The Journey of IT & OT Integration

  • December 14, 2015
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Feature

Automation Perspectives from Automation Fair 2015

By Bill Lydon, Editor

On Tuesday, November 17, 2015, Rockwell Automation hosted their annual Automation Perspectives half-day, global media event. The event brings together industry experts and users to talk about the current, most-pressing industrial automation issues. It was clear from the panel discussions (including users and industry experts) that IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operations Technology) integration is evolving. Manufacturing management and industry experts generally agree that further efficiency improvements require the integration of IT and OT. Reflecting the fact that IT and OT integration is indeed happening, half of the users participating in the panel discussions had IT and business background rather than industrial automation.

The 2015 Automation Perspectives event was titled, “Creating Transformational Value with the Connected Enterprise.” The Automation Perspectives team framed the topics noting that the race is on to fully realize the promise of the fourth industrial revolution. While many challenges lie ahead, leading global manufacturers and industrial operators are laying the foundation for this transformation by converging information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Speakers referred to a number of initiatives worldwide, including Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and Smart Manufacturing Initiative that apply new technologies to connect the plant floor to the enterprise with the goal of optimizing and improving manufacturing performance.

Rockwell Automation’s Definition of IT & OT

In his keynote presentation, Keith Nosbusch, Chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, discussed the issues and challenges. He defined OT as the world of industrial equipment, machines, controllers, sensors, and actuators. Nosbusch defined IT as the world of end-to-end business processes. He noted OT and IT are critical to the success of an industrial enterprise but that historically these are two different worlds have different cultures, priorities, and base technology. “True convergence between these two worlds has been a challenge,” said Nosbusch. He described that to bridge the gap, Rockwell Automation has been co-innovating with Cisco to deliver a robust IT-based network infrastructure for industrial automation. The co-developed offering includes a broad range of hardware and software products solutions and services. Nosbusch emphasized that the standard secure Cisco networking infrastructure based on unmodified Ethernet is essential to IT and OT convergence. Nosbusch noted that industrial assets are smart when they have a microprocessor connected to a network that is self-aware and system aware. Also, through recent investments, Rockwell Automation is evolving the Logix architecture into a high-performance architecture.

Nosbusch stated that Rockwell’s “future proof” architecture will incorporate research results and standards from government sponsored initiatives, such as Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing, whenever they become relevant in the future.

Panel Discussions

Three panel discussions at Automation Perspectives included Rockwell Automation managers, industry experts, and six users. Panelists discussed and shared insights about their own unique journeys towards creating a Connected Enterprise. Key comments from the panel discussion include:

  • ou need process experts or analytic engines will not be effective.
  • IT should take the lead to move data securely, delivering it when needed.
  • The real challenge is having OT people familiar with the process while understanding business processes.
  • Common data models are required for efficient interchange of data between IT and OT.
  • The key to success is connecting the data through the entire architecture using non-proprietary open IT standards.
  • We have to educate and excite young people that manufacturing is cool, it is IT.
  • We require talent with more analytical skills.
  • We used to hire control engineers, designers, mechanical engineers to design motors gearboxes and drive chains. We found over the years that hiring model doesn’t work anymore. The control and mechanical design became intertwined so we shifted to Mechatronics engineers that deal in both worlds. I see that shift continuing now with the addition of people that understand the physics, analytics, and IT technology.

Thoughts & Observations

Automation Perspectives was certainly thought-provoking. This event, along with other industry events and forums, indicates that there is a clear trend of IT and OT integration.

PSUG (Process System User Group) and Automation Fair demonstrated a range of products that make it easier to implement functions and features without intimate knowledge of software programming. In this new environment, it looks to me that we need more business and manufacturing process analysts.

It was not surprising that half of the users participating in the panel discussions had IT and business background rather than industrial automation. This reflects a growing trend that organizational changes are evolving into some new form to create more responsive and efficient manufacturing. This evolution is similar to the early days of business computing.  Companies started by developing data processing departments that over time evolved into broader scope IT departments. Those IT departments began providing computing infrastructure and services including purchasing, order entry, manufacturing planning, inventory management, and manufacturing execution.

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