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How Food Manufacturers Can Benefit from Going Paperless


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.

Ensuring Availability

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.

Measuring ROI

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.

Food firms urged to exploit intelligent supply chains


As published in FOOD manufacture

Food and drink manufacturers need to be “nimble enough to evolve on the fly” in embracing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) if they want to avoid losing business, a software expert has claimed.

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

Digital disruption from farm to fork: Tracking the food supply


As published in Food DIVE

By 2050, the Earth’s population is set to swell from 7 billion to 9 billion. According to a 2015 report from the World Resources Institute, the agricultural sector will need to increase production by approximately 25% in order to meet the resulting demand. According to a recent article in Environmental Science & Technology, however, we’re wasting enough calories from food we’re already growing to be feeding an additional 1.9 billion people. This alone is nearly enough to cover the spike in population, if we were only able to lower the world’s food waste, with about a third of the crops produced annually going to waste worldwide.

The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), with its sensor technologies and real-time data analytics capable of monitoring the food supply from farm to fork, now offers a first-ever, end-to-end solution for reducing food waste, limiting recalls and improving overall food safety.

Food supply goes digital

Farms and ranches are going digital. Food manufacturing and warehousing are going digital. Food distribution and retailing are going digital from the checkout counter to the family dinner table. Digitization of the food supply enables the IIoT to leverage its technologies to monitor and analyze the entirety of the process. From the standpoint of food quality, timeliness of delivery, waste, spoilage and recalls, the IIoT represents a change in the utilization of technology in feeding the planet.

Recalls have become a critical pain point that many are calling the food industry’s greatest threat to profitably. A joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association showed that the average cost of a recall to a food company is $10 million in direct costs, in addition to brand damage and lost sales.

The study points out that “Most recalls (56%) resulted from operational mistakes, such as incorrect labeling, the presence of an undeclared ingredient or contamination during the production process. While biological causes, such as the detection of listeria, salmonella and E. coli were also factors, a significant number of food safety alerts were actually due to food fraud and corruption by suppliers further down the supply chain. This highlights the need for food producers to invest in ensuring the traceability of their products back through the supply chain.”

Whether operational or biological, end-to-end traceability is key to avoiding a recall, which is precisely how the IIoT’s digital scrutiny of the food system comes into play.

Intelligent, real-time end-to-end monitoring

Of course, this end-to-end real-time visibility and traceability requires a whole new level of data sharing between food manufacturers and their suppliers and distributors. Traceability through digital visibility — tracking products at every point in order to spot potential issues in real time — requires secure, cloud-based systems that collect data from across the supply chain and make it available for centralized data analytics engines.

The potential for IIoT sensor and analytics technologies to mitigate the risk of recalls is undeniable. Yet many food manufacturers are taking a cautious approach to IIoT investments. In an industry with thin margins and intense competition, how can manufacturers be sure these investments will pay off?

Three keys to IIoT successdd

1. Prioritize existing and evolving critical control points.
IIoT-based monitoring of the entire production process would be cost-prohibitive for most food manufacturers. Instead, target those areas most critical to food safety and quality, starting with hazards analysis and critical control points (HACCP). Thereafter, expand the IIoT “footprint” along less critical processes.

2. Use the IIoT to ensure compliance.
Food manufacturers understand the impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act, increasing their obligation to prevent threats to the food supply. Implementing IIoT technologies can significantly enhance their ability to meet this challenge.

In addition to automated in-line quality analysis via the IIoT, the presence of intelligent IIoT technologies also generates data that demonstrates to regulators that the manufacturer is monitoring food quality and safety, a key compliance requirement.

3. Minimize the risk of data loss.
Data is the lifeblood of the IIoT and protecting it throughout the supply chain is essential. That means investing in high-availability, fault-tolerant systems that prevent data loss and ensure continuous operation of critical production and monitoring equipment.

First step in the IIoT journey

The reality of safeguarding the food system from farm to fork via the IIoT is that most manufacturers will start with limited implementations that target key quality control points.

As they recognize the value generated by intelligent tracking, tracing and analysis of the supply chain and production process, they can then extend their IIoT infrastructure into new areas.

