Asia: Get Future-Ready For The Fourth Industrial Revolution

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With the rise of Industrial Automation (IA) in manufacturing, legacy Operational Technology (OT) has become increasingly outdated. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is paving the way for industrial organisations to harness the latest technologies and remain competitive in a rapidly evolving industry. By Michael Fyson, Regional Sales Director for ANZ & ASEAN, Stratus Technologies

Asia is predicted to become the world’s next economic common market after Europe. In 2017, Asia is on the brink of an inevitable transition to a decentralised, automated control ecosystem that will transform industrial organisations and lift operational efficiency and product innovation to new heights, creating integrated business models along the way.

In an environment of disruption, increased global competition, rising cost pressures and changing customer demands, organisations across Asia need to get future-ready. To do this, they must rethink traditional operational models and embrace IA and the IIoT.

Enter Industry 4.0

Organisations across Asia are beginning to ride the wave of ‘Industry 4.0’ that is sweeping global manufacturing. Dubbed the ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’, Industry 4.0 will build the ‘smart factories’ of the future – seamless operational systems equipped with autonomous robots, big data and analytics, augmented reality, additive manufacturing, horizontal and vertical system integration, simulation, the Cloud, and cyber security functions.

In Singapore, manufacturing currently accounts for about a fifth of GDP and more than 400,000 jobs. Yet in the last 12 months, the industry has experienced a rapid decline in new orders and production output and is facing the challenges of an ageing workforce and stagnant productivity.

Meanwhile, in China, increased labour costs and rising industrial demand has led to a boom in industrial robotics. According to the International Federation of Robotics, since 2013, the number of shipments of multipurpose industrial robots in China doubled to an estimated 75,000 in 2015, with that number forecast to double again to 150,000 by 2018.

As leading business hubs in Asia, Singapore and China have much to gain from embracing Industry 4.0. Already, these nations are responding to the rising customer demand for seamless, 24/7 operations. Across the region, organisations are leveraging IIoT solutions to provide greater flexibility and improved efficiency of services, as well as lowered production costs. They are developing new customer-relevant applications to bring to market and investing in long-term automation capabilities.

Five Actions For Businesses Entering Industry 4.0 In 2017

1.Leverage The Benefits Of The IIoT Without Replacing Existing Systems

A significant problem with legacy manufacturing equipment is that systems have not been upgraded or replaced in parallel with the technological innovations being introduced in the world around them.

To join the next wave in manufacturing, manufacturers with legacy systems need to adopt an innovative approach to automation. For many organisations, the total replacement of expensive operational systems is not an option. The challenge, then, is to think of ways to integrate existing systems with tools that allow them to communicate with the newer, more streamlined and efficient systems that make up the IIoT.

The good news for manufacturers with legacy automation infrastructures is that it is possible to leverage the benefits of the IIoT without ripping-and-replacing existing systems.

Organisations can unlock tremendous business value by moving towards standards-based architectures, deploying intelligent sensors, embracing secure connectivity, and focusing on fault-tolerance. Taking an incremental approach, organisations can begin to unlock the transformative value of the IIoT.

2.Aim To Merge IT And Operations Systems

Beyond the obvious set of challenges that exist for operations teams who are trying to think of ways to update decades-old equipment in disparate networks, there is the conundrum of how the OT team should interact with IT, tasked with maintaining applications, security, mobility and other business functions.

Where possible, manufacturers should go about consolidating both operations and IT, especially at ‘the edge’, where intelligence is distributed via data gathered by sensors. The challenge is to find ways of merging effectively, as OT and IT often have different requirements.

While consolidation may ease the burden of having two teams, it also may force an integration for which employees are not ready. This means that both a cultural and a technological transformation are required.

The IIoT has made the flow of information less of a pain point for manufacturers and more of a competitive advantage. However, for organisations to truly leverage the benefits of the IIoT, communication between IT and operations must become effortless. Organisations need to find common ground between IT and operations, identifying pitfalls to avoid as manufacturers look to merge systems in the transition to the IIoT.

3.Greater Connectivity Is The Way Of The Future

Industrial environments typically consist of discrete automation systems adopted by the organisation over time. These systems are often not tied together, resulting in ‘siloed’ data stores. Older automation systems are also difficult to integrate with other data stores, which poses problems for data sharing and ‘Big Data’ capabilities.

Data sharing and connectivity are central to unlocking the benefits of the IIoT. Yet manufacturers equate greater connectivity with greater risk – and rightfully so if they are still running legacy operating systems that are no longer supported and cannot be updated with security patches.

Organisations implementing an IIoT strategy must accept that greater connectivity is inevitable and update critical points of vulnerability accordingly. Some potential strategies are to upload data to a Cloud based store, or to adopt heavily firewalled automated control systems.

4.Prioritise Data Resilience

In an IIoT environment where data is central to manufacturing operations, the risk of data loss is critical. Any unplanned downtime in a manufacturing environment is very bad news.

Manufacturers travelling down the IIoT path must view fault tolerance as a mission-critical priority. That means making sure no data is lost at any point, from the data source at the edge to the historian database where data is consolidated and made available to analytics engines. The closer to the source the data loss is, the greater the impact on the resulting analytics output on the back end. After all, if you lose data at the point of collection, it’s lost forever.

In a distributed IIoT environment, end-to-end fault tolerance is crucial; particularly in virtualised environments where potential points of failure are concentrated in a single machine. A key step toward data resilience is making sure any new systems added – from standard computing platforms to networking infrastructure – are based on industry-standard components to allow interoperability.

5.Consider Lessons Learned From Other Industries

The IIoT may span a wide gamut of industries, each with a unique set of pain points and potential solutions, but manufacturers stand to learn a lot from seeing which industries are rising to the top and how others have approached their move to IIoT.

From the oil and gas industry’s ageing legacy equipment, to finance’s need to minimise latency, to building security’s need for the connectivity of ‘smart systems’ – all have models that manufacturing can learn from. Organisations in the manufacturing industry can learn a lot from the challenges faced by decision-makers before them.

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