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A Holistic DLT Architecture for Industry 4.0

Denis Ionut Stefanescu


  • DIRECTORS:  Juan José Unzilla Galán y Leticia Montalvillo Mendizabal 


Industry 4.0, also recognized as the fourth industrial revolution, symbolizes an innovative phase of manufacturing. It is driven by emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, advanced robotics, augmented reality, cloud computing, and cybersecurity. The prime focus is to digitally transform and interconnect various production and logistics processes, thereby aiming to enhance productivity.

Within this Industry 4.0 paradigm, factories, production systems, and processes can self-monitor, self-adjust, and self-diagnose by utilizing real-time data analysis. In addition, products have the capability to interact with machinery, dictating the manufacturing process, while systems are able to self-learn ways to enhance production efficiency and quality.

Industry 4.0 harbors the potential to greatly optimize the manner in which goods and services are produced, offering improved efficiency, flexibility, and customization of products. However, this shift brings about several challenges, including concerns around data security and privacy, difficulties managing and scaling large volumes of data, standardization and compatibility problems due to the need to integrate varied data and systems, along with significant obstacles in executing automated processes. All these factors require substantial alterations in infrastructure and business practices.

To face the aforementioned challenges, an increasing number of field experts and researchers are exploring the potential utilization of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) within industrial settings. DLTs propose a groundbreaking approach to storing and sharing information, with decentralization being its distinguishing feature. Contrary to traditional databases or registries, which require a central entity for management and verification, DLTs empower secure and efficient recording, sharing, and verification of information among a network of users, thereby eliminating central authority. Broadly speaking, DLTs operate via nodes, each housing a copy of the ledger and assisting in transaction validation. DLTs stand out for their transparency, with all transactions being visible to every network participant, and their superior security, as every transaction requires network-wide consensus and once confirmed, cannot be altered or deleted. Consequently, compromising DLTs would require gaining control over the majority of nodes, making it extremely challenging.

DLTs gained prominence due to blockchain technology, a specific variant of DLT. "Blockchain" refers to the unique data organization method of this technology. Rather than randomly grouping transactions, blockchain clusters them into blocks, linked chronologically, forming a blockchain.

Blockchain inherits various DLT attributes, such as decentralization, transparency, and security. It also possesses distinctive features. For instance, each block in the chain includes a cryptographic summary of its predecessor block, meaning that any alteration to a block changes its summary, subsequently affecting the next block and so on, thereby invalidating the entire chain. This characteristic renders the blockchain virtually immutable.

Blockchain's inaugural and most renowned application is Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that reinvented the notion of digital currency by offering a secure, decentralized platform for financial transactions. However, since the creation of Bitcoin, the use of blockchain has

expanded to a variety of applications, including smart contracts and supply chain tracking, highlighting its potential to reshape multiple economic sectors and societal facets.

Hence, in recent years, the intersection of blockchain technology and other DLTs with the evolving landscape of Industry 4.0 has garnered significant attention. A notable aspect of Industry 4.0 is its multi-layered, pyramid-like structure, often referred to as the industrial pyramid. At its foundation, data is generated by the Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices; as one ascends the pyramid, this data is then homogenized and processed within the industrial plant, and finally, at the top, it is harnessed for business decision-making and collaboration. While DLTs offer promising solutions to meet the demands of each of these layers, their implementation poses unique challenges. Furthermore, a comprehensive architecture that seamlessly integrates industrial layers with DLTs remains elusive.

Therefore, this thesis seeks to address the aforementioned Industry 4.0 challenges by proposing a DLT-based architecture that envelops the entirety of the industrial data lifecycle. Beginning at the machine level, where vast amounts of data are generated, the process transitions to the plant level for homogenization and processing, and ultimately reaches the pinnacle where this data drives business logic and inter-company collaborations. However, existing DLTs face numerous performance and scalability issues, particularly at the foundational machine level, where prompt data processing is imperative. The middle, or plant level, requires sophisticated interoperability mechanisms, a domain yet to be fully matured. At the pyramid's top, the business level, there is a need for systems that can manage secure, automated digital contracts and maintain data confidentiality in an environment characterized by company interactions.

Therefore, this thesis focuses on designing a holistic DLT architecture for Industry 4.0 that effectively addresses the main challenges of the field and covers the whole cycle of the data.

This architecture aims to create a secure and tamper-resistant environment for data, preserving its privacy and integrity, seeking to ensure efficient data standardization, promote seamless integration between diverse systems, and support automated processes through enhanced smart contracts with off-network data access capabilities. At the same time, this proposal is conceived to provide a scalable solution capable of handling the high volumes of real-time data generated within Industry 4.0, while also considering the energy efficiency and low monetary costs of the DLTs implementations. The scope of this architecture extends from data generation at the IoT level to its processing and use for business purposes at higher levels.

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