Manufacturing plant owners are realizing that the large volumes of operational data their factories generate every day can add significant value to their corporate bottom line. To make this happen, they need the support of their information technology (IT) colleagues to convert large quantities of data into meaningful and accessible information that the business can use to make decisions across the organization. IT teams want to help make the factories smarter, but they cannot do it alone. They need the knowledge and support of the operations technology (OT) professionals who understand the inner workings of the plant control equipment. Manufacturing organizations recognize the need for IT and OT to come together and are accelerating their IT/OT convergence plans.
IT/OT convergence starts with the culture
IT/OT convergence project execution will require levels of IT and OT team collaboration never before seen. The marriage of IT and OT systems presents significant challenges and creating a culture that enables change is key. Thought leadership that accounts for both technological and organizational convergence helps develop an environment that is open to the changes needed to execute digital transformation. The importance of building a foundation for the IT and OT teams to come together cannot be overstated. Once human and technology resources are aligned, teams can experience productive collaboration. The technological challenges are easier to address, and benefits accrue faster. As digitization takes hold across global industries, combined IT and OT teams will play an essential role in helping to expedite corporate transformations that boost competitiveness.
At Platinum Electrical Engineering—an automation systems integrator and certified Schneider Electric Alliance Partner—we are often asked by our clients to support IT/OT convergence projects. Our teams of experienced engineers help make our clients’ transition to converged systems more efficient and secure while reducing expenses.
IT/OT convergence benefits can help fund future upgrade projects
Trends such as cloud computing have opened the door for more tightly and securely linked IT and OT. Our experience as an IT/OT systems integrator enables us to extract data from plant machines and use wireless networks to bypass legacy systems. In this way, there’s little security risk to systems already in the plant. We then can analyze production data in the cloud and quickly provide inputs to operators, enabling them to make more profitable business decisions.
One recent engagement provides a perfect example of how IT/OT integration can help our clients to extract more from their existing assets while spending less money. This particular client wanted to upgrade its manufacturing execution system (MES). A traditional upgrade approach would have cost them millions of dollars, which is money that wasn’t made available to them at the time.
Micro stoppages consistently interrupted production, but operators were having difficulty determining the reasons for the stoppages. Data-driven analysis provided additional visibility and revealed the source of the problem. Slight defects of shape in some of the raw materials coming into the plant were causing micro stoppages by disrupting the operation of the equipment.
Building another production line would have doubled their cost through additional machinery and higher heating, lighting, water, and utility bills, and may not have even been possible due to the shortage of available commercial space nearby. Instead, they opted for a more cost-effective IT/OT integration solution. Through IT/OT convergence and the related digitization, they only needed to invest in a software package and some integration work.
The return on investment from their digitalization project included thousands in unanticipated downtime expenses avoided every week. The client is now considering using these “found” savings to fund the future MES replacement. The end-to-end connectivity across their multiple software stacks also provided the quality control department with more concise data. For example, the access to new data helped to identify previously “invisible” production and maintenance issues, which were initially, in error, flagged as maintenance stoppages.
Higher output and faster issue resolution
IT/OT integration projects help build a funnel that pulls data silos closer, making it easier for plant stakeholders to identify and solve the biggest production and maintenance issues. Software with cloud-based analysis performs troubleshooting and decision support work faster than any human. In addition, centralized dashboards, which replace dozens of disparate traditional spreadsheets, overlay data from one phase of the operation to another.
Stakeholders can also more easily track the Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) of critical assets. The system-generated quantified results assist in furthering the business intelligence needed to make better decisions. With more meaningful data, leaders can channel efforts towards the highest priorities, and the business can generate more output with fewer resources. The data gathered is presented in easy-to-interpret formats that help operators quickly identify bottlenecks. Once a team is in place that can tackle those issues, it becomes a straightforward process to increase factory output.
At Platinum Electrical Engineering, we leverage digitized Schneider Electric and AVEVA automation solutions to help companies evolve their digital transformation at a pace that addresses their business requirements and competitive pressures. By starting with small IT/OT integration projects, we help our clients to connect systems and build confidence in secure cloud data analysis environments and then help them to accelerate their transformation.
To learn more about how manufacturers can leverage automation solutions to better address business requirements, visit our website or read the Schneider Electric blog “Realizing the full potential of IIoT enabled industrial automation.”
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