Obviously, reducing the risk of recalls is a high priority worthy of investment. However, the IIoT also enables significant economic benefits that impact other areas of the business — from optimizing production efficiencies to responding in real time to product diversion and theft in transit, to analyzing consumer preferences faster in order to improve business agility.

A great first step is a thorough assessment of the entire supply and demand chain and production process to identify the most critical control points.

From that assessment onward, it then becomes a journey of connecting one critical control point to another to evolve and optimize the overall IIoT infrastructure.

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.

Strategies to Reduce Downtime and Increase Plant KPI’s

3.2.2017Industrial AutomationBy:  

Ask any business line executive associated with a production line, or a continuous process, what is it that they fear the most and the almost universal response is “unplanned downtime”. This is the one thing that can wreck KPI’s and negatively impact overall equipment effectiveness in unexpected ways. Of course, unplanned downtime does not have to be caused by dramatic equipment failures, it can be the result of products that don’t meet shipping criteria, such as being underweight, or having the wrong mix, as some presenters shared during the session on Strategies to Reduce Downtime and Increase Plant KPIs at last month’s ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.

In his opening remarks, Craig Resnick, Vice President at the ARC Advisory Group, talked about the use of data and analytics to improve KPI’s and eliminate unplanned downtime. Storing, accessing and analyzing this data generally means crossing the traditional divide between operational technologists (OT) on the plant floor and information technologists (IT) in the data center. The traditional antagonism between these two organizations is why many plant operations remain completely segregated from the rest of the business, if for no other reason than the fear of cyber threats. However, when bringing these two groups together you can often find that there is significant common ground between OT and IT, and by harnessing common concerns, a cooperative environment can be built.

Cyber-security, standards-based, scalable and upgradeable, no unscheduled downtime and future proof are some of the key attributes valued by both IT and OT. At Stratus, many of these topics are a common theme we hear from our customers. The combination of a simple, integrated, redundant solution that is fault-tolerant, a service model that proactively detects potential failures, automatically sending replacement parts that are easily swapped, and experts who are constantly monitoring anomalies in overall operation to supplement OT/IT resources are the key things that draw companies to Stratus.

So what are some of the things that end users in the session have done improve their operations? This ranged from using data to understand where pre-mixed weight in raw materials and product mix in the final product were impacting quality and profitability (compensating low weight in cheaper raw materials with higher cost mixers) to providing constant feedback to plant floor operators via local HMI’s so that instant adjustments could be made in sensitive product environments to greatly reduce product wastage and increase overall quality. In all cases, one factor that stood out was the importance of the data, something that Stratus is ideally suited to protect, and a vital element in the move to IIoT and improved KPI’s.

Modern Water Control Systems Boost Public Safety, Plant Efficiency

11.23.2016Industrial Automation, ManufacturingBy:  

Water is getting a lot of attention lately. Whether it’s contaminated water in Flint, Michigan or environmental impact from hurricane-damaged wastewater facilities, incidents like these raise serious questions about safety and reliability.

That’s where industrial automation systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), historians, and human machine interfaces (HMIs), come in. They’re critical to seeing how your operations are performing. And they yield valuable data that, when combined with analytics, can help improve efficiency and predict maintenance needs before problems arise.

A common issue for water and wastewater facilities is their SCADA and HMI systems are getting old. They’re going down unexpectedly, which leaves operators flying blind. And older systems typically lack critical hooks into analytics.

In a recent InSource Solutions webinar, I laid out a plan for how water and wastewater facilities can modernize their industrial automation infrastructure, eliminate unplanned downtime, simplify management and maintenance, and gain greater insight and control over critical operations. Stratus, which has 35 years of providing continuous availability systems to a variety of industries, recommends that it’s industrial automation clients first virtualize their SCADA/HMI systems.

Unlike traditional implementations that run each industrial automation application on a dedicated physical PC or server, virtualization lets you run multiple applications on a single machine, with each application isolated on its own “virtual” machine. That saves you a lot of money on hardware. It simplifies management. And it lays the foundation for introducing new applications and technologies without needing to overhaul your infrastructure.

When you move to a virtualized platform there are many factors to consider, including proper sizing and configuration. But one of the most important considerations is how to protect your virtualized systems from unplanned downtime. Equally important is ensuring you have a solution that simplifies management and maintenance, and which does not re-introduce new complexities to prevent outages.

