Extend equipment lifespan, improve process visibility and push control to the edge.
Many technological advances have been made over the past two decades. Of these, industrial networking and mobile computing continue to impact manufacturing and industrial environments. These are the technologies that are helping to make the vision of concepts like the “Connected Factory”, “Industry 4.0” and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) a reality for manufacturers and organizations around the world. But how do these concepts differ?
What is the Connected Factory?
The Connected Factory is the vision of a manufacturing environment where every machine is able to communicate with all other machines and devices across the plant floor and other remote locations. The purpose of the Connected Factory is to connect, monitor and control virtually anything, anywhere to drive operational productivity and profitability.
What is Industry 4.0?
According to Wikipedia, Industry 4.0 is a “collective term for technologies and concepts of value chain organization.” This term originated from a German-government initiative that refers to the fourth industrial revolution, based upon the dynamic optimization of production resources within and between highly-connected factories.
What is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?
Similar to the Connected Factory and Industry 4.0, IIoT will mean that organizations will be able to connect many different devices, including older equipment, and get them to “talk” with each other in a way that they could not before. By gathering data from both new and legacy devices, organizations can use that data to improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage.
Red Lion has been connecting devices and moving data for years. In fact, many customers and partners today rely on Red Lion to meet Connected Factory, Industry 4.0 and IIoT requirements by using our industrial automation and networking products to:
- Extend equipment lifespan: increase the value of legacy equipment with powerful protocol conversion
- Improve process visibility: gain insight and drive productivity with data logging and communication capabilities
- Push control to the edge: scale systems management with control capabilities at the device instead of the central office
Many of today’s organizations are eager to implement Connected Factory, Industry 4.0 and/or IIoT concepts to realize benefits, such as reduced operational costs and better visibility and control. While it is, however, unrealistic and cost-prohibitive for most organizations to construct green-field facilities or “rip-and-replace” legacy equipment, many solutions utilize existing equipment and allow components to be strategically deployed for extended monitoring and control. When updating a facility, it is important that expectations be set early. Despite the vision of an IP address for every piece of equipment in a network, this will not translate into the ability to log into every panel meter, water pump and drive from your iPhone. Bringing a facility into the 21st century involves several core fundamentals to help ensure a smooth transition and provide the ability to access, monitor and control of information from anywhere. To begin this process, organizations should consider three things:
- Enable communication between devices
- Rethink operational efficiencies so more devices can talk to each other
- Provide a secure, seamless platform for device communication
Connect & Communicate
Drives, sensors, PLCs, panel meters and other automation equipment are built to last years – even decades. Trouble is they often communicate via proprietary protocols that commonly use RS-232/422/485 serial cables. While these serial protocols are efficient and were often written for a specific application, many of these applications never included 24/7 monitoring across TCP/IP networks. In order to bring these devices into the Connected Factory, Industry 4.0 and/or IIoT paradigm, an organization’s engineers must first ensure that the devices can communicate with the other equipment on the factory floor. Companies looking to connect devices from disparate manufacturers can now choose advanced HMIs, protocol converters and other automation products that natively speak different protocols. These industrial products enable devices to communicate regardless of physical medium and offer industrial fluency and multi-protocol support.
Operational efficiencies can be accomplished in a number of ways, one of which is using data collected from monitoring points along a manufacturing line to minimize waste and downtime. As technology continues to improve, these status points will include an increased volume of information from a wider range of sources. Managed Ethernet switches will be able to report on the flow of data throughout the facility in the same way that sensors on assembly lines can report a product’s status on a production line. This expanded collection of operational data enables organizations to make data actionable by using visual management solutions to collect, record and display critical Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and Andon messages. Displaying this critical performance data in real time helps to drive productivity and increase throughput. This concept is not limited to connecting, communicating and monitoring within an organization. This concept can also be extended to include the supply and distribution chain to present a comprehensive view of the entire operation.
Security has traditionally meant physical isolation of automation equipment and enterprise networks. If nothing is connected to automation equipment, the threat of security breaches is fairly low. Connection-free facilities are few and far between as more organizations continue to expand their enterprise networks into factory settings. As organizations embrace this new reality, security should be addressed through careful network planning and use of IP address best practices. Routerscan be deployed within a network to limit network traffic to specific types of traffic or to specific users, minimizing the risk of a cyber-attack. Another tactic is the implementation of NAT (Network Address Translation). NAT is a technique that obscures devices on a network from inbound access, but doesn’t affect traffic on a network. Finally, VPN appliances also make factory-to-factory, supply chain-to-factory, or factory-to-distributor communication secure by creating virtual “tunnels” to transmit sensitive data through.
The Future: Connect. Monitor. Control.
The efficiency of the Connected Factory, Industry 4.0 and/or IIoT model isn’t derived from the sheer volume of connections, but from more valuable connections, and the competitive edge gained by harmonious dialogue between devices and humans. Seamless communication with operators, control systems and software applications, combined with practical networking options and support for native features and protocols, delivers exponential meaning to data extracted from industrial devices. These capabilities can take automation and remote management to new levels, thereby making this vision a reality. With the thoughtful integration of supporting components that are designed specifically for this goal, the ability to connect, monitor and control will drive productivity and operational efficiencies well into the future.