Industry 4.0 in legacy environments

Posted on 21 Apr 2021 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturers understand that they need to start leveraging the benefits of Industry 4.0 to remain competitive. But legacy environments, fragmented IT estates and resistance to change at a factory level are all barriers they need to overcome if they are to realise their Industry 4.0 aspirations.

To gain a better understanding of the current sentiment among manufacturers, Henry Anson, Managing Director at the Hennik Group, recently held a virtual round table discussion with representatives from 10 leading manufacturing organisations.

Part of our ongoing series of Directors’ Forum virtual round tables, this session — in partnership with Cisco — looked specifically at how many manufacturers are looking to embrace the promised benefits of Industry 4.0, but face challenges in terms of how to implement new technologies into existing legacy environments. 

Industry 4.0 requires timely acquisition and analysis of data, yet extracting new data streams from existing machines and systems can be a problem. 

This discussion features senior manufacturing professionals from across the spectrum of industrial sectors, with specialist input from Cisco, as the trusted leader in industrial networking and industrial wireless systems. 

These sessions — enjoyed with a glass of wine in hand — are absolutely invaluable for us here at The Manufacturer to keep our finger on the pulse of what the sector is grappling with in these extraordinary and fast-moving times.

The European Commission unveiled plans to invest in a world-class European supercomputers infrastructure - image courtesy of of Depositphotos.

*Image courtesy of Depositphotos

Group aspirations vs. local innovation

We all know what it’s like; individual facilities want to do their own thing when it comes to infrastructure and there’s always an offering that’s “perfect” for what they want. So they often implement it themselves without neither the consent nor knowledge of central group IT. 

As the IT Director at a British multinational consumer goods company pointed out, “while local innovation can help individual facilities realise short-term benefits, they often come at the cost of long-term ambitions and scalability, as well as increase the total cost of ownership for the group”. 

So how can group IT overcome this challenge and move forward with their Industry 4.0 ambitions? 

Well, as Stephen Goodman, Industrial Solutions Architect at Cisco, explained, it all needs to start by agreeing a strategy and long-term goal(s) across the entire organisation. Then, it’s a case of picking a location and performing an audit using both existing and new tools so that the target architecture can be modelled to ensure it marries with the existing environment and systems. A proof of concept can then be undertaken at the chosen location to highlight all the associated benefits. 

Once facilities see for themselves just how many data-driven insights they can leverage to improve efficiency, boost operational effectiveness, minimise downtimes, etc., the barriers to adoption at other sites typically fall.

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‘You need sand to make sandcastles’

A senior digital engineer at a British multinational pharmaceutical company raised the question of why organisations pull an abundance of data into a data lake and then give hardly anyone access to it for security, cultural or other reasons. As he pointed out, “it kind of defeats the purpose”. 

A representative from the same organisation agreed, saying it was like they’d built this pristine beach but were now not letting anyone go on it. As he pointed out, you need “sand to make sandcastles” and the only way you can see what value you can glean from the data is by getting your hands on it and experimenting. 

Stephen’s colleague, Peter van den Houten, Industrial IoT Specialist at Cisco, suggested that restricting access to data is often necessary because of the security implications; but that doing so obviously came at the frustration of many. 

In terms of a solution to this issue, Stephen said one effective approach was to place the data into a sandbox and let individuals and teams access it safely to see what value they can drive from it. Another option, he said, is to go down the role-based access control route, where certain individuals get access to data, but they might not necessarily be able to modify it, just view it. 

One of the key points here is that organisations should never be duplicating data, or keeping it in disparate systems. There should only ever be one “source of truth”so to speak. But achieving this can be challenging when you have, as one R&D director at a British multinational consumer goods company said, “a gazillion different control systems in factories”. 

Building point-to-point connections between each system, so-called ‘digital threads’, isn’t the way forward, according to Cisco’s Stephen Goodman, “It gets unwieldy very quickly”. A better approach, Goodman says, is the unified name space concept, which sees all the data pulled together into a data lake. Multiple systems can then dip in and extract the data they need, making for a much simpler, more organised data management solution.

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*Image courtesy of Depositphotos

Wireless solution decisions need to be made on a per use case basis

Wireless components throughout manufacturing facilities have increased significantly over the last three to four years.  

As a Global Engineering Manager at a British multinational consumer goods company outlined, they’re now utilising more IoT sensors, more handheld devices, more wireless nodes, etc. than ever before. This reality begs the question of 5G’s role in all this going forward. 

But Stephen said: “One of the challenges for manufacturing is there is no silver bullet for wireless; no one technology that’s going to rule them all”. What manufacturers need to do is choose a wireless solution that’s based on the use case they are trying to achieve. 

For example, 5G is obviously fast and has massive amounts of bandwidth available, which makes it perfect for real-time collaboration and video calls. But it’s total overkill to utilise it for temperature sensors that are designed to provide a reading every 10 minutes or whatever. So it would be more intuitive and cost effective for manufacturers to use a different wireless technology for such a sensor. 

Furthermore, and rather interestingly, Henry brought up a digital assessment survey conducted by The Manufacturer towards the end of last year which found that the appetite for 5G among manufacturers wasn’t all that great. In fact, 5G as a technology ended up quite far down the list and wasn’t considered of great importance on the digitalisation journey at present. 


A huge thank you to Stephen and Peter from Cisco for making this event happen, as well as the manufacturing professionals who gave up their time to contribute with their invaluable insights.  

All of these issues and more will be discussed at our virtual Industrial Data Symposium and our virtual Manufacturing Digitilisation Symposium on 22 April, 2021 & 15 July, 2021, respectively. Click the links to find out more and register. 

Henry Anson, Managing Director, Hennik GroupHenry Anson,managing director, The Manufacturer

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