Last year we talked about the rising importance of the industrial edge as digitization accelerates and the need for real time processing increases. The merging of the IT and OT worlds is necessary for this to happen, and this is where the challenge lies for many industrial companies.
The IT world is driven by technology while OT is driven by production, pure and simple. It’s about unit production per hour, operational cost, people safety etc. Today though if production is to be managed to optimize cost, profitability, sustainability etc., that requires data from business systems. And those IT folks? Well they know a thing or two about network performance and cybersecurity which underpin these systems. Achieving success means IT and OT need to work together.
That’s why we’ve been working with Cisco, drawing on our combined 85+ years of IT/OT experience to help our customers bridge this technological and cultural divide. We’ve reimagined our approach to automation to leverage the best of IT and make it faster and easier for customers to meet 21st century agility demands. And we’ve seen some promising results already.
How IT and OT converge to solve current industry challenges
Recently Cisco and Schneider Electric helped a world top three mining company turn their future visions into reality. To improve the sustainability of their mining operations and attract new workers the company decided to increase operational automation and control mines remotely.
By establishing a centralized regional operations center for an iron ore mine in Australia, all mines, ports and rail systems are operated from a single location. Automation with linkage to scheduling systems helps reduce wasted transportation energy while centralized control centers located near major population centers reduce the need for personnel to work in remote locations.
Some of the key elements of the project are:
- An autonomous mine truck system which allows more material to be moved efficiently and safely, increasing productivity. Trucks are operated by a central supervisory system and controller, rather than by individual drivers.
- Use of Automatic drills so a single operator can operate multiple drill rigs using a console at a remote location.
- Implementation of automatic train systems with a driver on board only for supervision. This has increased speed across the network and reduced average cycle times
Cisco and Schneider Electric collaborated to supply network and automation equipment for both the mines IT & OT layers, helping the customer to realize €1m annually in savings for their OT team.
Collaborating to develop world class IT/OT system architecture
Cisco and Schneider Electric have also worked together to develop an OT/IT Industrial Automation Reference Architecture which enables a converged & secure OT/IT production ecosystem. It helps customers to securely combine business and process data to yield insights which guide the way to new levels of industrial performance.
The architecture enables industrial digital transformation with a converged, network-centric approach, backed by the cultural changes needed to support new processes and technologies. Some of the benefits are:
- It allows IT and OT to work together to reduce the cyber-attack surface, responding quickly to threats, and complying with regulations.
- It helps ensure production integrity and safety by embedding cybersecurity within the OT environment.
- It improves operational performance, maximizing production uptime and sustainability with applied analytics, accurate process modeling, and real-time decision support.
Fig 1: Cisco/ Schneider Electric Solution Architecture
What’s new in the OT world to help with IT/OT convergence & digital transformation?
A lot has changed since we invented the programmable controller 50+ years ago. Embracing Industry 4.0 requires secure, free flow of data all the way from smart products to the cloud. Progress of industrial transformation is fast and getting faster. We need to provide automation systems that can keep pace with today’s rate of advancement while providing customers with the agility they need for tomorrow. To help our industrial customers with IT/OT convergence Schneider Electric has been working hard to bring more agility than ever into our automation systems, like EcoStruxure Automation Expert. The goal is to include business data in operational decisions and operational data in business decisions. This requires the best of both IT and OT skills, technologies and practices so one thing’s for sure, IT/OT convergence is here to stay.