What is a connected factory?
Connected Factories utilizes machinery automation systems and additional sensors to collect data from manufacturing devices and processes. The data can be analyzed and processed on site at the factory, before being sent to the cloud platforms for historical and real time data analysis. Connected factory enables a holistic view for data over all customer factories. Connectivity is a key enabler of IT/OT convergence.
Operational Technology (OT) consists of software and hardware systems that control and execute processes at the factory floor. Typically these are MES (Manufacturing Execution System), SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) and PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) at manufacturing factories.
Whereas Information Technology (IT) refers to the information infrastructure covering network, software and hardware components for storing, processing, securing and exchanging data. IT consists of laptops and servers, software, enterprise systems software like ERPs, CRMs, inventory management programs, and other business related tools.
Historically OT is separated from IT. In recent years industrial digitalization, connectivity and cloud computing have made it possible for OT and IT systems to join and share data with each other. On IT/OT data convergence factory floor OT data is combined with IT data:
When IT and OT collide we need to align things like “How to handle different networks and control the boundaries between them”. IT and OT networks are totally for different purposes and they have different security, availability and maintainability principles. IT/OT convergence can definitely be beneficial for the company but at the same time it might pop up new challenges for the traditional OT world, like “How often and what kind of data should we upload to the cloud?” and “What are the key attributes to combine different data assets?”. Here are few examples where IT/OT is converged:
- Welding station monitoring with laboratory data. Combining with IT data we can improve customer specific welding quality.
- Getting OT data from equipment and merging that with customer contract data we can start upselling predictive maintenance solutions.
- Getting real time metrics it is also possible to create subscription based billing. For this we need asset basic information and CRM customer contract information.
- Creating a Digital service book is easy when you have full traceability based on OT data joint to IT product lifecycle data.
I think that in order to combine IT and OT together is nowadays much easier than just a few years ago thanks to hyper scalers like AWS and others. Now we can see in action how Cloud can enable smart manufacturing using purpose built components like AWS Greengrass and SiteWise. Stay tuned for next blog posts where I will explain basics on Edge computing in a harsh factory environment.
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