The Plant Manager’s Guide to IIoT Connectivity

Nov. 23, 2016
An explanation of the four key steps required to connect disparate devices effectively and enable your factory for the Internet of Things.

Whether you refer to it as the Industrial Internet, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0, the basic tenets are the same. The Industrial Internet describes a progression and unification of technology that offers business-to-business, device-to-device and people-to-device connectivity across the Internet. The typical operations or plant manager today is at ground level, trying to make sense of all the new technologies on the market to do one thing: optimize his or her operation. It can be intimidating, but at Moxa, we can help.

To start, it helps to recognize the four Internet of Things (IoT) enablement steps that are helping plant managers tackle the challenges of connecting devices and making factories smarter.

Step 1: Assess your operational pain points

Identify your operational challenges and shortcomings. These could be instigated by environmental or technical causes, or they could be process improvement demands specified by executive management. They could be as specific as converting one legacy portion of your operation to Ethernet or as broad as lowering company-wide manufacturing costs by 10 percent within the next five years. For each case, presenting the pain points and challenges up front makes a huge difference for your connectivity provider.

Step 2: Develop and prioritize operational goals

Develop operational goals around your pain points and prioritize them in order of importance. The objective here is to identify mission-critical solution improvements. Additionally, prioritizing operational goals will allow you, the integrator and the supplier to select the most scalable smart factory solution possible. This will ensure that operational goals will be met at the point of project completion, and long-term operational and maintenance costs will be considered as well if there is a need to scale up or down in the future.

For example, consider a plant operator for a beverage company who must seamlessly connect all legacy bottling lines to a new manufacturing execution system (MES) to allow for more top-level control and visibility at both the control and corporate levels. After determining the main problem was a lack of visibility and control on the plant lines, the plant operator came to the conclusion that the priority was to achieve maximum visibility of all the sensors on lines 1-8 in real time on the plant’s MES dashboard. From here, sensors and protocols could be audited to see what solutions and technologies were available to connect various sensors and actuators to the SCADA system, and sensors plus SCADA to MES. To do this, a network audit is required and should be conducted in conjunction with a distributor, system integrator or system provider.

Step 3: Understand the interoperability status of key processes

A central consideration and challenge in achieving a connected smart factory is protocol division. Depending on the specific operation, you may encounter numerous disparate and proprietary fieldbus automation protocols that must be connected to achieve your operational goals. To uncover all relevant devices and protocols, work with internal resources and integration teams to record and organize all devices, end nodes and equipment that exist within your solution space. From this point, register their corresponding protocols, physical interface, plant location and operational purposes. Also, include any specific limitations or details relevant to the technology, device or piece of equipment that could be important for a networking supplier or system integrator to know.

Step 4: Choose the right devices to help you get connected

The validation process of any investment can be a difficult one, especially to the upper management of a large company when your expertise domain is focused on a particular manufacturing operation that is merely a small part of a much larger business. Uncovering potential hidden costs and savings of a connected, smart factory solution investment requires identification of explicit, as well as projected, operational costs and savings. In addition, by carefully formulating savings projections, combined with a payback timeline on the initial investment, a very strong operational prospectus can be calculated.

Moxa offers a toolkit that can be customized and applied to a broad set of scenarios and factory automation sectors. The toolkit includes Moxa’s IoT Connectivity Workbook and Network Audit Sheet, as well as the Smart Factory Payback Calculator. We think these tools will help you make sure that no technical or cost considerations go unconsidered when you validate an investment decision to internal stakeholders. In particular, the payback calculator can help you:

  • Calculate the cost of downtime.
  • Estimate the annual savings with your IIoT investment.
  • Calculate the payback period on your IIoT investment.

Based on three decades of experience supplying connectivity and networking solutions to the automation sector, Moxa has a unique understanding of the numerous factors that make an investment in a smart factory realizable and practical. Moxa has connected more than 40 million devices, and has witnessed the power that bringing data-driven decision-making to the field or factory floor can provide to help raise profits by securely connecting previously isolated industrial serial networks to the Industrial Internet.

Access the Tool at Download the IoT Connectivity Workbook and Network Audit sheet at

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