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Automation Federation, legacy equipment, advanced manufacturing, retrofitting, IoT, big data

Putting Smart Tech on Old Machines

What are the challenges involved with adding smart technology – IoT and big data – to legacy manufacturing assets?

Most manufacturing equipment is designed and deployed to last at least a couple decades. In that timeframe, tons of important new technology is introduced. Many manufacturers seek ways to derive the benefits of advanced-manufacturing technology without having to replace existing equipment that remains in fine working order. Yet many of the existing machines were simply not designed to support new technology.

One current example is connectivity. The Internet of Things (IoT) offers a wide range of benefits, but tying it to older machines is not easy.

“It is difficult to deploy IoT solutions alongside legacy equipment. The reason is that legacy systems were designed with particular requirements in mind, such as minimal data transferred at relatively long update rates,” Steve Mustard, cybersecurity chair at the Automation Federation, told Design News. “As a result, the infrastructure is not suited to the modern IoT and big data approach of large volumes of data transmitted in near-real-time.”

Shiny Buttons on Old Machines

Sticking new technology on legacy equipment can lead to problems when the older equipment isn’t structured to support data-driven tools. “Often, end-users try to bolt on these new solutions and they create a complex problem from a maintenance point of view,” said Mustard. “If the organization becomes dependent on the new IoT and big data solution – if they run their business based on the output of this equipment – they can find themselves unable to function if the complicated and unreliable infrastructure does not deliver.”

Mustard, who will address this topic in detail at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing show in New York on June 13 in the session, Teaching Old Equipment New Tricks: Tips to Overcome Retrofitting Challenges, suggests a detailed consideration of all options, from investing in new equipment to reconsidering the need for new solutions. “The best approach is to identify the business need and design an end-to-end architecture that works, rather than trying to bolt-on IoT to a legacy environment,” said Mustard.

Cyber Security and Legacy Equipment

Cybersecurity is another critical consideration when connecting older equipment to the outside world. Much of this equipment was conceived to live in an air-gapped world. “Legacy equipment was not designed with security in mind. It was designed to be used in relatively secure facilities with everything self-contained,” said Mustard. “IoT solutions are all about enabling businesses to get real-time data from manufacturing systems in order to manage the business, communicate with suppliers and customers, and with machinery manufactures who are maintaining the production line.”

Mustard also noted that the IoT equipment itself may not be entirely secure. Manufacturers need to take a ground-up approach to cybersecurity. They need to assume none of the equipment comes with bullet-proof security. “IoT is not designed with security in mind – it is first and foremost about delivering the technical requirements as quickly as possible and making the solution easy to use,” said Mustard.

Cybersecurity functions must be considered independent of manufacturing needs and ease-of-use. “Security makes things more difficult and takes more time, so is a counter to manufacturing objectives,” said Mustard. “Coupling together legacy systems with new IoT solutions exposes many vulnerabilities that can lead to cyber incidents.”

Moving to New Equipment May Be Cheaper

Adding new tech to existing equipment successfully required a full reconsideration of what needs to be accomplished and what’s the best strategy for doing it. ““The temptation is to go straight to the latest technical solution and work out how it can meet a requirement,” said Mustard. “In many cases, if the requirement is properly understood it may be possible to achieve it with fewer, less disruptive changes, to the existing environment.”

One of the advantages of IoT is that it’s relatively inexpensive compared with most machines and automation systems. Yet that low cost may be a siren song. “It’s easy to conclude that the latest IoT device is cheaper than upgrading legacy hardware if one looks only at unit costs. However, if one considers the changes required to the infrastructure, the additional training required for maintenance, and so on, then it may not be cheaper long-term,” said Mustard. “The best approach is to correctly define the business requirement, produce alternative solutions and properly cost the entire implementation and ongoing maintenance, then compare the two.”

Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, New York, 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, IoT, IIoT, cyber security, smart manufacturing, smart factory EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO ADD NEW TECHNOLOGY TO EXISTING PLANT EQUIPMENT. When it comes to plant  efficiency and effective connectivity, there are hurdles when  plants choose to continue using their legacy equipment. Steve Mustard will cover this in detail in the session, Teaching Old Equipment New Tricks: Tips to Overcome Retrofitting Challenges at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing show, which runs June 13-15 in NY. Register today!

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Image courtesy of the Association Advancing Automation.

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