Jan Hemper

Blog by Jan Hemper - 10 July 2017

Selection, deployment and utilisation of appropriate technology enhances almost everything: improving quality, reducing costs and generating new revenue streams. As Technical Director of InVMA, I analyse functionality and performance requirements to architect and to advise on systems that provide real, useful and tangible business benefits through the use of new and emerging technologies.

The evolution of plant floor monitoring technology

 

Manufacturing is set to account for over a quarter – 27% in total – of the worldwide $14.4 trillion IoT market between 2013 and 2022, according to Cisco. But how did we get here? Why is the IoT such a transformative possibility for the manufacturing industry?

The answer lies in plant floor monitoring – a crucial tool for manufacturing businesses to drive efficiencies and innovation – and one in which the IoT plays a central role. In today’s blog, we’re taking a closer look at the evolution of plant floor monitoring technology, and where the IoT could take it next.

Evolution phase 1: converging IT and OT

Efficiency on the manufacturing floor has always depended on careful monitoring of the different machines and sensors that make up that floor. Similarly, that hardware has always produced data – whether simple measurements of temperature and numbers of actions completed, or more complicated information regarding machine wear and effectiveness.

However, such data was, for a long time, locked up in proprietary technologies and networks, and couldn’t be effectively combined with computing power to drive strategic insights. Sure, management would know when a problem was occurring with one of the machines on the floor, but they wouldn’t necessarily be able to pinpoint and isolate that problem. Instead, they would have to shut down production while investigating the issue – a hugely costly and complicated process.

The first evolutionary phase, then, began with the introduction of Ethernet capability and IP address technologies on the plant floor, which enabled the convergence of information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). For the first time, production information began to become available to manufacturing staff – so elements of plant floor monitoring could be automated.

Phase 2: challenging proprietary networks

Next, technology designers and suppliers began embracing open-system architectures in conjunction with Internet technologies. This was the first step towards challenging the proprietary environments that had dominated all levels of industrial manufacturing environments.

Proprietary environments have their advantages – they can be cost-effective and simple to manage, and they give managers clear lines of communication with suppliers. But they also lock manufacturing businesses into systems that may not be quite right for them. Breaking those proprietary environments began placing power back in the hands of manufacturing businesses themselves. In terms of plant floor monitoring, this opened up organisations’ abilities to innovate and expand.

Phase 3: fully online smart devices

This brings us to the latest phase of plant floor monitoring technology, the fully-fledged Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Now, smart, fully online devices can be deployed throughout the manufacturing floor, each with Ethernet fully built in. The IT-OT convergence is complete – sensors and machinery can be deployed that are fully integrated with organisations’ IT infrastructures from the outset.

But what does this mean in practice? From a plant floor monitoring perspective, it means that remote monitoring can take place across vastly complex and growing environments, because each IoT-enabled device is able to collect data and transmit it to a shared, centralised cloud-based analytics engine. In turn, staff can access monitoring information from anywhere in the world, via a simple web browser.

“Hang on though, my assets are not smart nor connected!” Well the IoT is collapsing the price point of accurate sensor technology with “Lick and Stick” wireless sensors and low cost wired sensors becoming very inexpensive. The cost of data acquisition and retrofitting is becoming affordable.

With elements down to the levels of motors and drives Ethernet-enabled, operational insight can be delivered to managers at the plant level. When an issue occurs, it can be rapidly pinpointed and isolated automatically, rather than necessitating the shutdown of an entire system. It has been estimated, for example, that for an operator in an oil refinery to switch off a system in order to identify a problem could cost as much as $1 million an hour – being able to run that process automatically is a dramatic time and money saver.

Above all, the IoT era is enabling manufacturing businesses to bring people and technology closer together – which means that better business decisions can be made. IoT has hugely transformative potential in the competitive manufacturing sector – are you on board yet?

 

Topics: IoT, connected products, asset monitoring, plant floor machinery, machinery, smart factory, smart monitoring, remote monitoring

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