Digitalizing Manufacturing: 27th Annual ARC 2023 Industry Forum in Orlando

Digitalizing Manufacturing: 27th Annual ARC 2023 Industry Forum in Orlando
Digitalizing Manufacturing: 27th Annual ARC 2023 Industry Forum in Orlando

Users from a wide range of industries shared digital transformation knowledge, experience and valuable lessons at the 27th Annual ARC Industry Forum in Orlando. After viewing 50 out of more than 170 presentations, these are some of my takeaways and observations.

Digitalization manufacturing business strategy

Digitalization is recognized as an important manufacturing business strategy to be successful transitioning from a siloed organization to a unified team achieving common manufacturing and production goals. Strategic industrial manufacturing business digitalization is being driven from the top down to achieve industrial business goals. Pockets of industrial digitalization within companies are evolving into company-wide, top-management driven strategies to achieve goals including efficiency, productivity, profits, customer responsiveness, environmental stewardship and sustainability. Factors accelerating digitalization include experiences from the COVID pandemic, shrinking labor force, open standards and Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) technology. COTS tech includes Smartphones, tablet computers, private 5g, open source analytic and machine learning software tools, and cloud services particularly AWS and AZURE.

Perspective change

Every part of organizations, from plant people to executives, experiences the benefits of superior technology in their personal lives, while manufacturing products have lagged in the adoption of technology. James Haw PE, PMP, CMRP, vice president of Capital Programs at PureCycle Technologies, observed in his presentation, “In the old days, all the great technology was at work, and we didn’t have great technology at home. Now we have great technology at home and not so great technology at work.” 

A common theme throughout many presentations was that the user experience must be easy like in our personal life. For example, a maintenance person close to retirement may be uncomfortable using a personal computer but very comfortable using a mobile device as a maintenance system human interface.

Empowering people

Presenters generally agree that Industrial Digital Transformation empowers people to do their job achieving resilient operations that improve manufacturing performance and overcome business risks. The technology exists to empower people throughout the plant to be more efficient and responsive. The recent pandemic experience has brought sharply into focus the that the only certainty is uncertainty. Factors bringing this into focus include increasing cybersecurity threats, new regulatory compliance mandates, supply chain disruptions, extremes in weather, sustainability and energy goals, and more strenuous plant and personnel safety requirements.

Integrating siloed information

Digitalization can now be used to harmonize and share information previously trapped in siloed departments and systems to achieve superior manufacturing results. As one presenter framed it, “For many years, we were used to working in independent silos; today, digitalization is making it possible to leverage information throughout the organization for better results.” Supplier solutions have also contributed to siloed manufacturing systems, including automation, OT and enterprise business systems. I believe this is why there are many new and innovative solutions being applied to manufacturing and production from nontraditional industrial automation suppliers.

Architecting digital transformation

Many presenters emphasized that for manufacturers to be competitive, a major architectural shift is required that involves leveraging new technology and open standards to achieve meaningful manufacturing digital transformation.

“You can always chase incremental value by doing this use case and that use case, but to truly transform, you need to disrupt the organizations fabric and how you work and do your business, and to do that is by implementing transformation at scale. . . . How you do that is by leveraging a true digital twin," said Ibraham Al Syed of Celanese Dominic de Kerf, Dominic de Kerf, Plant Systems and Controls COE lead at Cargill discussing the importance of open-source common data models. “Using OPC UA without companion spec is creating legacy.”

Broadly communicative architecture vs. Purdue Model

Reflecting the innovative approaches explained by many presenters, Jeff Kent, vice president, Smart Platforms Technology & Innovation, at Procter & Gamble, pointed out the structural architecture of systems needs to change: “The Purdue model has served us well for many decades. In the end, we’ve been respecting that for too long. . . . What we really need to do is start to blur some of the levels of the Purdue model so this can be a much more broadly communicative architecture, much more open for everyone to participate. If we don’t introduce more agnostic network of things, I don’t think we can deliver industry 4.0 or the power of intelligence. Initiatives from field to cloud are very important and the OPC Foundation is at the forefront of defining what it should be.”

Kent further explained, “We are not going to respect the Purdue model. Why should we? Why send information through different layers of wheat be sent directly where it needs to go? We want to roll out to all 120 factories within a year. I see no better way to have a to have a common language between OT and IT than with OPC UA.” 

Analytics and machine learning

The application of analytics and machine learning was illustrated in many presentations. No code tools are being used that leverage the knowledge and experience of plant people without the need for data scientists to create these applications.

Private 5G digital reaching entire industrial operations and production

The application of private 5G wireless within plants is now practical to close the digital communications gap.  Clark Dressen, global director at Dow, provided a great example, noting that using private cellular instead of Wi-Fi is effectively and efficiently reaching people when they are in difficult to reach areas. Private 5G wireless enables digital communications for frontline employees with tablets and smart phones, which are now a prime plant personnel productivity tool, improving agile operations and increased plant safety.

Predictive maintenance ROI

Digitalization technologies are providing new, more efficient asset monitoring and predictive maintenance solutions and delivering greater Return On Investment (ROI). This is increasing plant uptime production capacity and safety. Digitalization examples presented include field workers using video headsets and maintenance people writing work orders when walking the plant.

OPC Foundation OPC UA Field eXchange (UAFX)

The importance of the OPC Foundation OPC UA Field eXchange (UAFX) is becoming obvious to provide meaningful contextual and semantic information from sensors to cloud and controller to controller. Jeff Kent, P&G, stated, “We all need a common language between IT and OT, and I see no better way than with the OPC Foundation is offering for all of us with these initiatives.” 

Edge computing

It was obvious that edge computing is growing to accomplish digitalization providing the means to directly communicate throughout the system, including to enterprise and cloud. Edge computing is being used to normalize data at the edge, run local machine learning, and connect existing equipment including plc's, DCS controllers and other devices to the plant information network. Edge computing is being accomplished in a number of ways, including intelligent gateways, industrial brick computers and enterprise/remote servers.

Growing open ecosystem

Growing open standards and cooperations are creating an open standards ecosystem including OPC foundation, NAMUR, ZVEI, Open Pass, Including CESMII, MSE, VDMA, MTConnect and Industrie 4.0.

User leveraging digitalization

After the 21st Annual ARC Industry Forum in 2017 I wrote an article titled, Compliance of the Victim that in the context of the automation industry means if one is unhappy with automation systems as they exist, and doesn't take action to help change the industry, one is a compliant victim. The presentations at 27th Annual ARC 2023 Industry Forum Orlando illustrated that users are taking action leveraging new and open technologies. These users have come to the realization that to compete on a global stage and remain competitive over the next several decades, it's necessary to leverage leadership technologies.

Achieving the goals of industrial digitalization manufacturing companies are creating more responsive architectures not restricted by rigid Purdue model hierarchy. It was clear in many of the presentations that existing traditional industrial automation supplier systems continue to be structured on the Purdue model hierarchy. This results in inefficient manufacturing business communications, increases costs and creates a great deal of cost and negatively impacting manufacturing efficiency.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.

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