So what are your options? Using a standard server with hot or cold standby, the best you can expect is to get back into production within several hours. Most organizations we talk to can tolerate no more than 10 minutes of downtime. Alternatively, you could opt for clustering or get high availability from a virtualization vendor. But these approaches are complex and costly, and could still take up to 30 minutes to recover. And with any of these choices you can still expect some data loss.

We recommend putting your virtualized applications on a continuous availability system like Stratus ftServers. Here’s why: ftServers prevent unplanned downtime and avoid data loss entirely. They’re designed with fully integrated redundancy, so even if something does fail, the system and your virtualized applications keep running. The best part is ftServers  run standard off-the-shelf virtualization layers and operating systems, so they look and act like a commodity server. Best of all, they only require a single operating system and application license per virtual machine, so you save money and eliminate complex availability configurations. And with Stratus support and service, you don’t need IT expertise to hot swap components or diagnose problems.

Virtualizing your SCADA and HMI systems offers a whole host of benefits that will make your life easier. But the key is to virtualize on an infrastructure that’s simple to manage and always on.  That way you can spend more time using data from SCADA and HMI systems to make your water and wastewater treatment facilities safer and more efficient.

Stratus Go-to-Market Campaign for Partners accelerates opportunity development in booming Industrial Automation market

11.9.2016Industrial AutomationBy:  

Stratus has served the Industrial Automation (IA) space for 35 years, and we continue to see greater uptake for our solutions combined with those of our global partners. Rising demand in this market is due to aging operational technology (OT) infrastructures and industrial companies seeking to modernize and consolidate automation environments, with 3 main objectives:

  • Increasing plant efficiencies
  • Delivering better return on assets
  • Eliminating unplanned downtime of critical applications like SCADA/HMI, Historian and MES

Think about this: Already, the total global installed base of OT systems reaching end-of-life adds up to $65 billion in potential sales, and the total installed base of automation systems 20-plus years old comes to $53 billion 1. By 2020, the total IA market is expected to reach USD $202 billion,2 driven largely by the move to smart manufacturing strategies using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and big data.

By working with Stratus, partners are well positioned to tap into this booming market. To help our partners succeed, we’re launching an integrated digital marketing and awareness campaign across the globe. Within our campaign, each activity provides ways for partners to combine the power of the Stratus brand with their own industry expertise and messaging. Campaign activities include industry specific content, infographics and blogs, email campaigns, pitches to top industry publications, social media promotion, and webinars. The campaign also offers paid media leveraging various content types distributed through social platforms and leading country specific and industry centric publications.

Plus, we’ll equip our partners with our Best Practices Kit for Modernizing Automation —a key tool to educate, empower, and engage buyers to take action—including contributions from Craig Resnick, Vice President, Consulting, ARC Advisory Group, Jason Buffington, Principal Analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group and LNS Research.

In addition to the huge market growth opportunity for IA, the timing is right for partners to align with Stratus because smart manufacturing relies on 24/7 operations, demanding continuous availability of critical plant applications. Plus, the annual cost of downtime has increased by 60% to $260,0003 since 2014. IA also requires a risk-free virtualization strategy to enable the required application consolidation,

along with a way to future-proof OT modernization investments that will provide the required return on assets.

Stratus delivers on all counts in the IA market. Stratus fault-tolerant servers have a proven track record of preventing downtime, mitigating the risks of virtualization, and providing 6+ years average server life span. More importantly, Stratus provides peace of mind to IA customers by providing services with total assurance, meaning customers can rely on Stratus equipment and people without having to add or allocate ongoing internal resources to manage and service systems.

Fundamentally, Stratus understands that partners are critical to helping customers understand the issues, choose the right Stratus solutions to replace aging control systems, and prepare for the advent of the IIoT. That’s why we’re launching this global, partner-centric go-to-market campaign to jointly pursue IA modernization opportunities in a big way.

We have a long history of selling through partners and supporting partner marketing and sales efforts. Today the opportunities for joint success in the IA space are greater than ever. So don’t wait to grow your business faster and deliver better results for your customer base. Talk to Stratus about how—together—we can bring customers the most comprehensive and advanced solutions for modernizing automation.


