Re-thinking Digital Manufacturing with IT-OT Convergence

Bhupendra Bhate, Chief Operating Officer & Executive Director, L&T Technology ServicesL&T Technology Services is a leading ER&D services company which offers Smart Manufacturing Services, Embedded Systems & Application, Mechanical Engineering, Smart Products & Services and many other services.

Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology(OT) have coexisted since the start of modern manufacturing. However, both have been developed along unconnected paths, with distinct goals, operating in completely different ecosystems. While OT is considered as the backbone of modern-day smart factories that controls the infrastructure that powers the plants and keeps factory lines running, IT is essential for all smart enterprises for customer relationship management, management information systems, emails and more.

It is only in recent years that strong technology and business reasons are driving companies to this convergence. One of these reasons is the emergence of Digital Technologies such as Social Media, Mobility, Big Data, Analytics and Cloud computing.

Seen as two distinct domains of a business often operating in silos, the increased demand on industrial production, advent of the Industrial Internet of Things(IIoT), integration of network sensors and associated software with complex physical machinery has created some common ground between IT and OT.

This has allowed manufacturers to see the benefits of IT – OT convergence, who are now striving to bridge the divide between these two essential business elements. Clients we work with are fast realizing that this will help them with risk reductions, enhanced performance, effective management of assets data and gains in flexibility.

It has also been foreseen by Gartner that by 2020, 50 percent of OT service providers will create key partnerships with ITcentric providers for IoT offerings.

While this clearly highlights the significance of this convergence, let's have a look at some of the far reaching benefits that manufacturers can gain by bringing IT and OT together –

Substantial Insights - Primarily OT systems captures data from various
sources. This data is then processed and stored by IT systems. Business intelligence tools or enterprise asset management(EAM)system can analyze this data to make better decisions related to longer term asset management processes. Further, with Big Data Analytics, data captured by OT systems can be analyzed for data mining, pattern recognition and statistical analysis. Similarly, data collected from OT systems like online monitoring equipment and sensors which typically includes pressure, temperature, historic equipment loading, duration and frequency of short-circuits and through faults, number of operations, and more can all be utilized by IT systems to derive meaningful insights on maintenance programs and asset replacement.

Increased Situational Awareness - In this age of advanced manufacturing, a number of IT solutions and software are capable of extracting data from complex OT systems used to monitor events, processes and devices. This data can be used to augment the querying capabilities of the entire workforce. The information can be directly displayed over dashboards that are now available as cost-effective out-of-the-box solutions and can be customized to the specific job function. Different dashboards can be used to display different information for operations, floor manager, supervisors, senior management etc. Users can scan this live stream of information available in the form of charts, graphs and numbers in real time and gain deeper insights about the current situation to make the right decision in a timely manner.

Enhanced Security- In modern day operations machines on factory floors are increasingly being linked to the network which is resulting in numerous benefits to the manufacturer. How ever, considering this advancement, while keeping in mind the recurrent cyber attacks in general, manufacturers are now focusing on regular system security updates and maintenance. But, patching, upgrading and replacing systems without considering its implications on OT is potentially a downtime disaster which can adversely affect the profit margins of the company. When IT and OT work-together on enhancing the cyber security of the factory, the manufacturer can avoid unintentional downtime. It paves the way for current security management capabilities to be extended to the OT environments, delivering more effective risk management and incident response.

The Future of IT/OT
Conventionally, IT and OT have met specific requirements serving distinct enterprise functions. Technological, cultural and organizational differences between these two environments have been well established over the years bottle necking the benefits that could be arise out of the convergence. However, today as their conjoined applicability arises from the IIoT, predominant IT vendors are gradually moving towards IoT, leveraging common programming platforms and operating systems, user interfaces, hardware, etc.

The Indispensable elements of smart manufacturing, IIoT and IT – OT convergence presents a multitude of opportunities for manufacturers going forward as more devices become a part the IIoT ecosystem. Forward thinking manufacturers looking to outpace the potential disruption are already looking at integrating out-of-the-box solutions for plant automation, asset management and manufacturing execution systems that can leverage the combined strength of IT and OT environments, consciously bridging the divide between the two. As this trend continues, businesses will achieve smarter analytics, shorter development cycles as well as high levels of security administration. Ultimately, this will lead us into a future where the dividing line between OT and IT would dwindle and we will only have technology or ‘T’.