Production Line Data Collection (MD&M Panel Discussion)
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
“Planning for Now: Immediate Need & Future Investment in Industrial IoT.”
If you missed the MD&M Conference in Anaheim this year, a summary of the Industrial IoT panel discussion is provided. This article highlights the questions and answers from the panel discussion: “Planning for Now: Immediate Need & Future Investment in Industrial IoT.” Design News, UBM was the moderator. The panel members represented analytics, integration, end-to-end security, and sensors. Panelist 1 (GE), Panelist 2 (RRAMAC Connected Systems), Keary Donovan (elliTek, Inc.), Panelist 4 (Balluff Inc.).
The panelists discussed Smart Manufacturing requirements regarding data storage, analytics, and visibility. Industrial IoT motivations, concerns, barriers to entry, advice, standards, legacy equipment, workforce, and data crack were all topics of discussion.
What’s Hot Right Now in Industrial IoT
Panel Host: As I’m out on the conference road, I go to a lot of sessions on Industrial IoT and IoT, and I hear a lot of promise about the impact of connected stuff. What I’d like to know from our panelists is, what IoT products and services they see that are gaining the most traction among their clients?
Panelist 1: Our customers are asking about outcomes and analytics. Analytics is in high demand. Second is investment whether it is sensors or IoT platform.
Panelist 2: One of the things I’ve seen in recent years is the secure connectivity piece has grown. Companies have gotten smarter on the edge nodes, and it is enabling the analytics platform.
Keary: Since you guys covered the analytics and security, I’ll add the cost considerations. elliTek manufactures an MES Gateway Appliance. A lot of our interactions are about how our end-users can use what they already have -- use their legacy systems, use the infrastructure that’s already in place to get the data from a new MES package or new analytics software, and how that will be secure. We have ways of doing that. As an example, medical device manufacturers. Within our industry, if you can reach the edge of your network without a PC, that means that you now, as a company, can avoid FDA software validation, because it’s a black box situation. Suddenly you’re talking about cost savings for the manufacturing process managers rather than how much a Cisco network costs because ethernet is needed down where the fieldbus is. That’s where we see a lot of traction - production managers making use of the infrastructure that they already have to become more efficient and distributing their machine data more broadly.
Panelist 4: At Balluff, we sell sensors, industrial networking, and RFID identification products for traceability. If you have to collect little bits of information from a bunch of prox switches, IO-Link is a more cost-effective solution for people, and it’s just been exploding over the last couple of years in implementation for these kinds of applications.
Motivations & Roadblocks for Investing in Industrial IoT
Panel Host: One of the questions I have now is why are people investing in Industrial IoT? What motivates these investments? What roadblocks are they running into? How are they calculating the ROI?
Panelist 4: Everyone talks about OEE and trying to reduce their downtime, eliminate problems. If we can apply analytics to predict when a machine will go down, that’s a major advantage. Things where you can add analytics and do predictive maintenance calculations, that brings huge value.
Keary: I’ll stick with the efficiency subject because that’s what we see too. The issue that we see surrounding it is the people in charge of efficiency, aren’t the programmers. Manufacturing process engineers are trying to get data for their KPI’s, and they’re not able to navigate controls engineering’s or IT’s concerns. So empowering those people with devices that they have control of themselves allows them to implement production processes that improve efficiency. When they’re able to control the data exchange, they are able to use log reports to identify which group needs to fix problems when they occur. A big issue is ownership. Who owns the MES? Who owns the database? Is it IT? Is it engineering? Is it production? There’s this great need to improve efficiency to be competitive in a global environment, and production needs that empowerment to have their own way to get the data without relying on calling on an integrator every time they want a PLC tag (or register) for instance. It’s these kinds of organizational issues that are road blocks to realizing the investments that are being made -- efficiency is the reason “why” that we encounter, but overcoming the OT-IT conflict is the roadblock for production managers.
Panelist 2: It’s return on investment. It’s got to hit the financial bottom line - some reduction in cost – operating expense that sort of thing – or an increase in productivity.
Panelist 1: I would add one larger theme that we have seen in GE, which is changing the business models. Changing the business model through IIoT is one of the key things.
Advice for IoT Champions
Panel Host: Behind every IoT initiative is a champion who goes to the organization and makes a case for why this is important and makes a case for the benefits it will offer to the organization. What piece of advice would you give to this champion to sell this thing to their company?
Panelist 1: In this specific stage of the market it is critical for this champion to do some POC first before choosing any specific system or vendor or platform. Second is to create the business case. Start with the value. From this value, think about the IoT solution, not vice versa.
Panelist 2: I say follow the money. So, yes, it’s value. You want your product champion or your project champion to be somebody who has a vested interest in the botPanelist 2 line.
Keary: I agree with the cost per transaction. Ultimately a manager or executive is going to say how much are we making and how much can we make. Where we see our champions have their idea accepted -- whatever they’ve chosen to push through their organization, is with proof. They must prove it. They get a concept and then what our challenge is, at least from our communications standpoint, is everybody says they can do IoT. So… IoT is this great big subject that everybody can do, but nobody can see who’s doing it, so they can take a working example to their boss. In this industry, there’s a great place where production processes are proven. Many of our end-users in medical device manufacturing prove concepts in their lab. They have a workbench; they have a person assigned to proving the process before it advances to validation. That process is mirrored down on the production floor. And, proving to them that IT will sign off on the way they’re exchanging machine data; and, proving that the controls engineers down on the machines will sign off on the solution is something that we help our champions do in the lab. The proof is seeing the data move from some part of the industrial controls systems, mostly PLCs, to a database where different parts of the organization can get to it securely.
