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Flexible Connectivity Unlocks Operational Resiliency

Meet the standardized data needs of today’s mix of emergent technologies and an installed base of legacy systems

We know, now, that we’re resilient. We know that focus on the work persists despite isolation and concern. We know that manufacturers scarcely skipped a beat transitioning to virtual environments for back-office and other key functions, while ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all personnel.

But what about our systems and ways of doing things? Have they proved to be as resilient as we are?

“Perhaps the most worrying takeaway from the recent pandemic concerns our lack of preparedness as nations, industries, and companies to deal with similar systemic crises, which are inevitable in our increasingly digital and interconnected world,” said Sandra Ng, Group Vice President for Research at IDC.

IDC believes that digital resiliency – the ability for an organization to rapidly adapt to business disruptions by leveraging digital capabilities to not only restore business operations but also capitalize on the changed conditions – must be a key objective in every organization’s digital transformation efforts.

Today’s manufacturing industries are highly computerized. Their operations are highly automated. While data silos stubbornly persist, enterprise business systems and industrial control systems achieve an astounding degree of integration, each in its own realm.

Yet, amidst the pandemic, how quickly were manufacturers able to respond to sudden changes in demand, surging online sales and rising customer expectations? How well will they respond to future needs to remake supply networks? In light of skilled workforce challenges, are they prepared to optimize process automation?

Thomas Gaudet, head of PTC Kepware product management, believes that to make our manufacturing systems even more resilient we need contextualized connectivity amongst production operations, business enterprise systems and the greater supply chain.

In other words, a higher degree resiliency requires leveraging of real-time operations data to better inform the business enterprise, and vice versa. To do so, information technologies (IT) and operations technologies (OT) must converge.

But while Internet protocol technologies, such as Ethernet, provide the basis for both IT and OT communications, OT relies heavily on proprietary and purpose-built communication protocols.

The end result of this IT/OT schism is that manufacturers are hobbled by systems that lack the resiliency needed to support real-time decision-making.

On the other hand, “We know organizations today that are seeing benefits from Industry 4.0. They are seeing the results of that commitment,” said Gaudet. “Others are just beginning to go that route and don’t yet have a connectivity strategy.”

Industry 4.0 is one of several terms, including the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and digital transformation, that are used to denote various aspects of continuing industrial computerization, including the incorporation of edge and cloud computing.

The challenges of achieving genuinely resilient operations encompass people, processes and best practices. Many Industry 4.0 initiatives fail or fail to scale, noted Gaudet. Often the reasons include the enterprise’s traditional data-siloed architectures.