In the past, standard IT systems have been separate from Operational Technology (OT), but this picture is now changing with IT/OT convergence and we’re seeing areas like industrial IT revolutionised by new connectivity. In this article, Martin Hodgson, Country Manager, Paessler AG explores how monitoring boosts factory floor efficiency.
IT systems, such as routers, servers, storage, switches, domain controllers, and other hardware and software required for collecting data are monitored efficiently by traditional monitoring tools. IT systems monitoring is relatively straightforward; these systems have been designed to communicate and IT admins are aware of the ways they need to be monitored.
On the other hand, OT systems, the hardware and software controlling of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events, have traditionally worked in closed circuits and monitored by a mix of tools, but this is changing with digitalisation trends.
As companies in the industrial space start to value strategy based on data analytics, they need to enable systems to interact with each other to build comprehensive data insights. Systems that were previously isolated are now becoming interconnected, and with this emerging trend comes a set of new monitoring requirements for holistic management of the factory floor.
A key takeaway for manufacturers investing in digitalisation programmes is to have the right monitoring tools that support the data-driven strategy; these can help ensure that technology on the factory floor remains healthy, efficient and reliable - a unified tool for IT and OT monitoring helps increase factory floor efficiency.
Why is monitoring becoming more and more important for manufacturing? It comes down to the growing prevalence of data in factories. Data features heavily in digitalisation projects since it helps manufacturers with strategy and forecasting. A compelling argument for digitalisation is that the ready availability of information about the business, primed for analysis in real time and not hidden on spreadsheets, can allow data-driven insights to flow better.
Armed with better data insights, a business can not only improve internal processes, such as supply chain management, but can also look to improve external relationships with customers, leveraging data on products to boost innovation and reduce costs to make the end product more appealing. OT devices can provide these insights, which is why forward-thinking manufacturers are interested in IT/OT convergence and enable comprehensive monitoring for their OT devices.
Ultimately, strong digitalisation and a data-driven approach to manufacturing management strategy can boost productivity, enhance competitive capabilities, improve forecasting and nurture greater financial sustainability.
PwC’s Annual Manufacturing Report 2020 surveyed manufacturers and found that 87% believe smart factory technologies will accelerate innovation and design development. The survey was conducted before the impacts of COVID-19 shook global business, but COVID-19 has potentially increased focus on smart factory technologies if anything, with companies looking to invest in digitalisation and data management to boost productivity through time and cost reductions.
With increased digitalisation, IT and OT become interconnected - processes become digitised so that they can be connected to computer systems and mined for data. Pre-digitalisation, OT would be monitored either by means provided by the machines or devices, or from the industrial control system. Now the situation has changed, and the performance of OT systems and offline industrial equipment can be analysed by integration with IT monitoring solutions.
So, what does this monitoring look like? OT systems are now being managed in a similar way as IT systems such as routers or sensors in terms of monitoring. OT devices, that were previously isolated, can now be brought into connected systems either via gateways, protocol converters or by using communication standards. OT devices need to provide data that can be gathered, analysed and utilised at all levels, from the production floor through the layers of the Purdue Model to the ERP system at the top.
And what sort of OT are we referencing here? OT can include technology that specifically manages manufacturing processes, such as programmable logic controllers, as these now need to connect to data collection systems.
In addition, new industrial PCs or remote terminal units use protocols to connect to the cloud or other data collection systems. The hardware itself is also becoming more consolidated as single computers (like industrial PCs) can perform the same functions that would previously require multiple pieces of hardware.
Admins and technicians overseeing a factory floor need visibility of industrial control systems, like an IPC, in order to assess health statistics. These systems are prone to the same problems as any hardware, so RAID, storage, CPU usage and fan rotation are metrics that can help avoid stoppages to production.
The OT infrastructure also relies on industrial network devices, such as switches, access points, so these need to be checked as well. Furthermore, environmental conditions also need to be taken into consideration. You need to be alerted if the humidity level gets too high in certain areas, or if a high temperature might be indicating that cooling processes are not sufficient.
This end-to-end overview is just one of the challenges of convergence. The potential solution lies in a holistic dashboard which brings all the important metrics into a single overview. Having this overview can mean admins confidently overcome the challenge of convergence of multiple disparate technologies - with a comprehensive dashboard an admin will be able to see the health of all previously separate systems at a glance.
When it comes to implementing the right monitoring tools for industrial IT, an admin managing factory floor computer systems can consider the following points:
Any admin who does due diligence in setting up a new monitoring system for industrial IT will find that it pays dividends in the long term, with marked improvements to overall productivity and cost-saving.