New Incentives to Drive IT/OT Convergence

Article By : Brett Brune

New pressures are mounting for companies to accelerate convergence between IT and OT—whose work is foundational for improving manufacturing operations, according to an analyst.

The age-old issue of information technology and operations technology working together—known as IT/OT convergence—is still a work in process in the “digital transformation journey” that manufacturers need to take “to move forward and be more competitive in the long haul,” Craig Resnick, VP of consulting at ARC Advisory Group, said yesterday.  

But new pressures are mounting for companies to accelerate the convergence between members of both domains—whose work is foundational for smart manufacturing, he added. 

“IT looks at OT and goes, ‘You know, we’re using products that have lifecycles of 3-4 years, and OT products often have lifecycles that are 25-35–plus years old’,” Resnick said, delivering a keynote address at a manufacturing industry event held at the Omron Chicago Proof of Concept Center. “And OT people say things like, ‘Manufacturing OT requires real-time monitoring and control, which is not always the case for IT. They may want to do some patching or updates that could stop a process right in the middle of a run that could affect the real-time monitoring and control of a manufacturing process”. 

Now, however, it is “critical to try to help each other understand the nuances that each group has to deal with”—to bring together “the best of both worlds,” he added. 

Driving a new sense of urgency, according to Resnick: 

• “Very, very strong demand for industrial automation, in spite of everything that might be going on with the economy. As an example, there is a rising number of consumers in emerging economies who have increasing purchasing power for goods and services, such as appliances and consumer electronics, as we see people rising to the middle class. This creates additional demand for manufacturers worldwide to produce an ever-increasing amount of consumer goods, which raised demand for industrial automation.”  

• The evolution toward electric vehicles, “which obviously changes what types of vehicles are manufactured, impacting things like electric motors and batteries. That pulls through a lot more demand for semiconductors and electronics. And, of course, to support all those semiconductors, that impacts the mining industry, and certainly the demand created by growth in both the automotive and aerospace industries, and discrete manufacturing as a whole.” 

• The United States government investing $52 billion in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. 

• The addition of low-cost IIoT sensors installed on millions of assets, “especially rotating assets, whether it be pumps or gearboxes or what have you.” Those sensors are collecting reams of data for things, such as bearing temperature and vibration—whatever type of information operators need, when they need it, and for whatever location they need to have it at—that requires tighter IT/OT integration so that the data can be converted into meaningful, actionable information. “We can take advantage of it and catch potential unscheduled downtimes before they occur, for example.” 

• The hiring of Gen Zers and younger Millennials—to replace Baby Boomers as they retire, taking their institutional knowledge with them. “Many of these new hires do not have very much experience in the manufacturing sector,” and are shocked when they open a cabinet and see a bird’s nest of wires. “They look at it and decide it’s far too complex for them and are in need of both additional training and tools to be productive.” 

• The rise of AIoT. The combination of AI and the IoT is allowing for combining real-time data collection with AI based on history, which can help to provide a number of solutions, such as real-time management of the supply chain. “We can now make better decisions based on history, based on this abundance of data we’re now able to collect.” 

• The need to leverage old equipment—some of which have not been replaced because it continues to work well and there is not the financial justification to replace it. “If there’s a 30-year-old PLC on the factory floor, performing it’s on/off controlling, timing and counting functions, and whatever else it needs to do well, why should I replace it? Show me how replacing the old PLC is going to pay for itself and how long that ROI is going to take. So, it’s really a matter of how to leverage today’s technology in an environment where old equipment is still in operation.” 

ARC Advisory Group, among other things, provides IT/OT workshops that focus on what the IT and the OT workers bring to the table—and help to accelerate the IT/OT convergence process. 

IT employees bring data science and cybersecurity capabilities, Resnick noted. “But OT truly understands how you make stuff. They understand the realities of what it takes to keep things moving—sometimes on a 24/7, 365 basis.”  

“So, instead of looking at it as one or the other, it’s asking, ‘How does one complement the other?’ That’s what we do when we do these IT/OT convergence workshops,” he added. 

Successful collaboration between IT and OT often helps to create a digital thread, tying together functionality ranging from design, product lifecycle management, operations, and maintenance. 

“You have all this abundance of tools, but you really have to get that information from the design side to the build side and connect that information to the supply chain,” Resnick said. “Let’s say, for example, you need to make a product change because your initial raw material has been cut off. You’ve found a new supplier, but now you need to get in to change the design of the product. You might have to change the 61131-programming code in the PLCs. The manufacturing process might slightly change. Everything needs to be connected as seamlessly as possible to hit these very, very tight production schedules while ensuring optimal product quality.”  

“On top of that, chip supply chain problems are adding wrinkles that never existed before, forcing, for example, the automakers to sometimes ship vehicles without chips to enable certain functionality, and offering to send those chips to their dealers at a later date and add them to those vehicles—in a process similar to a vehicle recall,” Resnick said. “For example, General Motors had been shipping some vehicles without certain chips for the heated seats, and Ford did the same, shipping some vehicles without certain chips for its start-stop, fuel-saving features.”  

“They want to certainly fulfill as many orders as they can” and are choosing to “satisfy the demand for these features at a later date through a recall”—when the relevant chips finally arrive.


This article was originally published on EE Times.

Brett Brune is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.


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