Smart process automation and data exchange technologies — more commonly known as Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — are transforming manufacturing operations, and many companies are looking to capitalize on the benefits. The value of a connected system is easily hypothesized, and more companies are seeking to make this a reality. At the same time, many companies question where to start.

One certainty from automation experts is that the age of digitization and shared data will not bypass the automation industry. As Darin Harbor, territory sales manager at Rockwell Automation, notes, “IIoT is a transformation that is happening now and will continue to evolve over time.”

How can Industry 4.0 and IIoT be utilized in a real manufacturing space? Process automation equipment makers are developing proprietary solutions to help. Via smart manufacturing, companies can bring together information technology and operations technology systems. Such an approach provides opportunities to access, monitor and capitalize on operations, business and transactional data across a manufacturer’s system.

This article shares how a systems integrator and a manufacturer of industrial automation solutions collaborated to upgrade the OEM. They share their best practices for a digital transformation.

Autonomous Manufacturing

“The end game [for all manufacturers] is autonomous manufacturing,” Harbor says. Manufacturers and systems integrators alike saw the beginning of this new direction when the programmable logic controller (PLC) was first introduced. So, what is the next step? How can manufacturers position themselves to stay ahead of industry shifts? Where should manufacturers focus their efforts?

Representatives from controls companies met to discuss real-world applications and best practices, including one automation company’s own digital transformation. Traditionally, industrial automation systems have almost always been physically separated from business network systems. This physical separation, by nature, made the industrial networks secure from remote threats. A challenge of the connected network is that you must have a good integration plan to make it a success.

When asked what the first step of the transformation process should be, both Darin Harbor and Mick Mancuso, director of Connected Enterprise operations at Rockwell Automation, agreed that partnering with a systems integrator to execute an internal analysis should precede anything else. The analysis should be robust and should include three major focuses.

systems integrator

A systems integrator partner can help to guide you through the strategy and implementation.

1. Determine Business Outcomes

With a large product portfolio, Rockwell Automation plants were already running enterprise resource-planning (ERP) systems in addition to using a range of manufacturing processes at its various plants. None of the systems communicated with one another, and data was being captured and analyzed in different ways.

To address this, the company began work to integrate the enterprise through digital connectivity. The first step to completing this change was to determine what business outcomes would result in the most benefit for the company. The business outcomes were put into four categories:

  • Order Tracking and Status. How are orders tracked at any given time? How are products progressing, and how are they sequenced? What kind of inventory tracking or scheduling processes are in place?
  • Operator Control. What standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the operators following? Is it closed loop? Can smart assets be tied into that process? What methods of performance control are in place? Can operator performance be tracked? Can quality standards be tracked? Are operators trained and qualified?
  • Process Control. What is the overall equipment effectiveness? What is the yield? What scrap is being generated? Are there opportunities for improved efficiency or effectiveness?
  • Data Collection. What software is included in any of the machines? Is there a centralized HMI platform that can interact with the different systems? In what ways can data collection be automated?

After determining the business outcomes of the existing systems, the automation controls manufacturer was able to determine the desired outcomes of the new system. Chief among them was “…to establish a fully connected system that could be used to track and swiftly respond to issues that might occur anywhere in the world,” according to Harbor. “That could include responding to a surge in demand at one facility by ramping up production at another nearby facility, or adjusting to a disruption with one supply network partner by working with another.”

2. Review and Understand Network Design

A large part of the initial assessment for Rockwell was the network analysis. This analysis included a review of the current plant networks, including capabilities, bandwidth and overall design.

Transferring an existing system to a digitally connected platform must include setting up firewalls to protect data entering from external, nonrelated sources. While firewalls help prevent unwanted data insertions, another key concern is unauthorized data extractions, according to Michael Riehn, IT director at Epic. The primary means of protecting against data extractions is through the development of data access protocols, he says.

Partnering with a systems integrator to review the company network ensures that all areas of importance have been reviewed and addressed. Companies also will be able to gather data regarding areas of opportunity and improvement. Complete solutions to a digital transformation consider the hardware, software and services needed to be able to connect plant assets. Solutions also should factor in network updates that will be needed to support the transfer of data.

Regular security checks and maintenance also should be factored into a cost analysis. According to Riehn, “Security patching is important, and it should be done on a schedule. This is a process that should not be skipped. It is common for new security threats to arise as vulnerabilities are discovered. Consequently, this process should include not only computers but also firmware updates on network devices like switches.”

Installed-base evaluations and network assessments should be executed to get an understanding of the as-is state versus what is required to get to the future state. Often, those assessments will include any additional system components: hardware and sensors (to collect critical data). The wireless coverage available to the plant also should be evaluated.

Information transferred across the network can include machine up/down times, maintenance indicators and production quality data. Many firms may find that their current network capabilities are not sophisticated enough to deal with the amount of data that will be compiled and reported through a connected system. This one finding will, most certainly, require the consideration of a network redesign and update.

Understanding network baselines helps firms identify where improvements can be made to allow for updated programs that will assist with improving outcomes. For example, since completing its network redesign and digital transformation, Rockwell Automation estimates that it has experienced a 4 to 5 percent annual improvement in productivity. Additionally, parts-per-million defects have been reduced by half through improved quality.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are prevalent in the manufacturing industry, and many companies are looking to capitalize on the benefits.

3. Gather Intellectual Knowledge from the Workforce

Another integral part to strategizing a digital plant transformation is determining the priority human capital and manufacturing process information. To aid in this, Rockwell utilized three categories: people, process and technology.

When discussing this process, Mancuso recognized the importance of technology but stressed the importance of people. “The technology is a big part of [being successful], and it is usually what gets a lot of attention. But, it is important to recognize the people and the process that this technology is being applied to.” Teams at the company worked to understand the culture of its personnel, the change management strategy that needed to be implemented based on workforce feedback, and the best way to train personnel.

What this means for entities trying to make a change is that gathering the intellectual knowledge from the workforce is vital to building an effective strategy. Information regarding reoccurring system errors, on-the-ground work arounds and overall inefficiencies will be best gathered from plant personnel.

Following people is the process. When it comes to system changes, it may be tempting to choose an all-inclusive technological solution and simply implement it. However, according to Harbor, “If there is a bad process, and we put the technology on top of it, it is not necessarily going to make the process better.” Without a disciplined process and updated SOPs in place, decisions that focus solely on technology can be incredibly disruptive.

To circumvent this hurdle, Rockwell Automation worked with plant personnel across the enterprise to understand what procedures and methods were used with the current systems. By capturing and organizing this information, they designed a process with the new technology that helped minimize interruptions and improve quality and production grades — leading to an increase in quality metrics and a reduction of lead times.

In conclusion, the industry is shifting to a more digital platform. Although a major operations overhaul may be in the planning process now, this article outlines some concrete, real-world concerns that firms can consider to help ensure they are not left behind.

When contemplating a digital upgrade, think about whether working with a systems integrator makes sense. And, consider starting small. Do not let your company’s size be a deterrent from moving forward and staying up-to-date.

 “Companies can start by piloting ideas,” says Mancuso. “Find a production line that has some opportunities and institute changes on that line, thereby creating a model line. Study and develop that line into one that brings value and return on the investment, and then replicate those changes across your plant.”

Additionally, a systems integrator partner can help to guide you through the strategy and implementation. Welcoming the digital age should be part of your strategy, and you do not have to go through the process alone. Firms can customize their experience to move forward at their own pace.