Get IT and OT to Speak the Same Language

Sometimes, similar is very different. Such is the case with Informational Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). Both solutions are built on top of microprocessing power and many layers of software. However, their use cases are much different. Traditionally, they each operated in isolation, but recent technology trends are moving them closer. As a result, manufacturers need a way to close the gap. Here’s how.

Antithetical Designs

Differences between the two approaches start with their origins. IT comes from the computer science field and was built from the ground up to simplify human input and interactions. OT has a mechanical engineering heritage and was created to make machines more efficient.

IT systems are the foundation for enterprise operations. They move information from place to place in support of business processes that run the organization. They work with humans who typically rely on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices to input data. The focus is on making the systems intuitive, so employees work with them easily.

OT systems support manufacturing operations. Here, machines move items along assembly lines and eventually produce goods. They work with different types of equipment, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), microcontrollers, Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control System (DCS), These systems only perform what they are programmed to do, so the emphasis is on set functions, such as a robotic arm turning a number of screws.

IT and OT Function Independently

The two markets evolved autonomously, As a result, their infrastructure, operating systems, network protocols, applications, and monitoring tools are not interchangeable. The separation was accepted in the past. At that time, manufacturers divided work up into select tasks and assigned them to departments. Each group completed its piece of the puzzle, usually with little to no interaction among the groups.

This approach had limitations, a major one being how companies managed workflow. Then, they collected information, examined trends, and made changes after manufacturing runs were completed. If a material was late, personnel had limited insight into the problem and were unable to make changes that improved yields.

Those barriers are now being taken down. Both groups are moving to new models where employees have access to real time information. Such a change empowers workers to manage operations proactively rather than reactively. A delay in material shipment impacts not only the factory floor but also the back office. With real time data, changes are made as needed, improving workflow, quality, customer satisfaction, and ultimately revenue.

Building Bridges Among Departments

However, breaking down the walls is challenging. Bridges, both technical and human, need to be constructed.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors provide visibility into machine performance.

Networks have to be linked. Increasingly, IP has become the way that information is transmitted. But a variety of different communications protocols must be integrated in embedded modules, gateways, edge devices, industrial equipment, and business applications.

Companies can use common programming interfaces to connect applications. Suppliers have become much more open and solutions, like low code and no code. Therefore, making such links is easier today than in the past.

Manufacturers need to ensure that all of their data is secure. New solutions are emerging that orchestrate the technology infrastructure’s security and ensure that edge firmware is updated, security keys rotated, and the entire infrastructure constantly monitored for new threats.

An industrial IoT platform serves as the central hub, connecting company data with machine and process data. It enables easy and intuitive access for employees from various departments such as service, maintenance, engineering, purchasing and sales. This seamless integration maximises the value extracted from the data.

Management Challenges Need to be Addressed

Changes are needed in workflow. The process starts by acknowledging the complexity of the IT and the OT infrastructures. In many cases, companies link thousands and even millions of lines of code. Therefore, keeping track of what is happening is challenging.

Suppliers need to educate all stakeholders, managers, technicians, and front line workers, about how the change will impact them. There has to be clear definitions and understanding about the pluses and minuses. The focus should be on how the new model improves their job as well as provides the company with cost savings, higher productivity, better quality, and more satisfied customers.

The process touches upon many areas. 

  • IT terms are not the same as OT verbiage. A common vocabulary needs to be developed, so both teams understand what thoughts are being conveyed. 
  • Cross-functional training enables IT and OT professionals to understand each other’s areas of expertise and better understand each other’s perspectives. 
  • Creating common standards ensures that IT and OT systems have points of convergence. 
  • Collaboration needs to take place: Regular communication among IT and OT teams builds trust and fosters a healthy manufacturing culture. 
  • Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, companies lack the expertise to shepherd such projects to completion. So, they should look for help from third parties. 
  • Make needed investments. The changes require clear sponsorship and support from the business leaders. Then, managers establish common Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and constantly review the progress towards meeting operational objectives with published documentation to all stakeholders.

Turn Information into Action

Rather than a series of autonomous functions, the change creates an interconnected, homogenous entity, one where all of the pieces align rather than splinter. What was once separate islands of digital data becomes cohesive, actionable, real time information. Employees see how materials are moving through the manufacturing process and make changes as needed.

Artificial intelligence algorithms predict when machines are likely to break, opening the door to predictive maintenance, which increases uptime and throughput. Former inefficiencies become new differentiating features.

The IT-OT convergence benefits manufacturers in several ways. 

  • Improve decision making with real time decision support systems
  • Minimize unplanned downtime using predictive maintenance
  • Boost employee productivity  
  • Leverage critical data to streamline operations 
  • Raise first-pass yield rates
  • Enhance workplace safety

IT and OT were raised separately and thrived independently. With manufacturing competition intensifying, they now need to coalesce. The process is complicated because their cornerstones are so different. But by making the change, manufacturers boost productivity, streamline operations, improve production run, and become a stronger, more viable business.


