How to Get Your IT Staff Ready for the Industrial Internet

As more businesses get ready to embrace the Industrial Internet, a question arises as to whether their IT staff is prepared to tackle the challenge. Furthermore, what IT resources do manufacturers need to bring the Industrial Internet into their plant?

The Industrial Internet -- also called the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Everything (IoE) -- is a collection of technological innovations that has been in the works for at least 20 years. But only now do businesses have all the ingredients needed to bake this cake.

It couldn’t be done without intelligent machines, taking advantage of low cost miniaturized sensors and microprocessors. Nor could it be done without social software to connect workers to each other and to the machines. The ability to store large amounts of data in the cloud was also needed.

The mobile computing power found in smart phones and tablets are also key elements of the Industrial Internet, as are GPS location services to enable tracking and Big Data analytics to make sense of the mountains of data.

Chet Namboodri, a managing director for business development at Cisco Systems, told Tech Trends Journal that a manufacturer can prepare for the Industrial Internet by specifying a common IP-based open Ethernet architecture that will simplify interfacing and reduce cost of devices.

Standard IP protocols will ease integration across the enterprise so that data can move up through various management systems like MES and ERP, with value being added along the way by workers or by software applications. Virtual programmable logic controllers (PLC), implemented through the cloud are even possible. Critical real-time applications will need to wait for the next generation, deterministic Internet, which is on its way. 

While having data widely available has many advantages, it also creates vulnerability. Layers of security are required to fend off malware and other intrusions.

A converged network architecture, which is essentially a merging of local area network (LAN) technology with storage area networks (SAN), adds a layer of security plus the real-time element that is so essential in the industrial environment.

Namboodri said a proof of concept exists in the financial markets where a real-time signal is taken from the marketplace and translated through numerous transfer functions and algorithms. Trades are made based on those results -- all in a matter of seconds or less.

The goal is to use Big Data analytics in real time across the enterprise to seek patterns, understand trends, and glean insights as to forthcoming issues and opportunities. You could call it Big Control or a cloud-based manufacturing execution system (MES), which you can read more about here. It provides connectivity to people on the factory floor, allowing them to interact directly with SCADA systems. So now, rather than wait hours for an email, the message is transmitted faster through VOIP or SMS.

However, companies are struggling with how to get the necessary analytics, Namboodi said.

 “There are a lot of advanced analytics, particularly in the process industries, in the process control realms,” he said. “But this is a bit of open field running. The reality is that within the next two years, half the manufacturing community is going to migrate some portion of their infrastructure into the cloud. Having all that information available is gong to enable new companies, third parties, to make use of that information to provide value.”

In an automotive paint shop, for example, quality can be affected by the weather. Incorporating weather forecast data can be an opportunity. But the key lies in knowing how to use that weather data to improve performance and reduce downtime.

There is no substitute for process knowledge and subject matter expertise. What this means is that it presents companies with the opportunity to bring their core knowledge to bear on every aspect of their business. If the ability to do this ultimately becomes a commodity, then it will be the core knowledge itself, or as some say, the core competency, that will ultimately be the differentiator between companies.

What skills will be required to lead this transition?

“In terms of specifying and deploying the converged architecture, there is a gap,” said Namdoodri. “What I can say is it’s a hybrid role. Early adaptors have combined manufacturing IT with controls and automation. IT and OT (operations tech) into one organization that reports to the CIO. In other cases they gravitate more slowly towards a mutual understanding that not only lets them deploy the converged architecture, but also to use it.”

Cisco is partnering with Rockwell Automation, Panduit, and others to create an online community at IIPA (Industrial Internet Protocol Advantage). There’s even a webinar called what every controls engineer needs to know about IT.

“We have also committed to producing new skills training and certification programs that are specific to this sort of hybrid role,” Namoodri said.

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