Building the Connected Factory: IT, OT, and IoT Convergence

Today’s manufacturers must re-think their businesses just to keep pace with customer demand in an increasingly competitive and global environment.

The global availability of more and cheaper parts continues to drive up supply chain complexity, making it difficult to effectively control product costs, ship products in a timely way and innovate new products.

There also remains a high demand for skilled manufacturing workers. But with no other way to effectively meet these demands, manufacturers must look to automation.

These challenges are all driving the need for converging business and plant floor systems—commonly known as information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence—just to meet rising demand.

This “connected factory” is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. In fact, a recent survey suggests that 64 percent of manufacturers expect to be fully connected by 2022 compared to just 43 percent today.

5 characteristics of a connected factory

What is a connected factory?  Deloitte defines a connected factory as having these 5 characteristics:

  • It’s connected – In the connected factory, sensors continuously pull real-time data from both new and traditional sources—for example, IT and OT systems, suppliers, and customers—for a holistic view that enables collaboration and real-time decisions.
  • It’s optimized – In the connected factory, reliable, automated operations minimize human intervention for increased yield, uptime and quality, as well as reduced cost and waste.
  • It’s transparent – In the connected factory, captured data is converted into actionable insights for human or autonomous decision making, ensuring more accurate decisions and greater visibility across the factory.
  • It’s proactive – In the connected factory, employees and systems use historical and real-time data to proactively and automatically respond to anomalies, quality issues, inventory shortages/outages, and safety issues to improve uptime, yield, quality and safety.
  • It’s agile – In the connected factory, configurable equipment and factory layouts—as well as flexible scheduling—minimize changeovers due to scheduling or product changes, increasing factory uptime and yield. 

Technology considerations for connected factories

Automation of equipment guided by a central control system has existed on the plant floor for years. These systems are often integrated with supply and logistics systems to enable greater efficiency and higher yield.

But the capabilities that come with today’s advanced operational technologies and the need to connect them to Industry 4.0 and business systems—such as IoT and analytics platforms, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and transactional systems—are enabling even greater automation and control for even better decisions. It’s this connected factory that delivers powerful benefits.

Connected factories also bring more complex requirements, to be sure. The number of devices and sensors associated with the industrial internet of things (IIoT) alone will continue to multiply exponentially. As they do, they’ll need to not only be connected to each other, they will require connectivity to low-latency data processing at the edge, cloud storage, and wireless technologies to quickly process and make sense of the data and enable smart decisions.

But connectivity has often been a low priority among many manufacturers. So long as the network could support their communications equipment (even with multiple workarounds and miles of cable), many readily accepted the status quo.

The connected factory challenges manufacturers to look beyond the expense and complexity of moving cables to the benefits that a connected factory can bring: faster time to market, higher output, greater efficiency, and lower costs.

The value of IT/OT convergence for a connected factory

Clearly, integrating IT, OT and IoT can mean big benefits for manufacturing companies. Yet most IoT deployments are still in the nascent stages and most manufacturers lack the skills, expertise and/or time to drive IT/OT convergence. Gartner says that:

“It’s clear that enterprises will need to seek external service providers with proven OT service portfolios. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 50 percent of OT service providers will create key partnerships with IT-centric providers for IoT offerings.”[1]

The real challenge for manufacturers, then, is finding the right partner to bring it all together—a partner that understands IT, has invested in critical OT partnerships, and has a long-standing relationship with a partner with the tools to connect it all.

Logicalis:  Your expert connected factory and IT/OT partner

With its long-standing partner Cisco, Logicalis is bringing IT and OT together to transform manufacturing through new initiatives, including predictive analytics and maintenance, edge computing, wireless for the plant floor, and security innovation.

Logicalis has forged strategic relationships with key OT service providers, both on its own and through its long-standing partnership with Cisco. It was among the first to achieve the Cisco IoT Authorization and, in 2018, received the Cisco Americas Security Partner of the Year. 

Because your IT/OT integration is mission critical, engaging a trusted and expert provider allows you to stay focused on the business of manufacturing. Here’s where Logicalis can help.

Download “Becoming a Connected Factory Through IT/OT Convergence” to get started on your connected factory journey.

Mike Trojecki is the vice president of IoT and analytics at Logicalis US, responsible for developing the company’s strategy, partnerships, and execution plan around digital technologies.

[1] “When IT and Operational Technology Converge,” Gartner.com, 01/13/2017.