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Practical Implementations of Digital Transformation for Manufacturing


    IT/OT convergence and data/information integration from the shop floor to the top floor

    Learn more about digital transformation at the ICONICS Connect 2021 hybrid event, September 30, 2021: ICONICS Connect 2021 Hybrid Event – Inspiring Innovation for a New Era | ICONICS Software Solutions.

    Manufacturing executives and system integrators are being inundated with a plethora of great ideas related to digital transformation and how they can improve the efficiency of their operations by leveraging it.

    The real challenge, though, is evaluating all these technical innovations while trying to predict the potential return on investment of each. When you factor in a multitude of suppliers and the complexity of all these disparate devices and networks that must be integrated into the solution, it can almost become a case of analysis paralysis!

    Thankfully, suppliers are recognizing the importance of interoperability and standardization of information models. The OPC Foundation is clearly on the right path working with the various information model organizations to develop what is referred to as OPC UA companion specifications.

    One of the key characteristics of digital transformation is how you leverage data from all these disparate devices and networks from the operational technology (OT) world and convert it into useful information for the information technology (IT) world. We have so much to gain, but even more to lose if we don’t start figuring out the IT/OT convergence now.

    The applications and solutions that business executives think about most (depending on your perspective and whether you job function sits in OT or IT) include:

    • Real-time monitoring and analysis of production data
    • Predictive maintenance
    • Insights into efficiency and process improvements
    • Remote troubleshooting and collaborative repairs
    • Unattended “lights out” production
    • Integration of IT applications with information from the OT world
    • And the list of application scenarios goes on!

    The key is to be smart with your approach to digital transformation, because if you don’t leverage the digital world and smart innovation, you’ll quickly find yourself at the mercy of your competition.

    According to the 2019 Annual Manufacturing Report from The Manufacturer:

    • 91% of manufacturers feel positively that data from connected machines will inform decision-making and reduce costs
    • 74% feel smart factory technology will streamline internal company processes from the shop floor to the top floor, but…
    • 27% of manufacturers have no plans for adopting smart factory technology

    According to Impact, digital transformation in manufacturing is falling behind other industries. Only one in five small and mid-sized manufacturers consider themselves highly prepared to address the emerging business models the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings. These manufacturing companies, comprising 98.43% of all manufacturing firms in the United States, need to “take a good look at their digital maturity and assess whether they have what it takes to grow and succeed in the future.”

    Forbes says, “Many companies have started digital transformation initiatives, but still don’t have a fully connected shop floor for sending useful data across the enterprise.” Data is already available, but these companies haven’t put the technology in place to use that data effectively.

    What technology is required to leverage data? Forbes says this list likely includes:

    • Connected assets (this can be accomplished via cost-effective IoT gateways, if needed)
    • All the technology in one platform to easily collect, process, and analyze that data
    • The ability to share the data with stakeholders

    Data/Information Integration Perceptions… (Not reality)

    One reason manufacturers are falling behind other industries in digital adoption is the perception that leveraging live production data is too difficult, too time-consuming, too sensitive, and/or too costly. Many manufacturers also feel “it’s only for the big guys” and “it can wait.”

    While these perceptions may have been true at one time, none of them are true today—especially the last one. The good news is there’s never been a better time to make your data work for you.

    • Data collection sensors are cheaper and are now being embedded in devices.
    • OEM devices are smarter — some are no- or low-code and offer plug-and-play interoperability.
    • Wireless networks make it easier to collect and analyze data at the edge of the network.
    • Cloud computing is safer and more accepted by manufacturers.
    • Analytics are better thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
    • Data visualization platforms make data accessible and meaningful for different stakeholders.

    One of the most important things to keep in mind with respect to technology innovation and what you need to leverage in the digital world is to establish an industrial network that is interoperable with the multitude of industrial Ethernet networks. There’s a game-changing technology known as TSN (time-sensitive networking) that provides the foundation for commercial and industrial network protocols to seamlessly interoperate together.

    Mitsubishi Electric was the first in the industry to adopt CC-Link IE TSN enabled devices that are ready for this new technology. CC-Link IE TSN provides universal connectivity for integrating operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).

    One of the Key Components of Digital Transformation is Edge Computing.

    Edge computing holds the key to IT/OT integration. You need to do more than simply connect the operational technology of the plant floor to the information technology of the enterprise. Edge computing is the essential middle layer between devices and business applications.

    It is located on the edge of the manufacturing floor and operates between the cloud and data collection points such as sensors, drives, PLCs, and robots. Edge computing is complementary to cloud computing. Manufacturers need both. With edge computing, manufacturers can:

    • Easily monitor data across the entire production floor
    • Enable real-time diagnostics
    • Remotely monitor connected devices

    When data is sent to the cloud, manufacturers can get the bigger IIoT picture needed to improve plant productivity and enterprise profitability.

    Industrial PCs (IPCs) were created specifically for edge computing. New state-of-the-art IPCs combine real-time equipment control with high-speed data collection, processing, diagnosis, and feedback in a single system. With IPCs for edge computing, OEMs and manufacturers can:

    • Connect operational technology (devices, machines, systems, and networks) and information technology (MES, ERP, etc.)
    • Collect real-time data from new and legacy systems (CNCs, PLCs, robots, sensors, DCSs)
    • Visualize data with dashboards that feed HMI screens for local and remote monitoring
    • Analyze data on the edge and in the cloud and feed advanced enterprise platforms with relevant machine data
    • Optimize performance through overall equipment efficiency (OEE,) KPIs, and preventive maintenance

    Many organizations are still capturing data on paper or in spreadsheets. The ability to collect, aggregate, translate, and visualize data is the key to success over the next 5-10 years.

    Think of all the companies that waited too long to get on the digital transformation bandwagon. (Kodak and Blockbuster come to mind.) Don’t delay. Find out how ICONICS and Mitsubishi Electric can help you use data to:

    • Prepare for the demands of Industry 4.0
    • Boost business performance
    • Improve competitive advantage
    • Become the leader with the right innovative technology to master digital transformation

    Learn more about the digital transformation at the ICONICS connect 2021 hybrid event, September 30, 2021 ICONICS Connect 2021 Hybrid Event – Inspiring Innovation for a New Era | ICONICS Software Solutions.