the classical sense: a digital assistant must be able to receive perceptions from an environment and act on the environment by recommending actions to the human operator:inside, presenting information, or controlling machines autonomously. “The digital assistant should be able to relieve and support the human operator by providing assistance in monitoring and controlling machines. In concrete terms, this applies to people who operate injection moulding machines, milling machines, lathes, labelling machines or filling machines,” says Huber, summarising the long-term goal for practice.
Silicon Valley of industrial automation
An essential component of the Josef Ressel centres is cooperation and exchange with companies. “We are in the extremely fortunate position of being able to find an extraordinary innovation region in the Salzburg and Upper Austria area, a Silicon Valley of industrial automation. I am delighted to be working with three leading companies in automation: B&R Industrial Automation, COPA-DATA and SIGMATEK,” says Stefan Huber. “All three companies are always shaping the state of the art in their fields and with this JRZ we are jointly taking the next step in shaping the future.”
Governor Wilfried Haslauer emphasises the role of research for Salzburg as a business and science location: “Universities of Applied Sciences are an important partner for the economy in education and application-oriented research. With this Josef Ressel Centre, another lighthouse project for the WISS, Science and Innovation Strategy Salzburg 2025, is being implemented to further expand the bridge between universities of applied sciences and industry and to strengthen the innovative power of companies. The combination of digitalisation and cyber security in particular is one of Salzburg’s areas of strength that can be expanded with this.”
“The universities of applied sciences are important pillars and centres for science due to their great practical relevance. Both sides benefit enormously from the close cooperation between innovative companies and the researchers and students at Salzburg UAS. It strengthens the domestic education location as well as that of science and creates application-oriented research at the most modern level,” says State Councillor Andrea Klambauer.
Research fields: System Architectures, AI and Cyber Security
The JR Centre focuses on three research fields: system architectures, artificial intelligence and cyber security. Each of the cooperating companies primarily supports one of these research fields. Together, the three areas form the foundation for a digital assistant.
The Salzburg-based company SIGMATEK cooperates with the JR Centre in the research area of system architectures. SIGMATEK has already developed numerous innovations in the design of the architectures of automation systems and is specifically focusing on research in order to be able to play a role in international competition. Marianne Kusejko, Managing Director of SIGMATEK: “Our industry is in the field of high technology. A strong research university in the field of industrial computer science, which produces well-trained graduates, benefits the entire business location. This research centre is therefore a strategic long-term concern for us.”
B&R supports the research area of artificial intelligence. CEO Jörg Theis sees great potential for the further development of AI methods in the collaboration with the team at the JRZ: “AI methods are used in various areas at B&R, such as industrial image processing. The use of AI with regard to autonomous, intelligent industrial machines is an innovative step for the entire industry that will bring fundamental changes to automation.”
Together with the manufacturer of automation software COPA-DATA, the research area of cyber security is the main focus. The adequate transfer of modern security concepts from IT to industrial systems with their own characteristics is a particular challenge in this research field. CEO Thomas Punzenberger: “With our zenon software platform, we have been supporting industrial companies in the digitalisation of their processes for many years. Cyber security is playing an increasingly central role in this. We are looking forward to contributing our know-how to the JR Centre. In creative exchange with science and partner companies, we want to exploit our joint innovation potential.”
Third Josef Ressel Centre at FH Salzburg – a success story
The JR Centre ISIA is already the third JRZ to be opened at FH Salzburg. The first “Josef Ressel Centre for User-Centric Smart Grid Privacy, Security and Control” (2013-2017) gave rise to the “Centre for Secure Energy Informatics”. In November 2020, the “Josef Ressel Centre for Dependable System-of-Systems Engineering” was opened.
Doris Walter and Raimund Ribitsch, management of FH Salzburg: “Research at the cutting edge and innovation through research, that’s what FH Salzburg does. Our third JR Centre in the IT sector offers an excellent setting for this and we are very proud to be able to open it. In addition to funding from the BMDW and the Christian Doppler Research Association and from corporate partners, the FH Salzburg also provides significant own funds. Sustainable research funding for universities of applied sciences is therefore indispensable for the further development of high-quality and relevant research.”
In the Josef Ressel Centres, application-oriented research is conducted at a high level, and outstanding researchers cooperate with innovative companies. The Christian Doppler Research Association is internationally regarded as a best practice example for the promotion of this cooperation. Josef Ressel Centres are jointly financed by the Federal Ministry for Digitalisation and Economic Development (BMDW) and the participating companies.