The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is coming, and it will bring with it a major realignment of how and where information technology is used throughout manufacturing operations and decision-making.
As more and more “things” become equipped with data-gathering and intelligent capabilities, a new data and system architecture will emerge that will “flatten existing hierarchies, provide data from anywhere to anywhere capabilities, and enable next-generation business applications” (LNS Research).
It’s a revolution that’s already well underway, as a new breed of data analytics software at the edge is bringing manufacturing intelligence to decision makers, and the Cloud is changing how technology and organizations share information.
This raises big questions for manufacturers about where they should make technology investments today, and how they can be ready for the future. Will MES continue to evolve into Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)? And how will MOM technology interface with big data technology?
In this blog and the next, I will try to answer some of the biggest questions surrounding MES/MOM and the manufacturing environment, as we look for a path forward.
What is the frontier today between OT and IT? Should manufacturers take a bottom-up or top-down approach?
The battle today is between the traditional operations technologies (OT)—like ERP and MES/MOM—and the new breed of data analytics solutions that use information technology (IT) at the edge to bring new power to manufacturing decision-makers through dashboards and analytics.
In a nutshell, the question is: will MOM platforms evolve into data analytics, or will data analytics take control of operations?
Currently, manufacturers are interested in both approaches and the marketplace is responding. On one side, IT vendors are promoting IoT/IIoT platforms for more holistic cross-referenced data investigations. On the other side, OT vendors want to keep ownership of data and are expanding to become IIoT platforms. In addition, partnership momentum is building between hardware, network & communications, and IoT software vendors. For example, DELL and IBM are promoting an IoT Box at the Edge for cloud-based applications like fog computing.
It’s clear that eventually, when the IIoT matures, OT and IT will be capable of being driven from anywhere. However, it’s also clear that we are not there yet. MOM systems will continue to rule the factory floor for some years to come, and OT and IT will coexist in most enterprises. But OT vendors will have to evolve to meet the increasing demands for enterprise intelligence and analytics.
Can big data and advanced analytics be attached to MOM? Or do we need a total revamping of MOM architecture?
The answer is yes and yes. Long term, there will be a revamping of architecture. Near term, the place to start is with operations platforms like MES/MOM. For one, they are the most mature systems and literally at the heart of a company’s operations. Adding edge analytics to this foundation is far easier than trying to extend emerging analytics products to control the factory floor, at least with the present state of technology.
Eventually, this evolution will face challenges. As the IIoT connects more assets, and the volume of data to be analyzed and responded to on the shop floor keeps growing, data processing and movement will become increasingly important. It won’t be practical to stream data to the cloud in order to get real-time alerts and live KPIs. This will all have to take place at the edge, close to the data.
For example, edge applications could augment and enhance the overall maintenance diagnostics (MRO space), or trigger part replacement in case of imminent failure or strong vibrational anomalies. Dedicated applications like this—where live data and operations work together at the edge—will drive new architectures across all products and technologies. MES, like all other systems, will need an architecture that is extensible and can federate any type of data from sensor measurements, databases, PMML standard exchange, even comment threads, and deal with them in a continuous manner.
Will MOM become a Cloud-based SaaS app? A combination MOM/big and fast data architecture? Something else?
So what will this future architecture look like? There are two elements to the IIoT. One is connectivity and communication, the other is intelligence. The first half is largely in place through the Internet, the Cloud, and private networks. The second half is growing rapidly, as more and more devices have built-in intelligence. Once there is both intelligence and connectivity in all the agents—human as well as machine—the manufacturing environment will become more like a living organism than lots of independent systems.
Earlier, I called MOM the heart of manufacturing. It also serves as the nervous system, transmitting signals up and down the operational line (production orders, genealogy, traceability and overall history). I think of big data analytics as the brain, and data itself as the blood cells and electrical signals that move throughout the system.
Before data analytics, or the brain, is ready take over the body, it will need much greater connectivity and interoperability with the heart and nervous system than it is capable of today. For this reason, it seems clear that the path forward over the next several years is to build out MOM with greater analytics while linking wherever possible to big data technology as it emerges.
In my next blog, I’ll take a longer term look at the evolution of OT and IT, and what the effects might be on manufacturing.
If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:
- Is Data the New King of Manufacturing Technology?
- How the Industrial Internet of Things is Changing the Electrical Industry
- The Industrial Internet of Things Promises Safety Wins but Security Risks
- Do Manufacturers Need a New IIoT Platform?