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Interoperability, Cyber Security And RoI Keep Factories Thinking About IIoT

While there is a lot of talk about the Internet of Things and connected factories revolutionising the industrial space, end users and clients remain apprehensive.
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MOXAEddie Lee, Director – Global Vertical Industry Marketing at MOXA speaks with Dilin Anand from EFY. Moxa provides products for industrial networking, computing and automation, and has a network that is spread throughout 70 countries.

Q What reasons do you hear from companies who are hesitant to take the leap to connected factories?

Top three reasons why companies are hesitant to take the leap are interoperability challenges stemming from different equipment utilising different protocols for communication and control, their cyber security concerns, and their method of calculating return on investment (ROI) to justify budget.

Q Does the shift to a connected factory affect the classic production process used by various industries?

Not necessarily. For many, the production process can remain relatively unchanged while the “Connected Factory” allows for predictive analytics/big data to be applied if the key sensors and equipment input and output can be accessed via the cloud or traditional database for predictive analytics to occur.

MOXA

Q How would the supply chain need to evolve to keep up with a connected factory?

One of the primary benefits of the industrial internet of things or connected factory as it relates to manufacturing, is the increased productivity and reduced cost or downtime. The results have included less reliance on manual processes and consequently, less opportunity for errors and quality issues. The tighter supply chain is in effect a more efficient supply chain.

Q IIoT helps deploy preventive maintenance on the equipment beings monitored. How is this done for the cyber physical equipment doing the monitoring & control?

Smart sensors are actuators are becoming more prevalent due to economies of scale driving down costs. There are models today that can provide self-diagnostics so while the sensor/actuator is being used to monitor specific assets or equipment, it is simultaneously able to provide diagnostics on its own status.

Q Could you share an example of early-adopters of IoT in Industrial Automation, focusing on the teething challenges that they faced during implementation and how they solved them?

A train engine manufacturing and repair facility was an early adopter of analytics based maintenance. The big data was being generated and captured after the implementation, however the factory floor engineers were still following previous procedures and processes for preventive maintenance. In other words, they were not taking advantage of the additional data being made available nor were they seeing any direct impact or value from the implementation initially. The lesson learned was that there was too much emphasis placed on the technology investment and too little emphasis placed on training the OT staff as well as adapting or updating the plant maintenance processes.

Q What was the result of this lack of trained factory floor engineers?

It resulted in unplanned downtime occurring even though the data was captured and dashboards revealed that a downtime event was forthcoming. The plant personnel ignored or didn’t recognise the warnings because they still relied on past routines for maintenance and troubleshooting. Ultimately, the plant ended up utilising the factory floor engineers to redesign the dashboards to cater to the existing processes and invested more time in training the staff on how to incorporate the new analytics and dashboards into their workflow. The management underestimated the significance of the human element compared to the technology investment.

Q Greater semiconductor integration made it possible to make IoT realistic. Will IoT in turn make it possible to have a unified design-production-supply system realistic, and how soon?

Absolutely, the concept of a unified design-production-supply system is realistic. Whether we reference GE’s vision of brilliant factories or Siemens’ digital factories, cyber physical systems is the common thread. Depending on the complexity of the unified system, it is still a ways off from being commonplace. The early adopters today are commonly working on predictive maintenance applications for IIoT. Unified cyber-physical systems are similar to proactive maintenance applications that are still many years away from becoming mainstream.

Q What are your personal views of how the IoT paradigm will play out over the next 10-15 years?

IoT is definitely a matter of when it will be adopted not if. It is a natural evolution for the industrial automation market. The concept of machine to machine (M2M) communications is not new or revolutionary. However, the key ingredient that has been missing in the past is a technology platform and media that can overcome the interoperability challenges between specific industries, IT vs. OT, industrial vs. commercial technologies…etc. Historically, industrial markets have proven to be slower to adopt new technologies than originally forecasted by the “experts.”

However the use of the Internet and its widespread adoption gives hope to the notion that it can be the great equalizer. Newer variants such as IEEE 802.1 TSN (time sensitive networks) show great promise in offering real-time performance to meet challenging industrial application requirements while being an open (non-proprietary) standard that promotes multi-vendor interoperability. While I don’t feel comfortable in predicting when adoption of IIoT/Industrie 4.0 will “cross the chasm,” I am confident it will become a reality with significant impact to the manufacturing sector.