Despite recognizing the benefits of a digital transformation, factories still struggle to show substantial progress with their IIoT programs. Why do so many Industry 4.0 initiatives grind to a halt? It comes down to connectivity. Data collection across plant floors from disparate systems presents a complex challenge. With an enterprise connectivity strategy, it’s possible to break down data silos and standardize data collection and security, increase implementation speed, and scale projects.
Today’s factory and manufacturing floors are often crowded with a variety of siloed machines and equipment. Typically, each one supports highly customized functions, protocols, and formats that make it difficult — if not impossible, without significant programming intervention — for those devices to communicate. As more organizations move toward smart factories, industrial connectivity becomes essential. Enterprise connectivity allows industrial organizations to streamline OT and IT systems collaboration and uses open-source communication protocols to enable software and machinery from different manufacturers to communicate and share data. With a standardized enterprise connectivity layer, data siloes disappear and factories can realize several key benefits.
Upgrading enterprise’s connectivity can help manufacturers achieve increasing value from existing technology assets. It also offers several very specific benefits that can help organizations reach their most important objectives, including:
What does connectivity look like in practice? There are several examples of how industrial organizations put connectivity to work. Sensors can be used to monitor material levels for key inventory, and they let purchasing managers know when stock gets below a certain level. Proactive, real-time data collection can alert organizations to the need of proactive maintenance before a machine’s performance is impacted by a potential problem. End-to-end connectivity allows for data collection from any asset and provides insight to quickly develop new manufacturing lines or sites as needed when production changes are required.
One of the most common questions from industrial organizations approaching this topic for the first time is: What is the difference between enterprise connectivity and brownfield connectivity? In reality, these terms have a significant amount of overlap. Organizational connectivity refers to moving toward a state where disparate systems, machines, and devices communicate. This may involve starting from scratch and building an entirely new connectivity solution. Brownfield connectivity refers to building on the hardware and software that’s already in place to find a connectivity solution that works.
Many factories have a customized or home-grown industrial connectivity solution in place, but future-proofing a facility requires more. It is possible to develop a strategy that leverages existing technology investments and optimizes connectivity by taking a brownfield approach.
The term brownfield is used to discuss the deployment of new IT systems that address key problems while also incorporating how those systems will integrate with existing software and architecture. Areas of consideration may include how they'll share resources, communication protocols, and fundamental interoperability. The term brownfield comes from the building industry, referring to taking the existing landscape into consideration when constructing new buildings. It has become a useful metaphor within IT.
With the advent of Industry 4.0, factories with legacy machines are finding themselves at a disadvantage when trying to expand their systems. They need to find a way to collect and access data that provides real-time visibility and insights, and this can be a daunting task in the context of integrating new solutions with current architectures. With brownfield connectivity, manufacturers can upgrade their existing deployments instead of conducting an entirely new deployment — sometimes called greenfield. Brownfield connectivity aims to help companies address issues such as acquiring data from PLCs or sensors and using open-source communication protocols to facilitate data exchange. This process will give them the edge needed to compete in today’s market without having to invest significant time or resources in developing customized communications tools.
Implementing an industrial internet of things (IIoT) strategy often requires a brownfield strategy. Sensors and other devices can help with real-time data gathering, preventative maintenance, and keeping production underway while minimizing waste. A brownfield in IIoT approach simply means that data architects explore how to best implement an IIoT strategy that works well with existing data architecture, equipment, and solutions. A brownfield device refers to a legacy device that must be incorporated into a new initiative.
Greater connectivity is transforming the way factories operate. By investing in connectivity, organizations are reducing costs, increasing speed and efficiency, streamlining IT/OT system convergence, and increasing production speed. Most critically, investing in your industrial connectivity today offers organizations the ability to take production operations to the next level, which can have a substantial impact on the organizations bottom line, while also laying the foundation for tomorrow’s innovation.