Almost every single industry is now facing some form of convergence. Generally, it begins with optimizing a process and then optimizing the enterprise management systems for federating the management of each process. For the services industry, this convergence between systems has primarily been within the bounds of information technology. Manufacturing has an entirely different story to tell.

In the last few years, the manufacturing industry has witnessed high adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) that will help it transcend towards increased digitalization. That has brought the entire industry’s operational platforms to a more advanced technological frontier. Now is the time that these Operational Technologies (OT) start converging with Information Technology (IT).

Difference Between Operational Technology and Information Technology Systems

Differentiating between OT and IT can be very challenging for the inexperienced. OT systems generally tend to have a combination of industrial control systems (ICS). These ICS platforms tend to encompass Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Remote Terminal Units (RTU), IPCs, and Distributed Control Systems (DCS). The critical differentiator that makes an OT system stand out from an IT system is that the OT system is a part of the manufacturing process. Hence, such a system would have to be optimized for interactions with tangible objects, surroundings, and the collective environment. That is the key reason why many of the OT systems tend to have local standards and protocols which have been optimized for sync with the immediate environment.

Understanding an IT system would not be a significant challenge. The conventional understanding, which is largely accurate, defines IT systems as servers & storage solutions, hardware, software, routers, and domain controllers. Each one of these elements in the network have a specific role that contributes to the larger purpose of data transmission and communication.

Historical Dynamics of the OT and IT Platforms

Historically, both the IT and OT systems operated without any interactions. Each system focused on its respective assets & functionalities and was governed by its dedicated team. System administrators led the IT System management side, and Engineers showed OT management sides. In the last few years, a critical bridge has formed between these two domains which is essential for sharing data across functions.

Each manufacturing process has to be seamlessly integrated as production processes require a high degree of data input. All the necessary data should be aggregated and utilized at every level. The industrial revolution highlighted the need for integrated manufacturing processes. Earlier, major equipment like programmable logic controllers were operating in a silo. They have to be combined with comprehensive data collection & aggregation systems for managing optimal production efficiency and management insights.

Digital networks have now given rise to the concept of smart factories. Driven by data sharing, these factories operate on a converged IT and OT platform. Conventional IT workflows have now been augmented by the integration of both sides.

Integration Value: Benefits of IT and OT Convergence

While bringing two otherwise disconnected functions together may seem disruptive, it has tangible benefits. Manufacturers can optimize production flows in line with data availability. This gives them a high degree of efficiency that can easily evolve into a sustained competitive advantage.

Smart systems developed within the paradigm of information technology can now be connected physically with intense OT systems. This connected system can then be shifted to online controls for seamless data to the operational machine environment. This can be of great help in reducing timelines for work.

For instance, conventionally, machine temperatures are accessible only to the factory workers who may or may not be present around a machine when it heats up. A convergent IT/OT system with real-time data updates provides such intelligence through the online platform, which can be monitored by dedicated personnel.

Improved human capital allocation can help IT and OT teams to focus on more value-delivering and strategic activities, instead of depending on redundant tasks. It will lead to enhanced productivity, which runs parallel to optimized production cycles.

Getting a Comprehensive View: Monitoring with IT-OT Convergence

Up until now, OT, IT, and IIoT systems had standalone monitoring devices and dashboards. Now that OT and IT are converging, there will be a new challenge in integrating the monitoring systems – integrating different metrics in a federated view.

Someone responsible for monitoring the entire converged IT, and OT system will want to know key metrics from each touchpoint. These metrics would include elements in the OT system like the gateway devices, probable issues with the industrial control system, and then the IT system metrics like RAID, CPU usage, and cooling efficacy. Then there are the variables associated with the environment like power consumption and humidity levels, which are not measured by any particular system but directly impact the productivity of the manufacturing system.

Protocols and standards are the paths ahead for creating effective convergence. In the recent past, SNMP was the go-to protocol for industrial control systems. That trend has shifted to incorporating Modbus TCP and other similar Fieldbus protocols. MQTT is now frequently used as the bridge for upstream communication that leads to a cloud system or a data center. The major change is visible in the form of factor-level architecture, which is now shifting to an open, cross-platform, and service-oriented trend. Put together, the protocols are increasingly making it possible for industrial automation with effective IT and OT integration.

Foundation of Monitoring Industrial Infrastructure in a Converged IT-OT Environment

The basic requirements are quite straightforward – the person responsible for monitoring the system should get the granular and the high-level insights, alerts, and updates in real-time. No insights should be lost, and the system should not lag.

However, the moment you go into the implementation phase, you have to map a larger set of constraints that the converged IT-OT monitoring platform has to adhere to. If you can solve these challenges or find a platform that can do it for you, your manufacturing system will go on a trajectory of exponential value creation:

  1. Vendor-Independent Data Aggregation. One of the biggest challenges in convergence is the vendor-specific protocols, methodologies, and workflows. Each vendor will have specific modus operandi that may not align with another vendor. Since IT and OT have been distant for quite some time, the vendors in both industries have different ways of working.
    Your converged monitoring system should be designed with an awareness of this gap. Solving it can be simplified if you map out the key differences between each vendor’s idiosyncrasies and then solve them out when the data-stream is connected to the aggregated monitoring platform.
  1. Adherence to Conventional Communication and Controlling Protocols. Since the manufacturing systems have been in place for a while, they would already have established communication and control protocols. IIoT systems are developed in close conjunction with these protocols. Your converged monitoring platform should have a repository of all the protocols in place and have intelligent capabilities to make adjustments wherever necessary, at the aggregation level, to ensure you get uniformity in data without losing the protocol-specific insights.
  2. Timely Notifications for Relevant Team Members. Dashboards are a great way for one person to look at the entire picture. While notifications are a low hanging fruit, they can cut down response time and optimize production line runtime. All you have to do is have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what and when, across the manufacturing, IT, and OT systems. That way, your converged monitoring system can send out alerts to every stakeholder and process owner, the moment a relevant change is recorded. This would also mean that all the data being collected from different systems has to be updated in real-time on the federated dashboard.
  3. A Federated Dashboard that Can Provide Zoomed-In Details for IT, OT, and IIoT Metrics. It goes without saying – the federated dashboard is the value producer. While there are several alternatives for having a dashboard, the right dashboard will help you get the trends of the entire system in one place with the optionality to go into details specific to the IT, OT, and IIoT metrics.

Unlocking Industrial Benefits

As an industry, manufacturing processes can see a tremendous rise in production efficiencies since IT and OT have been in action. With data availability, product-to-market timing is now reduced to its optimal lowest and consumer demand is augmented with easy availability of the manufacturing output, outperforming the industrial averages.

According to International Society of Automation, it has been recorded that industrial downtime is a $647B yearly problem. Thus,it wouldn’t be wrong to highlight that preventive analytics using real-time data ensures zero downtime for the planned hours of production.

With Motadata NMS solution you can digitally monitor the manufacturing processes that will help you achieve convergence between systems that has primarily been within the bounds of information technology!

To help achieve the recent monitoring standards in IIOT convergence manufacturing segment request a demo to see Motadata NMS in action.