Editor's Choice


Is your manufacturing plant ready for IoT?

May 2022 Editor's Choice Fieldbus & Industrial Networking IT in Manufacturing

Digitalisation requires connectedness and data sharing – there are no ifs, ands or maybes. The technology landscape has evolved to heights we've never seen before. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is firmly leading the technology pack as the number one enabler of digitalisation (and no validating statistic is needed to back up this fact).

Digitalisation requires connectedness and data sharing – there are no ifs, ands or maybes. The technology landscape has evolved to heights we've never seen before. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is firmly leading the technology pack as the number one enabler of digitalisation (and no validating statistic is needed to back up this fact).

Manufacturing plants considering digitalisation need to understand and accept this end-state of connectedness and data sharing. In my experience, there are pockets of digitalisation across the different manufacturing plants I've been fortunate enough to study and visit from a technology point of view. Usually it is a plant where an additional process has been added or an existing one upgraded.

Adding an extra manufacturing process or upgrade affords plant managers the time and scope to upgrade the systems and connectivity to the new section. They are faced with many considerations during this time, since it will probably have been years or even decades since a significant technology upgrade commenced on that plant. They must make decisions about using fibre or Wi-Fi and on physical, virtual or cloud computing options. But these decisions are inputs to decisions of greater importance – what kind of data do we need? Where do we get that data from? Who needs to see the data and on what type of device? Lastly, how will we get the data to those who need it? With these decisions, the manufacturing plant will, somewhere along the line, realise that it needs to prepare and engage on the topic of IoT.

Connectedness

To be considered ready for digitalisation, the manufacturing plant will have to prepare for the eventual connectedness of equipment and systems. The backbone of data sharing, the connection between equipment and systems, is the fundamental highway that provides workers and C-suiters with insights into plant and equipment performance. Whether to go with physical or wireless connections depends on how modern the manufacturing plant is. Network connection, too, is the backbone of IoT; it influences the plant manager's data sharing and digitalisation decision.

As discussed in this column many times before, the plant floor is not a place where the Internet is welcome. This fact was relevant 10 years ago; maybe it's even relevant today in old-school manufacturing plants with legacy IT/OT and communications infrastructure as its primary means of data processing and sharing.

But the fact remains that to get plant-wide insights into the performance of assets of all types, digitalisation of the plant is non-negotiable. IoT aims to put to rest the fears of plant managers with the promise of securely connecting anything (mostly popular protocols) over most communications networks.

Data sharing

With the connections in place and with IoT’s extensive use of specialised communication methods (such as LoRaWAN, Sigfox and 5G), data sharing should not be a problem with the manufacturing plant, right?

Wrong. Manufacturing plants have legacy systems scattered across various processes, connected to even older equipment that was commissioned at a time when pin connectors were the only option of communicating with the machine. This hurdle presents an opportunity for IoT to step into the limelight. Excellent IoT platforms are technology- and brand-agnostic.

IoT platforms that can guarantee data sharing from older equipment and systems push the digitalisation efforts of manufacturing plants lightyears into the future. Even better is if these platforms can integrate various brands/OEMs, extract data from any equipment and system, and feed it to whomever needs to see it – from the controller interested in equipment vitals by the second, to the maintenance foreman who needs to forecast, to the control room operators who need to see in-minute data, to the C-suiters who need to see the financial performance.

Are they ready for IoT?

Yes, manufacturing plants are now as ready as they ever will be. A few years ago, we could not dream of sharing data externally from the plant floor, let alone into someone else's cloud for real-time visibility across the world. We could not imagine the idea of AI applying insights to otherwise meaningless data.

I would argue that not only are manufacturing plants ready, but they’re already geared up for IoT or IIoT (Industrial-Internet-of-Things). Pockets of IoT exist in manufacturing plants today; the challenge, and probably the aim, is to fully digitalise the entire manufacturing plant. That means an IoT platform throughout the manufacturing process; no more silos, no more brand lock-ins.

If digitalisation is the aim of a manufacturing plant, then IoT is the vehicle. So yes, embark on those digital journeys and engage the local IoT providers to modernise your processes and systems today.


About Lance Turner


Lance Turner is an MES/IIT/OT specialist employed at Sasol’s Secunda plant. He has an honours degree in Information Systems and an Adv. Diploma in Industrial Data Communications, Networks and IT. A certified MESA MES/MOM student, his passion is amalgamating general IT across the manufacturing spectrum. Lance’s vision is for a converged IT and manufacturing discipline that will become the reality of Industry 4.0. His team motto is MES services that are always available, always stable, and always dependable.

For more information contact Lance Turner, lancegta007@gmail.com, www.lanceturner.co.za




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