ARC Advisory Group

Aberdeen Group

Justification for Modernizing Automation

10.19.2016Industrial AutomationBy:  

ARC estimates that $65 billion worth of process automation systems are nearing the end of their useful life. These estimates are even larger if one includes those installed systems that don’t meet the requirements for cybersecurity protection, or leveraging technologies, such as IIoT, cloud computing, advanced process control, mobile devices, social networks, advanced search engines, and big data analytics to create the information-driven enterprise. Automation end users are primarily concerned with preserving their installed plant assets. Unfortunately, control systems and automation equipment are run much longer than IT and other non-manufacturing related assets. At the same time, manufacturers have an enormous challenge with cost justifications.

Arguments for modernizing automation range in severity from being purely business decisions to critical issues that affect plant and worker safety. An older system can hinder the adoption of available new technologies that provide real economic advantages, such as IIoT, cloud, software-as-a service, virtualization, analytics, IT/OT convergence, mobile devices, advanced process control, etc. When it comes to providing maintenance the older systems can be burdened with a high volume of custom code and custom point–to-point integration that make long term support cost prohibitive. Older systems can have opportunity cost implications for the manufacturing plant as well. This is the cost of a business opportunity that was missed because the system was not advanced, flexible, or functional enough to take advantage of a swiftly emerging or fleeting opportunity. Having old or outdated systems installed can result in direct losses if the manufacturer lacks the visibility into plant operations that enables abnormal situation prevention and avoidance of supply chain disruptions. However, the case for modernizing automation is most urgent when the old system reaches the point where an impending plant shutdown or incident is a real possibility, causing unplanned downtime.

Modernizing automation projects are most likely to get approved if they can demonstrate direct support for any of the following four business drivers: plant efficiency, maintenance cost reduction, modifications and expansion, and safety and security. Decision makers care about these business objectives because of their significant impact on the plant’s profitability. Modernizing automation most often involve running operations where downtime translates directly into losses. Good modernization strategies leverage tools and rely on solid project management to reduce downtime and minimize risk.

When a manufacturer decides to take a proactive stance regarding its aging control system, the project can quickly become overwhelming. When the installed base is audited it is easy to discover varying degrees of maturity as well as multiple generations of products and operating systems, all running on a single process. Systems evolve over time with modifications, upgrades, expansions, etc. that may not be well documented by the users. Standards and regulations also evolve over time and the multi-generation installed base may not be uniformly synchronized to meet today’s and tomorrows’ regulatory requirements.

The evaluation process needs to start with the desired end state in mind. Nobody is better qualified to discuss the future role of the manufacturing plant that is evaluating modernizing automation than the plant management and operators. Not all parts of a legacy control system need to be replaced, and the real challenge is flexibility in solutions that allow the manufacturer to preserve the assets worth keeping. Over time, manufacturers have embedded intellectual knowledge into these systems through control configurations, integration with information management, historical data collection, and other applications to ensure that their automation systems performed the fundamental control job that it was purchased to do.

There will be multiple evaluation criteria to consider for modernizing automation. Often the evaluation criterion is not clear and requires tradeoffs. Some examples of these evaluation criteria include hardware, as sometimes it makes sense to keep the existing I/O modules because of the investment associated with the existing wiring. For expansions it may make sense to use newer technologies that reduce wiring requirements, such as wireless and/or fieldbus protocols. For software, the benefits of migration to new software range from active support of cybersecurity, providing the user with better visualization and diagnostic capabilities, seamless integration with business intelligence, production management, analytic software and database utilities, and enhanced communication interface functionalities ranging from open standards, such as OPC-UA, IIoT, SaaS, and Cloud.

For modernizing graphics and HMI devices, if operators are familiar with certain graphics they are likely to view any modifications, such as adherence to ISA-101 standards, as a degradation of their system. This would be a case for graphic preservation or recreation on a different platform. On the other hand it may make sense to redesign the graphics in a scalable fashion to reflect changes in the plant and process, as well as to work with the wireless smart mobile devices that will also be utilized, such as smart phones and tablets. It is important to involve the operators in this process to ensure ownership.

In conclusion, manufacturers should view modernizing automation in the same context as the selection process for a new system. The ideal system should enable focus on business objectives, continuous improvement, and operational excellence. Manufacturers today seek systems that have evolved to provide a single environment, spanning all realms of control disciplines from process to discrete automation and motion control, while also interacting with operations management applications. Information must be provided in the right context, to the right person, at the right time, from any point in the system, and this can only occur by modernizing automation.

