As published in Food Quality & Safety
Almost every large food enterprise has already started its paperless journey, replacing paper-based processes in everything from order management to manufacturing to distribution and warehousing all the way to customer support. Going paperless offers huge competitive dividends as it helps manufacturers simplify operations and ensure product quality.
By replacing paper and clipboards with electronic tracking and real-time analysis, manufacturers can spot problems quicker—allowing them to zero in on the origin faster and accelerate their time to resolution to minimize overall impact. This can dramatically reduce the waste and cost associated with quality problems that go unchecked. Additionally, an automated process can identify information gaps at the detail level and increase productivity since keeping track of materials’ specific origin, processing, and distributions can be labor intensive and time consuming.
Eliminating paper processes enhances food manufacturers’ ability to maintain consistent quality with greater efficiency, safety, and consistency—ultimately protecting their brand reputation and helping them get the most return from thin margins. On a human level, the increased simplicity that comes with “going paperless” helps eliminate the drudgery of paperwork, increasing employee satisfaction and sharpening their focus on the core mission of producing great products.
However, despite the benefits mentioned above, many food enterprises are still using processes that rely on paper instructions and documentation. Why are some companies holding onto these paper processes? Because, given the required investment in new technology, they perceive the process of transitioning to paperless as too complex and not cost-effective when calculating the time to train employees to use and understand the new systems. Unfortunately, not transitioning to paperless processes creates serious risks for food manufacturers.
Hidden Liabilities of New Regulations
With food safety regulations tightening and competitors striving to grab market share, information gaps associated with holding onto paper processes create real vulnerabilities for manufacturers. Due to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), food manufacturers must now ensure they are producing according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). This includes traceability of everything including all source materials, manufacturing, packaging, and labeling processes that align with master documentation.
Pressure for reliable track-and-trace capabilities is also coming from health-conscious consumers who are increasingly focused on food safety and accountability. They want to know what is in their food—including GMOs—where it comes from and how it was produced.
As an example, consider information tracking related to raw materials. Food manufacturers track their incoming and consumed materials at a gross level through their enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems. But as mentioned earlier, there are often gaps at the detailed consumption and processing levels. Producers typically know what materials were used for a particular production run, but they may not have comprehensive information regarding which blended material lots were used in each and every packaged good or a full “genealogy” of the material at a granular level. If a quality issue arises in the finished product, this gap will make tracking down the source and the downstream impact both complex and time-consuming, significantly effecting the business and the brand.
Promise of the IIoT
To solve these vulnerabilities, manufacturers need to modernize their automation systems and IT infrastructures. Forward-looking enterprises are viewing this as an opportunity to create a “smarter” supply chain and automation environment and are embracing the idea of leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The power of the IIoT comes from its combination of connectedness, intelligence, and speed. It is about connecting devices throughout the supply chain and production processes to collect and interconnect operational data, which can be organized and quickly analyzed to enable a multitude of powerful capabilities—including real-time process optimization, which was previously not possible. Collecting, analyzing, and displaying production data from across a plant, product line, or enterprise in real-time enables IIoT systems to identify and rectify instances of non-compliance with Standard Operating Procedures much faster than is possible with traditional paper-based processes.
The IIoT also provides food manufacturers the opportunity to connect with consumers in ways that can help transform their businesses. As food manufacturers continue to face increasing pressure from both regulators and consumers, they need to be nimbler than ever before. By extracting and leveraging intelligence from across the supply and demand chain, the IIoT will be at the forefront to assist food manufacturers facing these challenges of the ever-accelerating speed of the food industry.
Creating a Smart Supply and Demand Chain
Most consumers are already familiar with the power and potential of the IoT to help make their lives easier. In the food industry, consumers can now purchase refrigerators with IoT capabilities that enable them to view their home food “inventory” from anywhere via their smartphone. This connectivity can then be extended to their preferred grocery vendor, which in turn is integrated with food suppliers and manufacturers. This connectivity allows consumer demand to be monitored and analyzed unlike ever before, giving parties at each step in the supply and demand chain insight that can increase their efficiency and potential profitability. Integrating this information and adapting to automated systems enables companies to build a truly intelligent enterprise that will make production and inventory decisions with little or no human intervention.
