Business and industry traditionally move a little slower with technology for many reasons, such as vast installed bases of equipment that are expected to operate for a long time, but there’s no doubt that the IoT and the so-called Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) are coming, and many enterprises are moving away from traditional methods in order to embrace it.Over recent years, businesses have moved from a traditional hierarchical and centrally controlled organisational structure to create a more open and decentralised model. We’re now seeing this evolution developing rapidly within the information and operational scope of industry too. Decentralised and automated control environments will lead to what many believe will be the biggest transformation in manufacturing and operations since the Industrial Revolution. The IIoT will take product innovation and efficiency of operations to an entirely new and uncharted level, and will create new business models as it does so. However, its effective implementation will rely on designers, developers, and engineers ensuring they deliver in three key areas.A new process of designJust as management structures have been decentralised, and geographic, regional, and department specific teams work autonomously, so too will industrial automation systems and processes. It will become untenable for all software platforms in remote locations to be centrally controlled, and this greater autonomy will permeate to increasingly concentrated operational areas. These individualised control centres will collect and collate local data, reporting back to the centre, and thus enabling rapid operational decision making in a super-agile industrial environment.This will necessitate new considerations in the design of autonomous but connected systems, and system availability will advance to the forefront of design thinking. Within the context of an ‘always on’ environment, even the most fleeting downtime in the IIoT ecosystem – if an ‘on’ switches to ‘off’ – will be devastating to operational sustainability.There are three major areas of consideration that must be addressed in the design, implementation, and administration of IIoT enabled manufacturing enterprises. Failing to address these considerations will lead to unstable IIoT environments and threaten reputation, sales, and profits.Operational technology is different to ITWe’re all familiar with information technology, but the mistake that some organisations will make is to confuse IT for operational technology: they are two entirely different propositions.Information technology environments are managed by teams of technology experts. Think of an IT control room and you think of servers, monitors, and storage platforms. Bright, airy, and spacious, and continually updated to the latest standard.Operational technology focuses on systems that run manufacturing equipment. These are often housed in cramped and remote locations. They don’t benefit from climate control, and are usually managed by people who are not IT specialists. Yet organisations expect them to run continuously without interruption.Organisations simply don’t have the resource – in space, environment, and manpower – to commit to maintaining operational technology as they do information technology. So solutions must be simple, reliable, and easily maintained.Think about how a water company relies on dozens if not hundreds of pumping stations along the length of its networked pipelines. Ensuring that each of these pumping stations and its connected applications are controlled by a single server – one that is fault tolerant – saves space and enables new updates to be processed remotely. Time, money, and downtime are saved.In the design of IIoT, the platform must be developed to be easily maintained, either by onsite operational technologists or by IT staff remotely.The virtual is vulnerableWhen discussing the virtual environment, developments have led to multiple applications running on a single platform. This reduces costs as less space is needed, energy use decreases, and maintenance is reduced. However, this concentration of applications means that many processes now have a single point of failure. i.e. if one server goes down, all of the applications running from it go down too.It’s of paramount importance, therefore, that the platform is extremely robust, and organisations will need to consider how best to achieve this: they will need to design virtual platforms to the needs of the operational environment in order to be effective additions to the organisational IIoT.Downtime will happen: plan and implement appropriatelyNo two industries are the same, and no two businesses are the same in any industry. It also follows that individual locations, divisions, and departments operate with uniqueness. This uniqueness includes maximum downtime tolerances to sustain operational effectiveness. When considering this, a business needs to consider the implications of downtime. Within the manufacturing environment, downtime will have a knock-on effect to other areas. It reduces output, may impact upon the utilisation of supplies or other resource, and might have consequences for safety. Revenues could be measurably and adversely affected.Cost cannot therefore be the overriding deciding factor when designing and implementing IIoT. Remote platforms must be robust in order to limit impact of malfunction to acceptable levels.Profit in the world of IIoTFor businesses, the advantages of IIoT are manifold. Decentralisation will increase agility in local and global markets, decrease costs, and help to maintain the competitive edge. However, organisations that fail to understand the essential elements of design, development, and implementation of IIoT will fall into the trap of treating this new environment as they do their information technology resource.Operational technology is unique in nature, and its implementation must be carefully and rigorously strategised and planned to be effective. Platforms must be robust, reliable, and easily maintained in order to realise the full benefits of the IIoT.
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