Different clients are at different points of their journey along the road of fully integrated digitization in their manufacturing operations. Some end-users are “getting it” about WHY digitization on the shop floor up to the carpeted space is vital now and into the future. What we see being more of a challenge is grasping the HOW. How does a manufacturer get to a point where they feel confident that they’re heading in the right direction toward effective digitization? We advise clients that they should engage specialists who understand both the IT and the OT sides on manufacturing to help navigate.
Most clients have heard the buzz phrases “digital transformation” or “digitization”. And a sector of those clients struggles to understand what sensible digitization will do for their company. A knowledgeable and experienced integrator in OT and IT will sit down with those clients and demonstrate to them the ‘art of the possible’. In our engagements, Malisko explains to these clients where and how digitization can positively impact their own unique business operations; aggregating data from segments such as manufacturing, market analysis, suppliers and logistics, then performing business analytics. These clients become more engaged in the dialogue as they better see the business value of ‘the possible’.
At this point the Integrator is helping the client navigate along their journey; understand where they are now; what capabilities their current manufacturing automation platforms have; and what they’ll need to support the long-term data aggregation and analytics. In our engagements, Malisko helps them create their roadmap including planning, remediation, designing, deploying, support and costs. Client and Integrator jointly see better acceptance of ‘the possible’ when the Integrator helps the client better understand their starting point for their journey along digitization.
For the clients who have started down the road of digitization in their manufacturing we are seeing edge-computing as a major enabler for other IIoT technologies. Specifically, since many digital initiatives come from the IT side, we’ve had to figure out a way to bring IIoT technology to the plant floor in the least disruptive way possible. One area where clients are seeing success is deploying network infrastructure with edge-computing technology embedded at the network switch layer; for example Cisco IOx running micro-services and containerizing applications. This compute capability at the edge allows connectivity to controllers and other endpoints to harvest data without having to touch the process control’s main SCADA system. We are also seeing more wireless sensing systems with their own gateways that need to be connected. Aggregating data at the edge from wireless sensing systems along with other key controller tag data helps create the foundation of an IIoT connectivity layer. Typical applications we’re seeing as well as involved with deploying include system health monitoring, preventative maintenance (with vibration monitoring, current sensing, control valve operation degradation), power monitoring, and other business analytics.
System integrators (SI) of manufacturing automation can play a vital role in helping clients navigate IIoT as the industry continues to undergo a metamorphosis. Traditionally, the SI merely implemented control and data systems in the manufacturing space specified by clients. At the same time, the industry continues to experience client technical resources rapidly dwindling in numbers thus causing clients to rely more on outside professional resources. In numerous instances, the client lacks the in-house resources to support complex control systems, virtualized computer systems, multi-layer network architectures with intricate security methods. In these scenarios many times the client’s in-house resources become more of a facilitator instead of Subject Matter Experts (SME). This is where the role, and value, of an SI makes a paradigm shift to provide more technical support and guidance for the client along with taking on a greater responsibility to better understand the business needs and challenges of their client. The role of the SI becomes more incumbent on the SI to understand the client’s business objectives so the SI can provide relevant guidance to the client on the “art of the possible” through digitization. Clients can ultimately realize tangible benefits by engaging with a system integrator knowledgeable and experienced in navigating digitization in manufacturing.
Steve J. Malyszko, P.E., is chief executive officer at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.