The IIoT will make food manufacturers more flexible and agile in responding to market shifts. As people integrate more intelligent devices into their lives, more data about consumer demand can be aggregated and shared directly with supply chain systems to better inform them about product preferences. The impact this will have on the manufacturer’s production, materials, and distribution planning would be immense and ensure the right product gets to the right places at the right time, all while eliminating unnecessary warehousing, refrigeration, transportation, and inventory costs.
Making the Transition
How do manufacturers continue this journey to become paperless? The good news is the cost of connecting devices in the manufacturing process is decreasing, which means so are the reasons for retaining manual processes.
However, while the IIoT promises revolutionary improvements for quality and efficiency, achieving its full potential will likely be an evolutionary process for most food manufacturers. It’s not realistic to think in terms of a comprehensive “all or nothing” implementation. Instead, manufacturers can use IIoT technologies to connect and complement existing automation systems. For example, the first steps could be minimizing manual and paper-based processes, or delivering new insights and instructions via real-time data to operators’ mobile devices to guide their work. As the apparent value of IIoT continues to become grow, manufacturers can add new capabilities that extend data collection, organization, and analysis as they move toward completing a truly “smart” supply and demand chain.
Of course, as the role of electronic data grows, so does its importance. Indeed, concern about the reliance of electronic data systems causes some manufacturers to hold on to paper as a last resort or “backup.” However, relying on paper solely for this purpose actually limits the enterprise, preventing it from its full potential to transform the way business is done.
Instead, manufacturers need to make continuous availability a top priority as they migrate to paperless systems and increased connectivity. High-availability, fault-tolerant systems are critical in preventing any disruption in the data stream that could lead to production downtime or missing data.
In addition, as intelligence moves out to the network edge, such as with in-line quality analysis, implementing technology that ensures these systems can be serviced easily is equally important for minimizing operating costs and complexity. With operational technology teams running lean, the ability to perform remote servicing of production systems is crucial.
Narrow margins and intense competition make rapid return on investment a vital component when implementing these technological changes. Few industries are more focused on ROI than food manufacturing. So what’s the ultimate payback of “going paperless” and adopting the IIoT? The greatest return may be in helping avoid the pitfall of having to issue a recall. By enabling manufacturers to perform in-line, real-time quality analysis, as well as detailed track and trace, the IIoT can protect an enterprise from a food quality or safety issue that could prove catastrophic to brand integrity and reputation.
Ultimately, the future of food manufacturing will be paperless. As you plot your course, recognize that this paperless journey offers more than just greater efficiency; it offers an opportunity to rethink how your business operates, competes, and connects to satisfy customers and increase brand preference.
“How Food Manufacturers Can Benefit from Going Paperless,” Food Quality & Safety August 2017, Copyright 2017, Wiley
Stratus will be at PROCESS EXPO, the global food equipment and technology show® on September 19-22, 2017 in Chicago. This event represents the pinnacle of food technology bringing together the world’s most successful food and beverage processors, equipment manufacturers and leaders in the field of academia. To learn more about the role Stratus plays in the Food & Beverage industry, please visit us at booth #3619.
As featured in ReadWrite
As we observe what’s happening in industrial enterprises, there’s an interesting evolution occurring—one that has important implications as companies make their first tentative steps toward the industrial Internet of things (IIoT).
Traditionally, operational technology (OT) teams have tended to think of their environment in terms of the automation equipment within their environment, both hardware and software. They might describe themselves as a “Rockwell shop” or a “Siemens shop.” They identified with the tools that made automation possible.
But that’s beginning to change. We’re now seeing an increasing number of organizations where engineers are focused less on the tools and more on the data that’s generated by their automation systems. This evolution reflects the increasing recognition that data and advanced analytics offer tremendous opportunities for unlocking business value. More and more, people are focused on data rather than applications. That’s a major shift in mindset.
