Converging IT and OT in Manufacturing

February 3, 2020

In this, the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, first introduced to the world by Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, we are seeing the convergence of legacy systems with future systems. What the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises is a profound transformation of the way modern and future society will operate based on the exponentially accelerating rate of interconnectivity and innovation. These innovations aim to push together traditional modern systems of information technology (IT), and operational technology (OT).

IT provides a top down system of control and assessment for management and back office responsibilities while OT refers to the ground level machinery, equipment, tools, and assets that require human labour to operate and monitor. Convergence is the name of the game, and as many industries start to adapt to the greater efficiencies of integrating IT and OT, the manufacturing industry is poised to see some of the greatest changes.

Machines of Tomorrow, Today

The tools and machines are ready for the next wave of innovation in the manufacturing sector. The cost of smart sensors is rapidly dropping and the rise of more advanced collaborative robots (cobots), showcase a growing change in the manufacturing labour force. According to Microsoft’s 2019 Manufacturing Trends Report, the “average cost of a sensor in 2018, is nearly 200% less than the average cost in 2004” [2], namely 44 cents. These IoT sensors and controllers are “projected to grow to $6.1 billion USD by 2020, up from $5.1 billion USD in 2016”[2]. Similarly, “the sale of collaborative robots are projected to increase 159% between 2018 and 2020”[2].

Smart sensors can be added to older, legacy technologies to improve efficiencies while newer, advanced “cobots”:

are being used to augment human labour rather than replace it. By taking on dangerous, physically strenuous, and repetitive tasks, these machines are making factories safe and more efficient for their human counterparts.

Manufacturing in the Clouds

Advancements in machines and equipment are helping manufacturing companies integrate their legacy systems to take advantage of machine learning, AI, and cloud-based computing. Cloud-based computing, for example, will ultimately be the future of operations but for many long running manufacturers. Microsoft identifies hybrid models as a way of bridging the technological gap:

“A hybrid data center model, where on-premises legacy systems are devoted to data and records functions that require little customization – as well as to storing information requiring a higher degree of control and security – while those facets of a company’s operations that require continuous adaptation will be diverted to the cloud”

This hybrid cloud integration is suggested to reduce overhead costs related to IT, and help companies improve the flexibility and economies of scale of their operations while making continued use of legacy systems.

Security is Number One

Convergence of old technology with new technology also requires an enhancement in the security of both systems. For many manufacturers, old OT security standards were specialized for their specific operation. These were not interconnected systems affecting multiple stakeholders, but tightly defined within specified perimeters. As OT interconnects with new IT, well defined and scalable security standard must be implemented to ensure data and IP security for manufacturers.

In the end, convergence of IT and OT in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inevitable, and manufacturers need to adapt as best they can to the coming tides of innovation. It is time to reassess your IT systems and your OT machines and assets, to see if you could benefit from applying some of the technologies reference here: IoT smart sensors, “cobots”, cloud-based computing, and the securitization of your transition. It’s time to revolutionize.

If you are thinking of making a change in how your IT services work for you, remember: 

A strong IT infrastructure is the backbone of a growing business.

Choose an experienced managed IT service provider

who will handle all day-to-day IT headaches, so you don’t have to!


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