In my last article about the OT/IT saga, I focussed on the differences between OT and MES (IT) and introduced the late newcomer to the fiercely contested information technology space in manufacturing companies – the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). Many of us who read such articles agree that the IIoT is not new, but its adoption is quite slow in the manufacturing space. It is not as common as OT or MES because it is not a system – it is an ability to enable systems by encouraging the connection of devices and entities to share data and information across, up, down and outside the value chain.
I think we understand what OT and MES (or IT) represent on the manufacturing plant floor. We also have a basic understanding of what the IIoT is supposed to be. But do we know where and how we can utilise it in a manufacturing operation?
The IoT for industry
I recently watched a movie produced in 2005. It depicted a future much like our reality today; touch screens, robotics, and smart technologies that all seem to interact with humans by improving their lives and reducing their problems. Tech fundi will know that we cannot solve modern-day problems simply by throwing technology at them, but it seems that is what the IoT has managed to overcome – technology that solves problems. Of course, this analogy is basic and does not reflect the true extent of a total IoT solution mated to a problem, but you get the picture.
IoT has taken the world by storm and the power of the smartphone coupled with increased network availability and speed has formed a great foundation on which the IoT can grow. Connected things are everywhere, we use them daily, we wear them, and we depend on them to make our day more efficient – both in a personal capacity and in a professional environment. It is in the professional environment where use cases for the Industrial IoT have grown exponentially over the last five years. Industries that have benefitted include energy, healthcare, aviation, travel, sports, and manufacturing. Traditionally, industrial environments, by nature, enjoyed security of systems and processes because they cut off access from the outside world. So how can the IoT be applied in an industry where an Internet connection is generally frowned upon?
The IIoT as a platform
ISA-95 is in the corner of MES and MOM, a myriad of standards from IEEE are in the corner of OT, but what standards body holds the towel in the corner of the IIoT? (Maybe a good topic for another article in future.) The IIT presents solutions designed specifically for industrial problems. Do you want to control and monitor your mining vehicles operating deep underground from the comfort of your lounge? Do you want to start and stop processes across multiple value chains, remotely? Do you want real-time data from legacy systems that previously functioned in isolation? These hypotheticals can be thrown at an IIoT platform, and it will answer each with a viable solution. That is the power of an IIoT platform – convergent isolated systems and processes made visible on the medium of your choice.
An IIoT platform provides many primary services such as communication, data, applications, analytics and then the big one – security. Your new and existing systems plug into the platform, and once configured and set up accordingly, you are in the world of digitalisation. Simple, right? Blatantly oversimplified, yes. The IIoT platform offerings currently available in South Africa are truly something to behold. They almost seem too good to be true. A billion-dollar industry that seemingly sprang up overnight. Just 10 years ago, the manufacturing IT world was fixated with OEE and denying Internet breakouts directly from the production floor (in most cases). Today, cross-functional visibility and digital twins are value-adds companies use in their drive towards digitalisation and smart manufacturing.
Who, what, where and how?
I like to simplify things, sometimes to my detriment, but here is a simple conclusion to the dilemma you might have concerning OT, IT and the IIoT.
OT teams must execute and control using technology relevant to their processes and outputs. IT teams must oversee the general use of information technology in support of, and relation to, the OT processes and outcomes – the universally yearned-for ‘marriage’ between OT and IT. The IIoT platform will most probably become the enabler.
It is a fascinating and daunting time to be working as professionals in the OT and IT worlds. While both sides are holding onto their domains, ever so slightly allowing one another the opportunity to ‘share’, in swoops a newcomer – pledging to be the mediator.
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.
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