A major driver of smart factories in the Industry 4.0 era is the integration of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). Integration allows data generated on the factory floor to be passed to a company’s enterprise software or cloud for intelligent analysis.A major driver of smart factories in the Industry 4.0 era is the integration of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT). Integration allows data generated on the factory floor to be passed to a company’s enterprise software or cloud for intelligent analysis.
“Bringing IT technologies to the operational arena allows for improved visibility to hidden issues, optimization opportunities and process streamlining when using the right software,” said Kevin McClusky, Co-Director of Sales Engineering at Inductive Automation, which provides industrial automation software and solutions.
Pierce Owen, Principal Analyst of the ABI Research Industrial Solution, agrees: “With IT and OT integrated, manufacturers can derive real business value from their operations data and easily exchange ideas based on that data, which leads to further innovation.”
IT and OT integration can provide a “competitive edge,” and for some industries like the auto sector, companies lagging in IT and OT integration “have already fallen behind,” Owen said.
Owen cited Japanese auto parts manufacturer HIROTEC as an example. The company placed integration and cloud solutions in its Detroit plant, connecting CNC machines, inspection robots, force sensors, laser measurement devices, cameras and robotic arms. HIROTEC now generates automatic reports for the entire production line and predicts and prevents failures in critical systems using machine learning.
IT and OT integration among manufacturers is set to increase, according to ABI Research. ABI estimated that about 12 million OT machines or assets were connected by the end of 2018. This number is forecast to reach 74 million by the end of 2023 and 550 million by the end of 2030.
Emerging technologies like AI were driving IT/OT integration, McClusky said. “Over the past few years we've seen an even stronger push from CIOs and other key personnel in large companies to quicken the adoption as technologies such as Machine Learning, AI, and Deep Learning are opening up even more value to having OT data piped to IT systems.”
Checking equipment with accurate data
IT/OT integration in many applications enables “direct assessment of the equipment condition and performance data, but only if you can accurately and consistently transfer that data from the equipment to an IT environment for analytics,” said Kristian Steenstrup, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner. He added there were “great opportunities to use OT data to assess equipment health and performance.”
"Supplied with big data and AI, the cloud has endless computation power; however, this power is useful only if it is fed with accurate data. To make this happen, operators on the manufacturing floor have to verify the data. This is why IT and OT integration is required,” said Richard Hsia, Product Marketing Manager of IIoT Solution Team at Moxa, which specializes in industrial networking, computing and automation solutions.
Integration allowed for remote monitoring of a machine’s overall equipment effectiveness via a cloud platform, said Jensen Wang, Assistant Manager at Moxa.
“You can foresee what anomalies will happen to your production and machine and decide how to react to it promptly, such as predicting your machine failure beforehand with analytics and AI,” Wang explained, adding that “The prediction and reaction can then be automated to allow a company to adapt to a changing business environment as quickly as possible.”
Thanks to IT/OT integration, companies can visualize data and factory operations can become more transparent. C-level executives could have access to “real-time dashboards with up-to-the-second production numbers for different facilities,” Inductive Automation’s McClusky said, adding that companies would be able to identify operation inefficiencies as well as “hidden” reasons for downtime.