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Speaking the language: the collision of OT and IT

Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) have been living in two different worlds for a very long time. Historically, they have looked at things very differently. With the emergence of Internet-of-things (IoT) and industrial IoT (IIoT), however, the two worlds are being forced to work with each other. But it will not be easy. There are fancy and somewhat obscure terms OT has to come to grips with. Terms like Industry 4.0, smart and intelligent manufacturing are being quoted everywhere. But what do they mean?

IT is very dynamic and regularly deals with many new changes, while OT is more static and resistant to change. As the old saying goes, “If it works, don’t change it”. Operations or production has one goal in mind, and that is to produce quality products or services in a consistently and predictably. When IT promises a seamless transition to a new manufacturing resource planning (MRP) solution, the fear OT has is that the production line will be interrupted. But recently, the CEO, CIO, and CFO are asking the VP of Operations to look into using IoT to increase productivity, claiming that this will change the future.

OT (including the VP, factory manager, and the floor manager) is staring at IoT and asking, “What is this IIoT or IoT thing, and why should I care?”

Industry 4.0 represents the beginning of a merger between OT and IT. It is the fourth generation of manufacturing or operations technology. (1.0 was mechanical assistance, 2.0 was mass production, 3.0 included electronic and process control. 4.0 is the beginning of the information age and the use of IIoT and machine-to-machine technology or M2M ). M2M allows one machine to talk to another without human interference. A simple example is a building’s thermostat detecting a rise in temperature caused by an accidental fire, prompting it to automatically dial 911 in addition to sounding an alarm. IIoT is similar to IoT except it focuses on the industrial side. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the major force behind Industrial 4.0, which she defines as “the comprehensive transformation of the whole sphere of industrial production through the merging of digital technology and the internet with conventional industry.” The expectation among the entire EU is that Industrial 4.0 will increase productivity in a significant way.

“Line down” in the OT world is something to be avoided at all costs because each minute a production line is down potentially represents a major hit to the bottom line. A scenario of how IIoT can increase productivity is by monitoring the machines in the production line and informing the maintenance crew that they are about to have a problem. Yes, IIoT implementations can predict potential problems before they occur. If the production crew can do the on-demand, proactive maintenance, a “line down” can be avoided. “That is a good thing,” says OT, “Now I get it.”

Manufacturing or operations over the years has made a great deal of progress; from manual labor to semi-automation to full automation. An automobile today can be built by a robotic assembly line.  Industry 4.0 represents a new era that takes automation to the next level. It includes the use of advanced IT technology to do two things. IIoT can provide real-time information to the team in charge of production. Additionally, analytics turns the real-time data collected info meaningful information the team can use, as in the case of the advance warning that a factory machine is about to shut down.

There will be a lot of new terminologies to learn and new technologies to be incorporated, but once they are understood, OT will reap the benefits. Even more than before, OT will be a key factor in helping companies to stay competitive. Digital transformation means we live in an era of information, and unless a company uses digital technology and information to compete the company may be obsolete in the coming years.



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