Backstory: The progression of IT/OT convergence

Thursday November 29, 2018
Written by Gurvie Waraich
November 29, 2018 – Manufacturers have seen massive communication and operations improvements through the convergence of informational technology (IT) – the ever-present systems sending and storing information throughout an organization – and operational technology (OT) – the systems informing direct change through monitoring and control of devices and processes. IT and OT offer significant improvements in plant efficiency when the proper technology is in place to enable communication between the systems.

These systems have been integrating for years, starting in 1968 with Modicon’s first programmable logic controller to replace hard-wired relay-based systems. OT has since rapidly advanced, introducing microprocessors, digitized process algorithms and the Modbus in 1979, which was the first industrial communication bus. This allowed users to integrate computers and machines, providing more effective connection and automation in industrial machines. By 2000, web-embedded automation for industrial systems was widespread, allowing for remote supervision of processes.

On plant floors, IT/OT convergence today begins with data gathered from machines and systems for storage on the cloud. This vast amount of data collected periodically holds valuable information about operations or maintenance aspects. AI systems can digest this data to create actionable insights, which can be used to optimize operations and reduce costs.

IT/OT convergence will continue with widespread digital transformation, with four major influences driving the next steps:
  • 5G connectivity will open new business opportunities as it eliminates information silos and boosts IoT adoption, and will enable multiple industries and plants to communicate, share insights and collaborate effectively with a single network.
  • Blockchain technology can be introduced to track transactions and protect IoT devices. As it advances, many new uses such as quality assurance will become a possibility.
  • Digital twins, or digital representations of physical equipment or assets, can be used for analytics, control or to simulate real-world behaviours. This will help improve operation and speed uptime to market, resulting in improved ROI.
  • AI continues to advance and will allow for self-optimizing machines, which can recognize and deliver system information to technicians. Forecasting system demands is only a start to what AI can provide as IT and OT grow closer.
Gurvie Waraich is the offer manager, digital plant for Schneider Electric Canada

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of
Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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