It's ironic that one of the biggest stories in automation and control for the next decade will focus on the collaboration of control engineers, engineering management, and their information technology (IT) counterparts in manufacturing production facilities.
With manufacturing targeted as one of the biggest beneficiaries in the move to the Internet of Things (IoT), this group of stakeholders is in a pivotal position to achieve a new level of connectivity between engineering and enterprise management. With the goal of bringing both the supply chain and even customers closer to the manufacturing process, plants will need new levels of communications access, security, and networking resources (video and remote services) to make it happen.
If we look at the value being placed on the IoT, we can see how both engineering and IT are key players to making a major transformation occur. Targeted areas include asset utilization, employee productivity (with an emphasis on mobility), supply chain and logistics, innovation, and customer experience. Nearly all of these areas will require an infusion of technology into plant operations that spans the skill set and responsibility of both groups.
Breaking down the silos
"The longstanding issue is how to break down the silos and achieve convergence in managing networks more holistically," Dan McGrath, industrial automation solutions manager at Panduit, told Design News, in an interview. "We need the IT side to understand the business value and priorities of control integration, and to take more of a leadership role. The controls side needs to understand the need to partner and work more closely with IT to take advantage of these technologies. The value of the data and impacting the plant operation needs help from the plant director level to help break down those barriers to avoid turf battles."
Tools for the engineering and IT teams to manage and understand this market transition are vital. The plant director and maintenance manager can see the payback benefits in efficiency and waste reduction, then take plant productivity to the next level. How can personnel be enabled to be part of the IoT vision, along with a plant IT manager who is managing the explosion in the number of devices and data?
"While technology and network convergence have occurred within many manufacturing companies, the bigger challenge is often organizational and cultural convergence. This convergence is essential to truly break down barriers and eliminate silos of information and isolated systems. Only then can a manufacturing organization align technology with its business objectives and become more responsive and efficient."
One critical area is the link to the supply chain. The plant can pull out data, but that data also needs to be analyzed and turned into tangible, intelligent decisions. The goal is to use data analytics to achieve efficiency and to react efficiently to changes. Customers can become more connected to the plant using their devices, and those interactions will also affect the production facility. Processes and organizations need to be connected, and IT is the common thread to connect them. But is still a challenge to put all of the pieces together.
Panduit, Cisco, and Rockwell Automation are founding members of a new organization called the Industrial IP Advantage that has just launched a new discussion forum to encourage discussion of these topics. These problems and initiatives to address these issues are not new, but now top management and executives are focusing on plant-floor data initiatives to drive operational and business excellence, faster time to market, and immediate access to data from machines on the factory floor. That may provide a major part of the impetus to make it happen.