Key Take-aways from Wonderware Live 2016

10.6.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

This week Stratus participated at the Wonderware Live 2016 conference in Orlando, Florida. While the conference was eventually impacted by the hurricane Matthew, it started off on a high note with a quick succession of keynote presentations featuring a dizzying set of new announcements and improvements to Wonderware’s rich software portfolio.

Wonderware’s strategic narrative was centered around three areas:

  1. Industry solutions – the introduction of a more templated and integrated approach to reduce time to value
  2. IIoT – the expansion of capabilities by leveraging its market, ecosystem and customer presence to cover new ‘connected points’
  3. New consumption models – the provision of both subscription and/or cloud based delivery models

For all areas, there was ample emphasis on the value derived by its partner ecosystem – including the likes of Stratus. If you allow me to digress – Stratus increasingly teams with Wonderware distributors on large multi-site implementations including systems integration partners so we know this strategy works well for Wonderware.

With regards to IIoT, Wonderware and its competitors are seeing a slow yet steady uptake of IIoT projects. Both Wonderware and distributors mentioned an increasing trickle of albeit small budgets being set aside to implement basic IIoT initiatives but that the more sophisticated deployments would take time to come to fruition. However, they are starting small to align with business value which supports Wonderware’s viewpoint: neither connectivity nor hype will drive IIoT uptake but common business sense and a willingness to embrace disruption in support of innovation will. Meanwhile, Wonderware continues to build out IIoT integration features (e.g. MQTT, OPC UA and SNMP enablement) into its software set, allowing customers to ‘ease in’ and become incrementally IIoT ready.

On the topic of Cloud (and its Microsoft partnership), EVP Ravi Gopinath stated that 150 customers per month are registering for Wonderware online, while also mentioning that IA customer momentum was moving towards a gradual adoption of private and hybrid architectures (referred to as “Cloud also”). In addition, Wonderware executives discussed the increasing demand for flexible consumption models, such as pay by the drip (i.e. metered cloud). Most of the cloud based architecture presentations were couched with the statement “Cloud – for when you are ready”; suggesting that with only a few IA customers expected be fully cloud-based in the foreseeable future, IA cloud adoption is still progressing slower versus other industries.

The most significant announcement was reserved for Wonderware’s multi-site MOMs customer segment with Prometheus, a horizontal and vertical automation collaboration tool across (virtually) any PLC and (virtually) any HMI. While ambitious to say the least, it’s a laudable objective given the wide-spread IA system heterogeneity in any large multi-site environment. The second announcement was the evolution of what was the Wonderware System Platform, now named InTouch Omni. Targeted at the most demanding and distributed HMI/SCADA customers with large applications, this software platform converges the IT/OT function and provides access to all the information across a company and supply chain by simply clicking on a device on the map and drilling down into its details.

Overall the presentations were geared towards illustrating Wonderware’s vision, its key product portfolios and related offer updates. Perhaps in the future we can come to expect customer and partner proof points giving the audience more insights into deployment successes and lessons learned.

Stratus’ success with Wonderware customers has increased considerably over the past years, so stay tuned for more exciting wins, as well as reference architecture content and best practices, on the soon to be launched Stratus Wonderware customer and partner page.

A Modernized ICS holds the key to reducing unplanned downtime

9.30.2016Fault Tolerance, Industrial AutomationBy:  

Unplanned downtime has long been the nemesis of industrial operations. In recent years, we’ve seen tolerance for unplanned downtime get even lower. In fact, a recent survey by Stratus and the ARC Group reports that almost 40% of respondents said they could handle no more than 10 minutes of downtime per incident.

More than 20% said they could not tolerate downtime at all.

One reason is that industrial control systems (ICSs) produce data that’s become increasingly valuable to the business. A modern ICS can collect data down to the millisecond. When combined with analytics, this data enables initiatives like real-time automation and predictive maintenance, as well as accelerates adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories. Simply put, the more you automate and reduce human errors through real-time system intelligence, the more you improve operational efficiency and drive higher profitability.

Recently, when I led an IndustryWeek webinar, I asked attendees what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. Not surprisingly, 54% identified potential revenue loss, 15% referenced loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation, and 13% highlighted the additional cost to run things manually.