What’s driving this shift? In part, it’s being driven by the explosive growth in data as a result of the increase in computing intelligence at the edge, closer to production processes.
What are the four “I’s”?
This is the first step in the progression to a true IIoT infrastructure—a progression I call “the four ‘I’s.” It starts with Insightful, using business analytics to drive insights and efficiencies. They can then progress to Intelligent, connecting elements across the infrastructure to enable real-time optimization. The ultimate state is Invisible, where decisions are made in real time based on artificial intleligence (AI) with no human intervention.
Most industrial enterprises are in the Informed stage, though forward-looking enterprises are thinking strategically about their roadmap to the more advanced phases. Some industries are progressing faster than others based on their perceived return on investment. For example, the food and beverage industries are actively embracing IIoT technologies. They recognize the value of using real-time data analytics to help ensure not only production efficiency but also the safety and quality of their products, which is critical to the value of their brands. Other highly regulated industries are seeing the value in production data to help ensure compliance.
Some “old school” industries, on the other hand, may be slow to recognize the value of data in terms of optimizing their efficiency or gaining a competitive advantage. As technology progresses, I predict these holdouts will begin to recognize real-time analytics as an essential component of a modern industrial enterprise—or find themselves playing catch-up.
For the enterprises that “get it,” this growth in data—and its increasing criticality to the business—is a catalyst to modernize their infrastructure. That infrastructure needs to be scalable to accommodate accelerating data growth and flexible to allow new ways to use real-time data analytics. As they become more reliant on data, they need to think about how to protect that valuable data. That means viewing data availability and integrity as a core requirement, not as an afterthought.
To continue learning about this topic, check out the recent webinar “Living on the Edge – New techniques for protecting data in the Era of IIoT”.
As featured in ReadWrite
A key tenet of Darwin’s theory of evolution is the idea of adaptation, in which a species changes over time to better adapt to its environment. Based on discussions with industrial organizations getting involved in the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), I believe we’re witnessing a similar phenomenon among the ranks of industrial technologists.
Until recently, there was a clear division between IT, which controlled the data center, and OT, which was responsible for the care and feeding of operational automation systems. IT and OT were two distinct species with different backgrounds, skillsets, and priorities. Now, however, we’re beginning to see the emergence of a new breed of hybrid IT/OT professionals, who are bridging the gap that has traditionally separated these two worlds. IT and OT convergence is occurring at the level of the individual technologist.
Why is this happening?
An instructive analogy can be found in the rise of cloud computing. When developers found that IT was not responding to their needs, they did an end run around the barrier and used public cloud services instead. As developers took it upon themselves to secure the IT infrastructure they needed to run their applications, DevOps was created. This “Shadow IT” trend, well-established in business enterprises, is now gaining momentum in industrial organizations. As computing and data collection are moving closer to the edge — the domain of OT — a new combination of skills is needed, giving birth to the IT/OT hybrid.
There is also a generational shift occurring. Many OT professionals have been in the game a long time and are now approaching retirement. As they move on, a new generation is taking their place. Far from being intimidated by technology, these young digital natives were raised on it. They recognize the possibilities of the IIoT and will look to realize those possibilities as they increasingly push intelligence out to the edge and leverage data and analytics in new ways.
How to actively recruit for this
Forward-looking industrial enterprises are actively recruiting specialists with the skills required to manage both IT and OT technologies. They recognize the value of recruiting professionals as comfortable working with servers as they are with machine tools, packaging lines, or pumps and valves. Whatever their background, IT/OT hybrid specialists share a passion for the intersection of technology and industrial operations.
These professionals will likely have new expectations for the technology they use as well. Recognizing the value of data produced at the edge, they will likely place data protection at the top of their priority list. IT/OT specialists will also look for solutions that offer a better ownership experience, including working with vendors who assume responsibility for system availability. In short, they will demand solutions they don’t have to worry about.