Just in Time Staffing Enhances Manufacturing IIoT Projects

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) introduces unfamiliar tools, terms, and technologies to manufacturers. Consequently, they often need outside assistance to transform their operations. Sometimes, the help comes with a cumbersome, long term contract. Just in Time (JIT) staffing offers suppliers a better option, one where they purchase third party services on an as needed basis.

IIoT solutions provide manufacturers with tremendous opportunities to streamline workflow by gaining significantly more visibility into their operations. Previously, suppliers had limited – and in many cases, no — real time vision into what was happening on the manufacturing floor, the supply chain, or the back office. Only after data was collected, correlated, and reports run and distributed to managers and floor personnel did they understand what occurred. As a result, they managed reactively whenever problems arose.

IIoT’s Immense Potential and Significant Challenges

IIoT offers them the chance to flip that script. However, challenges arise in exploiting such capabilities because of IIoT’s extensive capabilities and its unprecedented flexibility. The advancement shrinks processing power down into small form factors, typically special purpose sensors, that can be programmed to operate just about anywhere and do just about anything. Factory networks then collect new information, so managers recognize manufacturing flows.

Next, they correlate the data to make ongoing improvements that positively impact the business.

Four Step Deployment Process

Adding such capabilities is a four stage endeavor, and each step requires a different type of guidance. The initial requirements definition process is quite different from traditional manufacturing purchases. In the past, suppliers upgraded a piece of equipment or software with a clear objective, for instance produce pieces faster.

IIoT’s impact goes beyond one piece of equipment and a simple objective. These solutions rewrite existing business processes in an unlimited number of ways.

  • Improve OEE 
  • Lengthen equipment lifetimes
  • Streamline workflow
  • Speeds up payments
  • Enhance quality
  • Raise customer satisfaction 

As a result, determining what to do with it can be like falling down into a rabbit hole. A firm gets caught up in so many of the potential bells and whistles that gauging system requirements takes a year or longer. Therefore, they need help setting reasonable expectations and require high level system architecture and project management aid from their third party supplier.

Building the data infrastructure is the next step. Manufacturing plants have a wide and ever growing range of potential data sources, such as machines, applications, and intelligent edge systems. Because their business is unique, each company has to pull the infrastructure together and customize their system and application’s integration pipeline.

In addition, the information has to be stored in a location with the processing power required to deliver real time updates as well as scale with new applications. Finally, the infrastructure has to be managed on an ongoing basis. Because of the complexity, this part of the project is often the longest.

In this phase, the factory requires a cohort able to supply computer infrastructure expertise and ideally a managed service. The manufacturer offloads that responsibility to someone else and focuses on improving their operations.

Phase three revolves around value creation. Companies green light an IIoT project because the change will positively impact the business. Once data is collected and analyzed, sometimes, the initial premise must be changed. Also, new opportunities emerge as reports allow managers to understand how work gets done.

In this phase, cyber models, data applications and analytics become the building blocks for determining how to drive transformation throughout the organization. This case demands business and data analytics help.

Once an IIoT project has been conceptualized, it must be adopted, which is a two-step process. First, machines are connected, applications built, and users onboarded. Next, the employees must integrate the new capabilities into their workday. Here, a supplier needs a system implementor who handles change management and helps organizations overcome any resistance that may arise within the organization.

When more and more people become skilled in manipulating data, the complexity of queries increases, and the organization becomes stronger.

Find the Use Cases

Third parties offer advisory and other services to suppliers. However, consulting firms take a cookie cutter approach. They develop a set of services and then apply it to every project. While good for the third party, the approach is less satisfying for the customer. They are not able to gauge how much help they will need in each step because they do not know how it will unfold. Sometimes, they need more help at one stage and less at another. They require more flexibility than the typical contract offers.

JIT staffing is an approach where manufacturers bring on specialists only when they are actually needed during the project. Like JIT manufacturing, the idea is to deliver the right amount of materials (in this case human brain power) at the right time and not have any extra.

What are JIT Staffing Benefits?

JIT staffing provides organizations with a number of improvements: 

  • Risk Reduction: companies avoid making a set commitment to personnel that they may not need. 
  • Workplace Agility: consulting bandwidth expands and detracts like cloud services, available whenever they are needed.
  • Increased Productivity: employees spend less time trying to figure out how much staff they require and more time how IIoT enhances the business. 
  • Cost Savings: being no longer locked into set pricing results in more efficient service delivery. 
  • Agility:  quickly add talent as new business needs emerge
  • Address the Personnel Shortage: manufacturing has a global labor shortage that could exceed 8 million people by 2030 and result in a $607 billion revenue loss. JIT maximizes personnel usage and reduces personnel needs. 

Manufacturers are adopting IIoT technology in order to improve their operations. The tools offer them a wide range of use cases but managing such projects becomes more challenging. Traditional staffing models were rigid and often incurred unnecessary expenses. JIT staffing is a better fit because it provides more flexibility as well as lowers costs.

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