Three Ways to Legacy Integration

Written by: Cam Dufty

In our “Integrating Legacy & IoT” series, we’ve reviewed the questions to ask when getting started on your legacy machine and IoT integration journey, and the best approach for starting small (and scaling fast) towards complete industrial data connectivity. In this final post in the series, we’ll outline the three ways that manufacturers are incorporating their decades-old equipment into today’s hyper-connected smart factories—along with a few pros and cons to look out for as you explore the strategy that best works for you.

Initiating integration of legacy machines

In PTC Product Manager Jeff Bates’s Merging Legacy Equipment with the Industrial Internet of Things: Three Approaches for Integrated Data, he evaluates the three strategies that manufacturers use most often when trying to integrate old with new across the industrial ecosystem. Each approach has its pros and cons, and each can look vastly different, depending on the unique needs of your industrial ecosystem.

The tables below include excerpts of the pros and cons that Jeff presents in-depth in his white paper. This excerpt will give you an idea of some of the major benefits and drawbacks of the three most popular IoT and legacy integration approaches; and for a more complete view, download the white paper here.

Rip-and-replace integration approach



Frontline of Technology: Replacing outdated assets ensures you have the most up-to-date technology and its full benefits: improved performance, lower power consumption and readiness for next-gen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.

Cost: This is the main limitation of a full rip-and replace. Most plant managers and maintenance teams would love to scrap all of their legacy technology and start anew, but the cost of new equipment alone is often enough to make this method unrealistic.


Equipment Reliability: Some especially outdated legacy equipment is no longer supported by vendors. This can lead to significant business risks in both the short- and long-term. New machinery means full support from vendors. Choosing this method means you do not need to worry about assets that are only truly understood by the one close-to-retirement expert.


Time: Rip-and-replace involves a number of time sinks: sourcing (such as developing RFIs and RFPs and vendor negotiations), uninstalling current equipment, installing new equipment and ensuring appropriate vendor support during the installation phase, re-training employees and more. The time investment required by rip-and-replace is often prohibitive on its own.



Best-of-breed third-party solutions



Speed of Install and Fast ROI: Best-of-Breed solutions that provide out-of-the-box connectivity to legacy systems can be installed with no interruption to uptime. They are also built to accommodate a wide variety of legacy protocols, so will likely produce almost immediate results. While installing third-party sensors can take a little longer than connecting to the automation assets on the machine, new IoT-ready sensors are designed to be easy to install and use.

Bandwidth and Wireless Issues: These solutions are capable of collecting huge amounts of data— which requires bandwidth that can result in extra costs. Edge-based processing—which enables down-sampling or summary analytics before the information is sent to an IoT solution—is often included in these systems to help mitigate this issue.

Availability of Expertise: System integrators are generally very familiar with these systems. A local system integrator can likely easily guide you through the process—or take it on entirely—at a reasonable cost.

System Maintenance: Depending on the number of third-party sensors needed to enable connectivity, this approach could create some system maintainability issues. A system integrator-guided implementation or purchasing all sensors from a single vendor who provides support, can help with maintenance.


In-house solution approach



Customization: Often the driving factor of this decision, in-house solutions are infinitely customizable to an organization’s needs. IT and Operations teams work together to create usable solutions that access the specific data required to enable new IoT use cases. Using internal resources can also mean enhanced prioritization and installation, as in-house experts know the issues and can pinpoint immediate ways to address them.

Connectivity vs. Application: After a legacy asset is connected, that data needs somewhere to go. Collecting data is one challenge, but displaying it, analyzing it, or otherwise turning the data into actionable intelligence in a timely and useful manner is a whole other issue. Technicians that are able to solve all of these issues are generally hard to come by.

Small Scale: This approach often starts small. For example, a user could gather data from a legacy machine using a Raspberry Pi-type device and then display that data on a local HMI using a web service. This can be a great proof-of-concept project that is then extended to other machines, cells, workstations and lines. For organizations that need to be convinced of IoT ROI, this method can help mobilize internal support.

Maintenance & Expertise: As soon as any IoT solution’s value becomes fully apparent, departments and personnel will want to try new and innovative use cases. An in-house solution will always need to be enhanced and will require troubleshooting. The organization that asks an internal team to develop an in-house IoT solution and then move on to other tasks does so at their own peril. In-house experts are often good at maintaining one type of connectivity—but cannot easily scale beyond initial goals and often have limited knowledge of the organization-wide benefits of IoT.


Download the white paper to learn more


Tags: CAD Industrial Internet of Things Digital Transformation

About the Author

Cam Dufty

Cam Dufty has been writing about software and emerging technology for more than ten years. At PTC, she works closely with IoT, AR and CAD experts to help tell the story of how smart, connected operations are revolutionizing manufacturing around the world.