How soon will we see this new species emerge? Unlike the natural world, this evolution will happen quickly — likely within the next two to three years.
Recently, Stratus launched a Twitter poll to gauge industry knowledge and trends, and some of the results we analyzed involved bridging the divide between IT and OT while ensuring all priorities are met. Check out what we found here.
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando. The topic du jour was OT and IT convergence and a common thread amongst the discussion was how an organization can move to IIoT. Are there new architectures? Is IIoT a rip and replace only option? How can OT partner better with IT to meet IIoT goals? Overall, it was an engaging and excellent discussion. I came away from the session considering the connection between existing IA technologies and IIoT.
And here are some thoughts.
- Layer in the first piece to minimize disruption to legacy equipment. What I mean by this is that any time you make a significant architectural change a good first step is to layer in something around the existing architectural foundation vs going through a major replacement. If you assume that SCADA and Historian applications are at the core in the IA world, then you can look to either devices or analytics as a starting point. For example, one of our customers was able to layer a cloud based analytics layer over their existing SCADA infrastructure to add a lot of value. Other companies are introducing more and more end point devices into the mix first. But overall, take a look at your goals, find a pragmatic starting point and start out by adding one non-invasive layer. Once you have worked out the first layer, move on to the next layer. Often this is when you may see that the architecture core needs a boost which brings me to step 2.
- Virtualize that core infrastructure. Time and again we see underpowered, unreliable and out of date (“read insecure”) infrastructure supporting a SCADA layer. That may be all well and good in the old way of thinking but now is the time to consider an upgrade. In the world of IIoT that’s business critical stuff and that type of software needs a rock solid place to run – such as on a Stratus ftServer system. Once you have virtualized on a solid foundation it will be easier to manage and expand to other applications in the future.
- Respect your institutional knowledge but also look to the future. OT skills and knowledge are incredibly valuable but the introduction of new technologies at the Edge can be daunting. IT can help with the technology provided that the OT folks ensure that business needs are fulfilled. Near the top of that list is simplicity. Adding a lot of new technology for the sake of entrenched data center standards is a recipe for failure. Look for solutions that can thrive and survive at the edge without requiring a lot of IT support.
All in all, success will be determined by a smart scope and understanding the unique user requirements. When you break things down that way the challenge will be reduced greatly.
In our 35-plus years of providing continuous availability solutions for enterprises, we’ve seen only a handful of technology shifts that you could call “seismic.” The globalization of eCommerce was a big one that was transformational for mission critical infrastructures. At Stratus, we believe that the next big transformation – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – has the potential to be even more seismic.
Over the past year or so we have been more and more engaged in pilots and solutions for IIoT. We see this as a major shift in how industries such as utilities, food and beverage, pharma and others will deliver products to market and become more efficient. IIoT is on the minds of just about everyone working in these and other industries today on some level. But, there’s a lot of information out there to digest and it’s still very much in its infancy.
Based on our experiences to date, here are our predictions for how IIoT will shape up in 2017.
1. Companies will need to get educated about IIoT
IT vendors have started to create awareness of the value of IIoT. This has helped users begin to run pilot projects and experience the benefits of IIoT first hand. In response, more companies will need to get educated. This will lead to frank assessments about infrastructure, which often will reveal that most operations lack secure connectivity, virtualization, and reliability needed for IIoT. Addressing those infrastructure weaknesses will be a top agenda item for 2017.
2. Small wins will yield bigger investments in IIoT
We expect many companies to start their IIoT journey by pursuing short-term projects that have big efficiency or cost impact. For example, one of our customers has been doing some cool work piloting analytics technology to diagnose and troubleshoot issues in a production line. This produced valuable intelligence that has made the production line more efficient. Small victories such as these will become more common and will give industrial automation decision makers more confidence to support bolder investments.
