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As seen in Automation World, manufacturers, vendors, and service providers are working diligently to understand the net impact of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
IIoT is disrupting manufacturing, starting with existing systems, and this is spurring initiatives, pilots, and studies across the world. While IIoT is a step in the future, it does beg the question for many manufacturers, “What about the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that I have today?”
Its important to note that the MES is one part of the process, people and systems triangle of productivity. IIoT is a net productivity enabler and a complement, rather than a substitute, to MES. In fact, MES have been notoriously costly to implement with long execution schedules. However, we have seen where smart devices and cloud-based systems allow manufacturers to stand up line downtime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) within days without substantial investments - costing less than a monthly luxury car payment. These IIoT smart devices can even enable machines that are not network connected or include a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
This progress coincides with a greater demand for return on assets (productivity). On demand customization, in response to increased competition, has drastically changed how manufacturers are thinking about their lines and plants. This is only one example of changing customer trends resulting in higher productivity demands.
This shift in productivity disrupts all three aspects: people, processes, and systems, through the application of available technology. The catalyst for this improvement is access to data, a lot of data, in a steady and consistent manner. The MES layer is intended to accumulate and provide this data.
“I would like to get access to my plant data, but its too expensive with my current system.” – Discrete Manufacturer
“I am getting data from all my equipment. I like how it’s presented. But, it’s stale and I don’t trust it. Data seems to be manipulated before it’s reported up.” – Beverage Packager
“For every 10 process parameters, only one equipment parameter is logged.” – Process Automation Manager
These scenarios show the gaps that can be filled to positively impact productivity. These gaps exist in varying degrees across MES installations and this is precisely where IIoT comes into play to expand the capabilities of MES rather than replace it. Technological progress enabling IIoT ranges anywhere from smarter sensors and actors, to more reliable cloud infrastructures. IIoT in this sense is less of a disruptor, and more of a sign of progress along the continuum of technology.
To answer the initial question of “What about the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that I have today?” - it is important to realize that it is less about substituting and more about complementing the MES with IIoT.
Call to action:
A properly-implemented MES can bridge the world of corporate IT and connect it to the near real-time world of automated operational technologies.
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As seen in Automation World, we would like to respond to the allegations of unpreparedness in the article - The IIoT Integrators Are Coming.
In particular, we would like to refute the statement that industrial control system integrators as a whole “are not particularly Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-savvy.” This may be true for other system integrators, but certainly is not true for Avid.
Our company has a dedicated team focused on Smart Manufacturing solutions that include smart connected products, cloud solutions, big data and machine learning. We are gearing up to fully support this industry as our customers demand the solutions. We have experts on staff, as well as partnerships that provide us with all of the capability necessary to deliver the most challenging IIoT applications today. We are consulting with top deep learning experts to leverage their knowledge of data mining and translate this to the industrial space. We have been in discussions with executive level resources at large globally-known providers of cloud-based and machine learning platforms to discuss how we can introduce smart control room technology to our customers and create a cognitive SCADA environment that will be a rich resource for our customer’s operational teams. Our vision is to be on the front lines of this technology, but let's face it, IIoT is still a nascent technology. Although we see lots of low hanging fruit, there still needs to be a demand for these applications. We believe the demand will grow as the industry looks for solutions to its problems and the only obvious solution will be an IIoT solution.
One of our biggest challenges is that unlike the commercial space where smart watches, smart phones, smart cars, smart appliances, smart electric outlets, smart light bulbs, and even smart forks exist, we in the industrial space don't have a plethora of smart instruments from which to choose. We're certain these smart instruments are in some R&D lab being created, but the most interesting ideas we've heard have come from small startups.
One such product, a smart horn, is a device connected to wireless Ethernet with a web-based configuration page, similar to commercial smart devices. It would also have an onboard OPC Client to point directly to a tag in the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) or point to some other data source using MQTT. There is no need for hardwiring signals to and from the PLC. Also, there is potentially no need to program the PLC and no need for downtime to wire the output signal to the horn. It will only be necessary to mount, configure and go. This could be the same story for proximity switches, limit switches, temperature switches, transmitters, etc. If you remove the cost of engineering and construction to add new instrumentation, it becomes increasingly cost effective to provide visibility where there are currently holes in your SCADA monitoring.
We do have Ethernet VFDs, Ethernet Flowmeters and Hart devices that give us tremendous data and look somewhat similar to IIoT devices, but they don't learn and communicate to each other and make decisions. Decisions are all still made by the PLC, which definitely doesn't have any machine learning capabilities, and we are not yet close to having these devices encompass the four categories of Industrial IoT: Connectivity, Cloud, Big Data Analytics and Application Development.
Another point of contention in the article is the statement, “They [industrial control system integrators] don’t know networking and TCP/IP. So it is a big scary world that is coming in and they don’t see the benefit.” Industrial control system integrators have been installing private cloud solutions for more than a decade now. We design top-to-bottom networks reaching from the business systems to the plant floor, the only thing scary on our end is when non-automation companies attempt to come down into the manufacturing space.
The point here is that not all integrators are unprepared. We're certain other system integration companies, are planning to charge forward with their customers by continuing to provide top-notch automation systems, while also supplying the necessary IIoT solutions that will help to move our entire industry forward.