Panelist 4: I think, as with anything, you have to find where the pain in the organization is so great that management is willing to spend money. Typically asking an operator or a line supervisor, you’re going to find that immediate pain that has direct ties to the goals of the organization.
Handling Objections from IT
Panel Host: You’ve got the champion. The champion has made the case to the business owner or the folks in the C-Suite. Now, you have another hurdle, and that is what do you say when the IT dept states they will never allow any production information to be accessed over the Internet? We’ll start with Panelist 4 and work our way back. I know Keary touched on this a little bit but go ahead and kick this off, Panelist 4.
Panelist 4: Go find that guy’s boss. If you have a pain that’s tied to the goals of the organization and IT guy says production data is not allowed to leave the production floor, you’re talking to the wrong person.
Keary: Our panel host knows that this is what we address with our appliance. Not only does IT not want production data on their network, but production also doesn’t want IT’s PCs next to their machines either. Our philosophy is that those two networks need to be separated versus converged. That infographic that we had up actually shows using an appliance rather than a PC in production; this is how to isolate those networks from each other. If you can translate the protocols of industrial control systems across an appliance and keep that fieldbus or OT network separate from the IT dept, we’re back to the ownership issue that I hinted about earlier. Now everybody can stick to their expertise and production can own the data and get the security checkbox checked off by IT, and a checkbox checked off by OT who won’t have to change their legacy solutions, because what they’re presenting to the people that are in charge of security for their organization can sign off because it’s a closed box. It’s not a general-purpose PC that brings those vulnerabilities down to the production floor, and that’s the concern of IT for security.
Panelist 2: Two things I will not say to the IT dept are I’m going to come in and break your rules [by putting in a firewall] and ask you to do work on my behalf [manage all the users for this]. Once they realize that’s not the case and that it can be done securely, yes it’s got to be financially driven, but you’ve essentially neutralized IT at that point.
Panelist 1: GE has developed an on-premise solution for Predicts. Now we’ve learned from the market that many customers Panelist 4 not share anything, so we have developed our on-premise solution. We will show you how those predictive models work with this data and that becomes the proof.
Industrial IoT Standards – Are There Any?
An attendee’s question: It seems to me that the focus should be a standard. So, is there any standard(s) because of disparities?
Panelist 4: There are a number of associations and organizations trying to build data communications standards. Some industrial protocols that are trying to address this as well. The biggest issue for me goes back to that individual prox sensor. There are so many devices that have little bits of information that we’re only interested in three or four bits of information out of a single device, but if you start doing the math on that device gives data two hundred times a second. Four bits of data doesn’t sound like very much until you start thinking about what to do with that or how often do I poll for that data. There some standards that are there, but some universal, all-encompassing standard, I haven’t seen one addressed yet.
Keary: What we’ve seen with the standards is that unfortunately, with the standards that exist, they are like OPC, for instance, they’re these client-server relationships. They’re not native to the devices you’re talking about, so they are added after the fact. Our philosophy for our end users is, they find devices that are speaking in the native protocols of the device to which they are talking. If you can have an interface that is speaking in a protocol, you don’t necessarily need to buy the software contract with the PLC manufacturer because you’re using their drivers on your appliance or gateway. If you have an edge network appliance like ours or you have other peripherals that are connecting to your devices, you should ask their companies about what their drivers are. This concept is catching on in a few other places, so ask your suppliers what drivers do you have, what protocols do you speak. Now you’re speaking natively to your device and then being a gateway to something else like a database to which you’re trying to communicate.
Panelist 2: What he said. The problem with OPC UA it’s not been around as long. People have factories full of stuff that’s not compatible. The edge node is how we usually address that.
Panelist 1: I agree with Panelist 2 in that with the maturity of the market the more standards there will be and maybe some of those standards will become more popular. It is important, but I don’t see that as a roadblock for any IoT communications.
Keary: I’d like to add one more thing to Panelist 4’s point that one sensor with that one bit of information… it’s something that will help you relative to standards, or answer your questions about how do I talk to these things? Something that will help all of you is looking for event-based communication instead of polling. You don’t want to poll a machine network because it’s looking all the time, and it’s going to get all the data, and then when it gets to where you want it to get, you’re dumping all the data you didn’t need for that one bit of information.
Panelist 4: And then comparing if it changes.
Keary: Yeah, that’s right, so, when we’re talking about the edge and those types of devices and sensors. Guess what, the part of IoT that’s not new is that sensor information is going to a machine’s controls right now. It’s called a PLC. All that information is there; it’s event-based. It’s in bit form and that size data, in that real-time type of communication, that’s dealing with deterministic networks and those types of things, is available to you through your PLCs. It just needs to be translated into a database format that can be used for the analytics that companies are seeking. While you’re doing your research, remember event-based and drivers. It will help you navigate through the sales jobs that you might receive.