To keep up with customer demands that have nearly evolved to the point of instant gratification and unlimited customization options, manufacturers are reimagining their operations. They have set their sights on achieving the smart factory, with more automation, more efficiency, and more agility. To make that vision a reality, manufacturers are implementing technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT), to replace an operation comprised of standalone equipment and processes. The new connected environment can share data — including both IT and OT data — across the entire operation.
IT-OT convergence is a relatively new concept. Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) have traditionally been two distinct departments within a manufacturing operation. IT handled business applications, computer hardware, infrastructure and networks. OT managed equipment and process controls, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), microcontroller units (MCU), and human-machine interfaces (HMIs).
The separation between IT and OT made sense for a variety of reasons. The often-proprietary technology each department used was different and required different skills and training. The problem was, however, that distinct IT and OT operations created distinct IT and OT data silos. The inability to access and use information from both IT and OT limited the efficiency and productivity an operation could achieve.
Recognizing that IT-OT convergence is a key to achieving a smart factory, manufacturers are finding ways to share data between the two departments. Gartner predicts by 2020, 50 percent of OT service providers will have formed key alliances with IT providers
for IoT offerings.
Connecting IT and OT systems, manufacturers gain the ability to:
- Remotely monitor equipment and perform proactive maintenance to keep it running.
- Control equipment and even use edge IoT to enable computing right at the source of data.
- Use sensors to take measurements and monitor the operational environment.
- Allow the free flow of all types of data throughout the entire network.
The enhanced visibility and control manufacturers have over their equipment also enable them to optimize capacity and production volumes, which can provide a competitive edge in manufacturing markets.
Does IT-OT Convergence Mean Replacing Legacy Machines?
Although manufacturers see the value of IT-OT convergence, it’s not always obvious how to achieve it. Many businesses are caught between manufacturing then and now, unable to overcome obstacles such as:
- Vital machinery that lacks an interface
- Inability to acquire machine source code to integrate it with the IT network
- Concerns that changing code would interfere with equipment operation
- Integration costs
There are solutions that are up to the challenge. Edge IoT systems can extract data at the source and enable remote control of machinery, in effect connecting legacy equipment
to the network. Edge IoT technology also keeps mission-critical operations going, even in the event of a network outage, because it eliminates the need to transmit data to the cloud. In addition, it overcomes problems with latency. With edge IoT, there is no time lapse required for sending data to the cloud and then communicating with the device; data is processed right at the source. Industrial IoT solutions are also designed to be highly secure, validating the source of data and monitoring the system for intrusion to maintain the safety of manufacturing equipment. The right data flows to the right place at the right time.
How Much IT-OT Convergence Progress Has Your Operation Made?
Does your manufacturing operation look more like “manufacturing then” or “manufacturing now”? Connecting the unconnected will result in benefits for both IT and OT, including greater efficiency and lower costs. Moreover, it will provide your overall operation with enhanced capabilities that will help you stay competitive through a time of disruption and change. Learn how ADLINK can help you achieve your vision of the Factory of the Future