Industry statistics support these concerns. According to ARC’s research, unplanned downtime results in 2-5% production loss in the petro-chemical industry. It costs natural gas companies about $10,000 per hour if a compression station goes down. Across the board, unplanned downtime in process industries costs ten times more than planned maintenance.

Modernizing ICS can lower these impacts and improve operating efficiency. So why don’t more organizations modernize? Many are concerned about complexity. They have numerous applications running on different machines that vary widely in age and configuration. The thought of upgrading such a jumble of systems can be a major inhibitor.

That’s why we see virtualization as the prime way forward for modernizing the ICS. Instead of needing lots of hardware, virtualization can often reduce everything to a single physical machine running multiple applications assigned to individual virtual machines. This makes it much easier to manage various elements of industrial automation, as well as add or upgrade applications.

Virtualization also takes the pain out of modernizing ICS because you can migrate systems gradually. A virtualized system can easily reside alongside your existing systems. Then you just move one application at a time from the traditional environment to the virtualized one.

Now, the infrastructure you choose for your virtualized ICS environment is critical. I asked the IndustryWeek webinar attendees what they considered the most important decision factor. Nearly 40% of respondents identified lifetime value because this is a system that could be in operation for at least seven to ten years. Another 26% of attendees referenced operational simplicity. Automation engineers don’t want to spend their valuable time on system administration; they want to focus on running the plant. And they want an infrastructure that helps minimize, if not eliminate, unplanned downtime.

Stratus fault-tolerant servers address every one of these points and more. So if you’re looking to modernize your ICS, Stratus can provide you with some compelling options.

The path to modern ICS starts with virtualization

9.23.2016Industrial Automation, VirtualizationBy:  

I talk to a lot of people in the industrial automation world, and almost without exception they share the same challenge. They need to prevent unplanned downtime while preparing for the future, which includes evolving to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories.

This perspective was only reinforced when I asked attendees at a recent IndustryWeek webinar what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. In my online poll, the top three concerns were: potential revenue loss (54%), loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation (15%), and additional cost to run things manually (13%).

During the webinar, I laid out a strategy for addressing this challenge. My recommendation: modernize your industrial control systems (ICSs). The first step is virtualization, which consolidates multiple physical machines onto a single hardware system.

Virtualization eliminates the need to run individual control and automation applications on their own physical systems, each of which represents a potential single point of failure. Instead, your applications run on virtual machines (VMs) that share common computing resources across the underlying infrastructure. Each VM is securely partitioned to ensure data integrity, but you’ve eliminated all those points of failure. You also now have just one physical system to manage and support rather than many.

By now, you’ve probably recognized a new potential single point of failure. What happens if that one physical machine with all your virtualized control and automation applications goes down? It would be catastrophic, of course.

So the second most critical step is to protect your virtualized systems.

Here are four options:

  1. No protection. Yes, some people opt to take their chances because historically they’ve never had a system failure. This approach avoids any capital expense, but if recovery is required, it would take many hours if not days and be very expensive in terms of lost revenue and productivity.
  2. Hardware failover cluster. This is a common high-availability approach in IT that can reduce recovery time to minutes or hours. But clustering requires multiple physical systems, which defeats the purpose of virtualization by adding both cost and complexity.
  3. High-availability virtualization software. The approach is essentially the same as hardware clustering, but uses virtualization software to enable failover. You still need multiple systems. And while failover can be virtually instantaneous, it requires an application restart, which can take minutes to hours.
  4. Fault-tolerant server. This is an integrated system with built-in redundancy to prevent system failure. There is no need to fail over to another machine. It’s simply one physical machine that’s always on. Even if a component fails, the server, VMs and applications all keep running.

Plus, fault-tolerant servers are ready for the future of industrial automation today. That’s important because as you upgrade your ICS and move toward IIoT, you need a solution with enough horsepower to process massive amounts of data collected from across your operation. At Stratus, we’re seeing our customers achieve early wins in IIoT with things like predictive maintenance analytics to drastically reduce unplanned downtime. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re looking for the path of least resistance to prevent unplanned downtime and set a course for the future of industrial automation, then start by modernizing your ICS on fault-tolerant Stratus servers.

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