Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have long histories, with many failed attempts at integration in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Historically, OT and IT functions didn’t overlap and were managed by separate departments. However, as factories become smart and evolve into the IoT arena, overlap becomes inevitable.
Advantech Europe’s Paul Diepstraten discusses the two major issues facing factory managers when bridging their OT and IT departments: integration and big data.
The issue of integration
Traditionally, OT elements such as PLCs have long lifecycles compared to IT systems. As a result, modern industrial devices use a variety of (mostly proprietary) physical communication layers related to their industrial controller vendor – for example, Profibus, DeviceNet or Interbus.
OT vendors want to reduce development time and costs and therefore have to integrate IT-derived developments. This leads to demand for high-performance, reliable industrial computers and server equipment, both capable of performing in harsh environments.
Overcoming the obstacle
One of the first steps in connecting traditional industrial systems to the IoT is to provide a conversion from these application-specific physical buses to open network interfaces like Ethernet and wireless.
However, in contrast to OT, IT enterprise networks use the same open standards and protocols as those found on the internet, such as TCP/IP. Therfore, to realise the full potential of the IoT, systems managers must find a path that enables OT and IT technologies to converge.
The issue of big data
IoT platforms produce an increasing amount of raw data from sensors, actuators and other OT devices. To reduce communication bandwidth requirements, the data that OT devices generate must be mined to distil important information, which is then forwarded to cloud computing systems for big-data analysis.
Most of today’s OT assets, like individual sensors and devices are unable to deliver this. For this reason, current IoT applications require computing devices that can bridge the gap between OT assets and the IT cloud.
Keep it simple and look ahead
Building an IIoT infrastructure for manufacturers that integrates all systems is not easy. When merging legacy IT and OT systems into an IIoT infrastructure, simplicity is important.
The answer is to choose an ‘always on’ solution that is simple to deploy and easy to operate and manage. This enables managers to focus on making sure smart factories are performing optimally, and when done right, IIoT infrastructure can then create enormous savings, better customer value, and offer real competitive advantages.
Manufacturers are embracing smart technologies and the connected world. Companies like Advantech support them taking these steps. Only when cloud infrastructure and communications networks are in place can this integration happen.
While the industry has yet to fully benefit from the potential of this new technology, bridging the gap between IT and OT in manufacturing environments is key to realising the smart, connected factory of tomorrow.