3. Reliability and security are the hot buttons for companies considering IIoT
Success with IIoT requires starting with an infrastructure you trust. So 2017 will be the year to lock down reliability and security. Then you can focus solely identifying those IIoT investments that will return the powerful benefits to your business. In manufacturing and energy, the primary benefits will be efficiency and productivity gains. Building security and management should look for cost savings by shrinking the technology footprint. Financial services can expect improved performance, data integrity and business agility.
At Stratus, we believe the potential impact of IIoT on an array of industries is huge. A number of early adopters have already proved this. However, the best approach is to start with a reliable infrastructure to support your IIoT vision. If you agree, keep in mind that =Stratus has been an driving availability in the Industrial Automation market for decades. In fact, our first customer was in the food and beverage industry. But further that just our zero downtime advantage industrial customers really value how Stratus solutions dramatically simplify their unique operational requirements.
The state of the art in building automation and security is evolving with incredible speed. But one thing is certain: Construction companies and building owners will become increasingly reliant on digital systems to keep their buildings safe, secure, comfortable and energy efficient. Focusing on the issue of fault tolerance right from the blueprint stage of any new construction or major renovation project is becoming increasingly important.
But how do you design an approach that rationalizes the infrastructure and management of all this disparate technology coming from numerous vendors in a streamlined, consistent way? When developing an availability approach, consider the following key questions.
1. Is it simple?
Automated building systems may be expanding, but building management budgets are not. An availability solution should be easy to deploy without any specialized development skills. And it should be easy to manage and easy to service in the event of a failure. Avoiding large, multi-component systems in favor of an all-in-one “appliance-like” solution reduces complexity, as well as physical footprint.
In addition, the availability solution should provide a single, end-to-end view of the entire building automation and security infrastructure. This simplifies management and makes it easier for building staff to proactively identify potential issues before they become problems.
2. Does it leverage industry standards?
Sophisticated building automation and security systems may involve literally dozens of applications from an array of vendors in a virtualized environment. This requires an underlying availability infrastructure that is based on industry standards, with the flexibility to support a wide range of applications and vendors. Standards-based solutions also allow the use of lower-cost off-the-shelf servers, further reducing total cost of ownership.
3. Is it optimized for smart building deployment?
A solution with little or no track record in building automation and security may not deliver on its promises. Look for technologies from vendors that have experience in the field and deep relationships with building automation and security application vendors. That’s a good sign of an ecosystem that’s been proven in many different building deployments. Don’t be shy—ask about their experience and connections within the industry.
You can read more about the growing need for fault tolerance as buildings become more automated in my article published recently in Construction Executive.
There’s so much happening today with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it’s important to understand where Stratus fits. For one, we’re proven as we’ve played a role in supporting mission-critical industrial automation for decades. This includes supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), human machine interface (HMI), and historian database solutions. We agree with many industry analysts like ARC who see the evolution of these technologies naturally supporting the adoption of IIoT.
IIoT offers exciting opportunities for improving efficiency and productivity. But there are many components to consider beyond machine-integrated sensors. Networking and communications, data collection and analytics, automated controls, and decision support are the connective tissue of IIoT. Stratus is an important part of this big picture because our hardware and software protects this connective tissue in thousands of facilities today. We believe that our existing deployments will help those customers deploy IIoT more quickly. However, the benefits provided by an Always-On infrastructure in an IIoT environment go beyond preventing unplanned downtime.
For starters, the evolution toward IIoT enables industrial automation technologies to be deployed into new industries and places. For instance, in many process industries, endpoints and stations, say in an oil pipeline, have needed to be manned. New technologies enable more and more of these remote sites to be remotely monitored and completely human free. But this remote visibility comes with a price. If the system that provides remote monitoring goes down, nobody knows what is happening. In the natural gas industry, this is called a “blind moment” and it’s a BIG deal. This situation is not limited to oil and gas pipelines. As factories in the semiconductor and other industries get larger and more automated, the goal is to get better productivity with fewer people. Always-On visibility will be a requirement to ensure that goal.
