Today’s factory floor needs to span generations, with legacy equipment installed in 1980 flawlessly integrating with tools built to last through 2080. Future-forward industrial assets are usually readily accessible to the industrial Internet of Things (IoT)—a new technology paradigm that is helping manufacturers improve competitiveness, increase profitability and reduce downtime.
But to capture these benefits, factories need an IoT ecosystem that integrates legacy assets—some of which were built before the Internet was even invented—with modern assets that rely on internet-based connectivity.
The IoT is a technology revolution that reaches far beyond the world of manufacturing. At its most basic definition, IoT combines the virtual world of data with the physical world of “things.” “Things” are defined by the specific IoT context—they can be buildings, phones, light switches, clothes and innumerable other physical objects. The physical object performs a function that creates data and that data is uploaded to the Internet, where it can be accessed, manipulated and analyzed by users or other machines.
In the Industrial Automation realm, “things” are devices, machines, software applications and other assets that powers manufacturing. The industrial IoT connects the plant floor to the enterprise—enhancing visualization, data analysis and holistic insights so that operators can optimize critical processes and performance. A key component of the industrial IoT is “data synergy,” which is the integration of data from many sources to create value.
For example, an enterprise that relies on timely finished goods delivery could integrate weather forecast data with supply chain data in order to proactively mitigate any weather issues that could impact delivery schedules. Data synergy is the reason it is so valuable to connect legacy machines—and modern equipment—into IoT solutions for a complete, integrated view of machines across the factory floor as part of a “smart factory.”
There’s one universal challenge to creating this interconnected environment: connecting legacy machines with modern tools. Connecting legacy machines is challenging, but not impossible. There are several strategies an organization can adopt—each with their own unique benefits and drawbacks. Consider these three different methodologies as you evaluate how to create an IoT solution that will optimize your legacy data.
Rip-and-replace involves fully scrapping legacy equipment and replacing it with modern, IoT-enabled machinery. The benefits of a Rip-and-replace approach involve:
Replacing outdated assets ensures an organization has the most up-to-date technology and its full benefits: improved performance, lower power consumption and readiness for next-gen features, such as augmented reality.
Some outdated legacy equipment is no longer supported by vendors, leading to significant business risks in both the short- and long-term. New machinery means full support from vendors. Organizations that choose this methodology do not need to worry about assets that are only truly understood by the one close-to-retirement expert.
Manufacturing assets are built to last, but they often require extensive maintenance. Aging, unreliable hardware can put a major strain on maintenance resources and as IoT connectivity comes into play, this strain can extend to IT departments. New equipment won’t have this issue—similarly, safety features of new equipment are likely to be up to modern standards.
However, there are some cons to rip-and-replace, including:
Also referred to as a “retrofit” or “wrap-and-extend” solution, this method involves using third-party, IoT-ready connectivity solutions—such as OPC servers, IoT platforms, IoT Gateways and sensors—that extend the capabilities of legacy equipment.
The benefits of this approach include:
However, they also include potential downsides to third-party IIoT solutions, such as:
Connectivity: These solutions are designed to provide seamless data communication across disparate software applications, machines, devices and protocols. In addition, a Best-of-Breed approach often reaches beyond just connectivity and includes aggregation of data through a single application, which helps provide the vital data synergy aspect of IoT enablement.
Flexibility: Best-of-breed solutions offer pluggable functionality that serves a wide variety of industries and use cases. There are more and more IoT sensors on the market that specifically address different industries and KPIs.
Scalability: The Best-of-breed approach gives users a single access point to their data. If a new machine comes online, or a new application is installed, only a single connection needs to be made—not a complex matrix of connections.
Cost-Effectiveness: These solutions were designed to help extend legacy machine lifespan—so even the most outdated tools continue to provide new value and new data. The cost of the solution itself is generally flexible—price points can change as components are added or removed.
Overall Benefits to the Enterprise: Best-of-breed solutions are IoT-ready and reach beyond the plant floor to provide visibility into operational data for the entire enterprise. The impact on the enterprise as a whole depends on how the data is used, but by gathering integrated data from both legacy and modern machines, this approach has the potential to enhance decision-making at all levels of an organization.
A solution created by internal personnel and technical resources. In-house projects are supported internally and created with the organization’s specific goals in mind.
The benefits of an in-house solution include:
However, in-house solutions face downsides such as:
Connectivity: In-house approaches vary widely— and so does the expertise in connectivity. An expert might know a lot about one protocol or sensor type, but may not have the requisite expertise for other connectivity needs.
Flexibility: These projects are infinitely flexible, constrained only by time and resources.
Scalability: An in-house connectivity solution applied to many of the same machine types doesn’t necessarily serve as a connectivity platform for additional devices and applications—unless it is explicitly architected that way. Introducing new protocols in the future means the in-house solution may require more development work.
Cost-Effectiveness: Using an in-house method will ensure that external costs are limited. However, internal costs can be hard to track and it is often difficult to compare the total cost of an in-house solution. While third-party vendors can keep pricing low by spreading their costs across multiple customers, organizations that invest in building their own solutions bear all the development costs alone.
Overall Benefits to the Enterprise: Using an in-house approach ensures that an organization’s specific goals are met, and using internal resources ensures that technicians are possibly more readily available to make changes. However, there may be more demands on the in-house IoT-building team than they can meet long-term, as they will be responsible for bug fixes, troubleshooting, training, product improvements and maintenance.
Any manufacturer who hopes to stay competitive in today’s market needs the data synergy made possible by an IoT-connected factory. By keeping with the status quo of legacy machines, some manufacturers will be left behind as others leverage IoT to increase productivity, uptime and efficiency.
All the strategies outlined above will help extend your legacy equipment’s usefulness and optimize its data through an IoT-driven integration. But the best approach starts with your specific goals and determining the right trade-offs for your organization.
Learn more today by speaking with an industrial connectivity expert.