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How IT/OT convergence moves digital manufacturing forward

March 26, 2021

How IT/OT convergence moves digital manufacturing forward
powered by Sounder

Historically, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) departments within a manufacturing company have existed separately.
However, IoT is changing the game and tearing down old silos. Complex machines are now integrating with network sensors and being managed by advanced analytic software, blurring the line between where IT ends and OT begins.
In this episode of B2B Tech Talk, we are joined by Mike Fahrion, CTO of the IoT Solutions Group Advantech, to discuss with Travis King the convergence of IT and OT, and how this can move digital manufacturing forward.
We also talk about:
  • The past and present of OT
  • The future of OT
  • The difference between OT and IT
  • Top priorities for IT and OT professionals
  • The future of technology

The past and present of OT

Applying technology to automation started out with the “wild west days” of electronics in the early ’80s, when vendors only made the hardware they needed to meet very specific applications. Because there was a lack of strict standards, every vendor came up with their own dedicated appliances, their own software stacks and their own communication protocols.
The world of IT has progressed substantially since then. Networking speeds have become suitable for high-speed automation, so much so that we can apply similar technologies into the factory floor as we break down archaic proprietary structures. However, there are still significant technological challenges in the manufacturing space.
For example, because of refresh cycles, every 3-5 years many offices will get new computers and technologies; but that doesn’t work on the factory floor because you’re dealing with technology that might date all the way back to the ’60s. It’s not as simple as replacing it either, when oftentimes it’s a custom-built machine that costs millions of dollars. Moving forward, OT will have to face the challenge of breaking down those silos and bringing that old technology into the future.

The future of OT

If the will of the market and the customer presides and is able to break down silos, OT will see something that resembles the world of IT today. It will be more standard-driven and will use an open architecture across the board. Traditionally in the world of automation, a machine was built to do a particular thing and an application was closely tied to that asset. But in the future we’ll see the decoupling of applications from assets, so the data that comes from these machines can be consumed by any application.

Automation in IT vs. OT

We touch IT every day: it’s everything in the front office we’re exposed to.
It’s responsible for networking people over mobile devices, it’s the enabler behind e-commerce, it touches social media, etc. With IT we can quickly update technology and have lower cost of failure which means if something breaks, it rarely causes someone injury.
But in the OT world, the environment is high risk because these technologies might be controlling a chemical processing plant or high-speed automation. If a factory was totally digitally transformed, every stakeholder would essentially have instant access to information they need in real time. In traditional automation you would see a report at the end of the day; it’s like using data in the rearview mirror and then trying to adjust to that information moving forward. But the pandemic accelerated the need for automation to be more nimble and robust and to make data more readily available in manufacturing. 

The future of technology

The industry is quickly moving away from closed proprietary systems toward open architectures.
The top priority for OT will be to create a smooth path for solution providers and end users and make it easier for integrators and partners to quickly provide value to their customers.
Providers can start to work toward this by decoupling assets from applications, driving all the data from those operations into some central location so it can be consumed from anywhere.