Additionally, compliance comes into play. While data generated by IIoT is critical for production efficiency and productivity, in some industries this proliferation of date will require oversight and reporting. A good example is the food and beverage industry. If you’re subject to regulations, you can’t afford to lose data as it could result in expensive recalls, audits or even fines. If your solution runs on hardware or software infrastructure from Stratus, data availability and integrity won’t be a concern because our servers are always on.
Lastly, the transition to IIoT will come with implementation costs. Many organizations are taking their first steps toward IIoT by deploying virtualization to reduce costs. However, the combination of the Always-On requirements with virtualization in a non-data center environment can actually add costs and complexity. Stratus builds fault tolerance, virtualization, monitoring, and downtime prevention features into a single solution. That gives you a smaller technology footprint that doesn’t require a platoon of people who are necessary for many of the clustered environments.
Ultimately, this means that Stratus can provide an easy on-ramp to a fortified IIoT solution.
When it comes to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), there is a general feeling that operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) organizations are at odds. To a certain extent, that’s true.
In the data center, IT is largely concerned with reducing costs through consolidation and standardization. On the production line, OT also wants to decrease costs but strives to keep productivity as high as possible to drive revenue.
IT also is generally more comfortable with change. Servers and software are updated all the time. New, more cost-effective IT solutions seem to emerge daily. For OT, stability and reliability are most important. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thinking often dominates. As a result, OT wants systems that chug for 10, 20, 30 years or more.
Examples of these differences in thinking are quite common. For instance, one practice in the gas delivery is to maintain proprietary networks to connect their pumping stations more securely. For OT, this is brilliant because it protects the network from hackers. But IT sees solutions like these as costly, and antiquated that should be replaced with less expensive, standards-based equipment secured with software. Both approaches achieve network security; they just come at it from different angles.
Now let’s look at IIoT. Here is an opportunity for OT and IT to overcome their differences and achieve common goals.
Things like predictive maintenance, enabled by IIoT, help OT run production lines more efficiently and with less unplanned downtime. This is certainly good for productivity and revenue. But predictive maintenance requires continuously monitoring and analyzing key system data. Enter IT.
IT staff are experts at installing software, servers, and networking needed to deliver predictive maintenance analytics. But they also must work with OT to understand parameters to be measured and key performance indicators that will drive operations and maintenance decisions.
For OT, the IIoT solution must be absolutely reliable and available 24×7. IT will want the solution to be efficient, secure, and cost-effective. What they both want is simply the right tool for the right job. The good news is there are solutions available today that accomplish the goals of both OT and IT.
For example, fault-tolerant servers provide stability and longevity required by OT, and they meet IT’s need for standardization, security, and ease of management. These perceived differences between OT and IT are simply alternative approaches to reaching a common goal, which is to streamline business operations through IIoT. And everybody wins. OT drives increased productivity and revenue while IT keeps costs in check.
The buildings we sit in or public spaces we visit (like airports) today are getting smarter all the time. A simple case in point is the lights that automatically turn on when you enter your office. A more advanced example is when your badge reader is tied to your company’s HR database and provides secure access to a room. A future example is when you can access a room with your badge (or phone) and that room’s lighting and climate is automatically set to meet your preferences. This future is real and a lot of technology is beginning to converge to usher it in. These advancements are all very exciting, but for those directly involved in creating smarter buildings, we should not underestimate the complexity involved. Here are some key considerations when charting your course towards a smarter building.
- Plan to consolidate your building technology– Right now every different building control (heating, power monitoring, video, access control) is on a separate application which is likely to be deployed on separate servers. This leads to a heavy footprint that is hard to manage and is likely costing you too much money. So, often the first step towards a smarter building is to virtualize your building’s software infrastructure. Stratus and our partners can provide you with the reliable foundation required for this with our recently announced Stratus Always-On Infrastructure for Smart Buildings.
