Industrial Ethernet / Optimization

Integrating IT and OT Proves a Manufacturing Game-Changer

The Connected Enterprise Leverages Newer Technologies to Boost Productivity
and Profitability, While Mitigating Risk

By Leslie Gordon

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The goal of creating what Rockwell Automation calls The Connected Enterprise is to improve the productivity and profitability of both discrete and process plants. And for a panel of experts that spoke today during the Automation Perspectives media event at Automation Fair, this endeavor is enabled by what one speaker called "the perfect storm of technology innovation, an example of which is the Internet of Things." Speakers on the panel included John Nesi, vice president market development, Rockwell Automation; Frank Kulaszewicz, senior vice president architecture and software, Rockwell Automation; Bret Hartman, vice president and chief technology officer, security business group, Cisco; and Samiran Das, executive vice president and head of technology operations, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories.

What exactly is The Connected Enterprise? Rockwell Automation and other companies believe that it is best exemplified by the convergence of information technology (ERP, CMS, quality, financials, logistics, supply chain management) and operational technology (sensors, machines, controllers, actuators), where the traditional line of demarcation between the two silos becomes blurrier, thanks in part to networking technologies such as EtherNet/IP, an industrial Ethernet network that combines standard Ethernet technologies with the media-independent CIP (Common Industrial Protocol). As Das succinctly put it, "Connected Enterprises connect their business and their production floor environments in such a way as to mine data from both that can be turned into actionable intelligence. This approach includes everything from intelligent devices such as smart sensors and machines, scalable computing technology, and proper analytics—all within the confines of a secure environment."

According to Kulaszewicz, "The Connected Enterprise idea has been around for 30 years, but is actually a reality today. Enterprises that are connected give the developed world the opportunity to be more efficient and the developing world to progress. Of course, we must understand how to manage the risk that results from connecting all the smart IoT devices together."

As to be expected, there is a downside. For example, consider the problem of cyber threats. "IT personnel are generally better trained on cybersecurity, but OT brings with it different risks, such as loss of life or equipment failure, said Kulaszewicz. "Therefore, figuring out how to connect the two worlds is increasingly imperative. Subject matter experts in the IT world need to leverage the knowledge of subject matter experts in the IT world, and vice versa." 

Added Cisco's Hartman, "Fortunately, as manufacturing systems become more connected, firms are developing better firewalls and intrusion detectors. Our ongoing challenge is how do we innovate to stay one step ahead?"  Another consideration is undertaking behavioral analytics. "Company insiders can inflict damage, either on purpose or inadvertently. Addressing this might mean developing a mechanism for role-based access control, for instance."

There are a variety of industries where Connected Enterprises find trackability and traceability capabilities helpful, and life science is a good example, said Das. "Having digitized information available lets companies ensure they are in compliance with regulatory standards. For instance, a connected DCS and MES system enhances operational transparency, which, in the final analysis, helps ensure patients are always getting the right product. Why? Because the system tracks the complete chain from manufacturer to pharmacy, which helps in understanding the root cause of incidents and thus better address and improve processes. The approach also results in the production of higher quality medications and fewer recalls, as well as helps eliminate problems such as the tainted baby formula recently made in China. Many connected systems still involve a 'man in the loop' to adjust and improve processes, but data points are increasingly being picked up and put into batch management technologies in an automated manner," he said.

One consideration is that there are a lot of legacy systems, some that go back to the late 1980s, and the challenge will be how to connect these to a common platform. "Common methodologies are needed to connect older disparate systems. The good news is the most recent technology is capable of giving us the functionality we need for a truly connected enterprise," said Hartman.

The Connected Enterprise takes an ongoing journey of turning data into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom, added Hartman. "When IT technologies can talk to OT devices to make sense of data that then becomes actionable—this is the wisdom."