What is IT/OT Convergence?
The IT/OT convergence is the term used to describe the integration of information technology (IT) systems and operations technology (OT) systems in a manufacturing setting. IT and OT used to be completely separate domains, but with the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things and an increasing number of smart factories, the two are merging closer together. The IT systems that are responsible for general computing, data storage and communication now work hand-in-hand with the OT systems that run the production process.
The Role of OT In Manufacturing
Traditionally, the OT systems used in manufacturing included things like MES, SCADA, PLCs and CNCs. These are the tools and platforms used to run the assembly line and shop floor. While these are sophisticated systems that have received upgrades over the years as newer technologies emerged, until more recently, they were generally not networked and did not communicate with each other. This resulted in machines and processes working simultaneously but not necessarily in sync with one other, leading to less than optimal production efficiency.
The Role of IT In Manufacturing
In contrast to the OT systems that run the actual production processes in a factory, IT systems keep everything running behind the scenes. This includes the computer and server hardware as well as software programs that are used to run the business. The data stored in the IT systems needs to be accessed by factory managers and other workers on a daily basis in order to make decisions. Similar to the OT systems, there used to be limited to no connectivity between IT platforms making it time consuming and difficult for personnel to get the information they needed.
Causes of IT/OT Convergence
There are a number of factors that have led to the growing convergence of IT and OT, including:
- Increased internet connectivity – with additional internet connectivity and especially wireless, both IT and OT components are able to communicate with each other and transfer information across the entire network.
- Digital sensors – by attaching digital sensors to machinery, even those factories using older legacy equipment can still connect the machines to a larger network and access data from them that can be shared across systems.
- Cloud adoption – as more manufacturers move their systems to the cloud, it becomes easier for all of the machines and devices used in the factory to become part of one central network.
The Benefits of OT/IT Convergence
Integrating OT and IT systems brings significant benefits to the shop floor, including:
- Better process control – the greater connectivity among the machines across the IT and OT networks allows for the creation of much more agile processes that can quickly adapt to changing circumstances without having to make large investments in new infrastructure.
- Real-time visibility – with IT and OT systems working together, the data generated by the machines can easily be turned into valuable insights. A system like Matics, for example, draws the data from numerous sources into one centralized location and provides a complete picture of everything that is happening in the factory in real-time.
- Empowered workers – the convergence of OT and IT gives workers a new opportunity to leverage the systems to help make their own jobs more efficient.
What are the Challenges to OT/IT Convergence?
Some of the challenges inherent in the OT/IT convergence include:
- Security – any time that data is shared over a network, there are increased data security risks that need to be addressed.
- Scalability – figuring out how to scale up at a manageable pace and taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in the convergence while not moving so quickly that unexpected bottlenecks occur is another challenge.
- Legacy machinery – factories that have a lot of legacy machinery and equipment may not be able to take advantage of the IT/OT convergence if the machines do not have the ability to communicate with each other even if the network is there.
As the Industrial Internet of Things continues to take hold, we can expect to see more and more factories taking advantage of the IT/OT convergence to increase efficiency and profitability.