- Take a close look at your needs for availability and fault tolerance – Once you have consolidated your solutions, you’ll invariably be forced to decide how and where to virtualize these applications. The easy answer is to just add the VMs into your existing data center. That’s a pretty good idea if your needs for availability and compliance are pretty basic (say in an office campus). But if you have critical areas to serve (such as access controls into a clinical environment or runway lighting controls at an airport) where no amount of downtime is acceptable, you may need a specialized solution deployed on site that ensures that failures of service won’t happen. And remember the more applications or building services you consolidate onto an infrastructure the more likely it needs fault tolerance.
- Understand that the smart building infrastructure is pervasive and expanding– The internet of things is enabling the deployment of cheaper devices to help build smarter buildings. However, all of those devices need some degree of monitoring and visibility. This is why we have built everRun® Monitor powered by Sightline Assure® into our Always-On Infrastructure for Smart Buildings. It goes beyond the standard server based infrastructure and can monitor the entire gambit of smart building technology, giving building managers the insights they need to secure and operate their buildings more effectively.
- Get ready for analytics and compliance– A big part of the business case for smart buildings is the fact the new intelligence driven by the data that gets produced by the end point devices (sensors, cameras, badge readers), will help reduce costs and/or make buildings more secure. The application of analytics to these new building services will deliver those efficiencies and improvements provided that the data produced is consistent and available.
Learn what you can do to eliminate downtime with Application Availability Solutions from Stratus.
The smart buildings of the future are both realistic and beneficial. There are a lot of cost efficiencies to be gained, as well as safer spaces for people to work and visit. However, like many things it needs to start with a reliable technical foundation on which to build upon.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) holds huge rewards for manufacturing companies from consumer goods makers to petrochemical firms to utilities. Companies, large and small, already are crediting IIoT with hard cost savings and advances in operational efficiency and product quality. This blog will answer frequent questions about IIoT we get from our industrial customers that you also might have.
What Is IIoT Anyway?
Sensor data, machine-to-machine communication, and automation systems have existed in industrial environments for years. IIoT builds on these technologies and bakes smart devices, machine learning, big data, and analytics into the mix.
With additional data sources and better intelligence and analytics embedded into the supply chain, you can adjust your industrial processes in real time. From there, you can expect tangible progress toward improved operational efficiency, return on assets, and profitability. That is the heart and soul of IIoT.
My Production Line Is Working Fine. Why Would I Change Things?
One of the biggest drags on inventory and order flow is unplanned downtime. For example, one hour of downtime for a large turbine powering a production line can cost a company up to $10,000 an hour. To avoid outages, manufacturers take production systems offline for periodic maintenance—needed or not. Not only does this get costly but even planned downtime is disruptive.
Alternatively, some manufacturers are using IIoT for predictive maintenance of factory line equipment. In these situations, a smart sensor attached to an assembly line motor monitors performance and reports on changes, such as temperature or vibration, which may signal failing parts. A proactive repair of the motor could avoid a complete failure and potentially weeks of downtime, costing millions of dollars in lost revenue. Or, it could shave seconds from the assembly line process and help the business fulfill orders and recognize revenue faster.
Such improvements translate into a compelling competitive advantage since the firms embracing IIoT turn out products faster and at a lower cost. That alone is a viable reason to embrace IIoT.
I’m Ready. How Do I Get Started?
Before getting started you need to ask yourself if your infrastructure is ready for IIoT.
Our recommended first step is to look at virtualization technologies to reduce your infrastructure and maintenance costs. The work effort involved in securing virtualized environments is less intensive than existing approaches and they are far easier to update and scale.
The good news is that by virtualizing you can continue running your existing automation systems to minimize your upfront investment. To ensure uninterrupted uptime, a fault-tolerant server that will keep other connected virtual servers running in the presence of a hardware problem is essential. Unlike clustered solutions, fault-tolerant systems are easier to manage and not subject to downtime when failover occurs.
Once you have your IIoT infrastructure in place, you can begin to enjoy the rewards of manufacturing processes that run faster, more cost-efficiently, and reliably than ever before.