As disruptive technologies made inroads to the manufacturing industry, speculators and thought leaders were giving different names to a treasure of possibilities. These disruptive technologies include manufacturing 4.0, IIoT, and the industrial internet, etc. Automation in manufacturing industry is making many possibilities real every day. But the true potential remains largely untapped in the global manufacturing landscape. Today’s industry problems make it clear that the ability to mirror the operations of a manufacturing enterprise on smart, interconnected, and enterprise-wide digital solutions is the first step toward the manufacturing 4.0 paradigm. So what value does it entail, and how can enterprises get there?
Manufacturing industry today: Key challenges
Here are a few challenges that define the manufacturing operations in today’s enterprises:
- Manufacturers are operating through fragmented systems and processes inside and above the factory floor, while IT teams are siloed around building the frontlines.
- The industry is facing supply chain disruptions, tight cash flows, constant demand fluctuations, and a dynamic regulatory landscape.
- The industry is overly reliant on human capital, and the pandemic has turned this issue from one of cost to that of survival.
- While automation and IoT use cases are born every day, only one out of five ever make it beyond the pilot stage.
- Manufacturing processes are usually defined by their high order of complexity across heavy machinery, process orchestration, or designing and prototyping.
Currently, most manufacturing companies navigate this landscape with legacy systems running on 90s architecture to control execution and production, while IT teams are siloed around building the frontlines. The operations architecture is fragmented too. Engineers above the production floor shuffle between proprietary software packages, manufacturing execution systems, and scheduling software, etc. Moreover, heavy and expensive machinery that have long replacement cycles lie unconnected, making it impossible to capture the complete picture. Beyond a lack of visibility, it adds to reliance on the human touch, further impeding complete automation of manufacturing companies.
To thrive in today’s ecosystem a centralized, enterprise-wide IT infrastructure that digitally twins end-to-end manufacturing processes, and integrates digital operations with extra-enterprise interactions is required. This is what global leaders are calling the industrial internet, where all the manufacturing execution systems are connected to others through IoT technology over the cloud, while the AI-augmented human workforce orchestrates the manufacturing machinery at scale.
In fact, according to a report, IoT is expected to generate $1.37 trillion worth of value for manufacturing companies by 2025. However, for the rapid adoption of the right use cases, companies must first lay the right foundations to move beyond what is called the ‘pilot purgatory’. Lack of appropriate technical expertise and an integrated enterprise-wide IT ecosystem is one of the key problems in scaling up of the right use cases.
IT/OT Convergence: The foundations of Manufacturing 4.0
By extension, the pilot purgatory takes the shape of a stalemate purgatory, where companies keep circling between operational and IT challenges in isolation. The natural course then is to facilitate osmosis between IT and OT expertise through cross skilled teams. But true IT/OT convergence is achieved through enterprise-wide digital solutions that, at the core, can blur the boundary between operational processes and information systems.
Through IT/OT convergence, manufacturing companies can tackle critical challenges that are seen as a business impasse. Here is how:
- Scalability: IT/OT convergence is achieved through cloud implementations that enable rapid scalability, and the move beyond premises to unified global operations.
- End-to-end visibility: IT/OT convergence builds real-time visibility and control of end-to-end processes while subtracting the complexity from analysis, orchestration, and maintenance.
- Knowledge availability: A resilient information architecture makes enterprise knowledge available anytime, instantly, and globally.
- Automation capabilities: A scalable IIoT platform is the cornerstone of end-to-end automation because digital control first requires digital connectivity. Where the cost of error is high, IT/OT convergence enables human intervention beyond the automated orchestration of critical processes. Nuclear power stations, for example.
- ROI on data: IT/OT convergence not only builds visibility forward but also backward, by digitizing the enterprise’s operational history in a standard manner. This enables enterprises to fine-tune their manufacturing processes for maximum impact. Consider optimization of manufacturing processes or quality assurance, for example.
The business value
IT/OT convergence holds immense value for manufacturing enterprises today. While the ROI on process management and optimization isn’t hard to spot, there are long-term benefits too. Early adopters are not only gaining a competitive edge but also fuelling innovation through cross-departmental collaboration. Here are some of the key benefits of IT/OT convergence:
- Real-time, centralized, and remote control of the production floor streamlines governance and builds end-to-end ownership of services in the hands of a cross-skilled team. Moreover, centralized management systems avoid overlapping roles and responsibilities, thus ensuring optimum FTE utilization.
- IT/OT convergence can take optimization to the next-level by decreasing energy costs by 17.5%, defect rates by almost 50%, and shorten new product introduction cycles by 23%. Failure prediction and pre-emptive maintenance for plant IT systems can reduce unplanned downtimes by over 47%.
- The uniform service management framework for IT and OT systems ensures consistent SLA adherence for mission-critical systems.
- Streamlined processes for external vendor engagement simplifies maintenance and issue resolution.
- IT/OT convergence also fast-tracks high-ROI automation and IoT use cases from prototyping to rapid adoption at scale.
- IT/OT convergence opens the doors for ERP and CRM integration to achieve demand-driven automated production.
The manufacturing industry has been an epicentre of innovation since inception and is no different today. However, the transformation to industry 4.0 calls for capabilities beyond innovation. Scalability is at the heart of the industry 4.0 paradigm, and building scalability backward takes time and adds cost. Moreover, to move beyond the pilot purgatory and enable the rapid adoption of the right use cases at scale, companies must first build capabilities that can support these use cases. Convergent management systems help companies bring their IT and OT processes to a single pane of glass, thereby enabling them to implement robust industry standards for the governance of people, processes, and data. IT/OT convergence is, therefore, not only the answer to a bulk of challenges today but also the path to building a manufacturing landscape that grows at the speed of innovation.