How does IT take ownership of an Industry 4.0 initiative?

Author – Tim Smith

Industry 4.0 refers to the adoption of digital technology as a means of connecting the shop floor. The manufacturing floor has always been both an engineering center to employ new manufacturing technologies such as automation, robotics, additive manufacturing, tooling and other cutting-edge technologies, and an environment where production is as regimented as possible to control throughput. Continuous improvement initiatives such as Lean, six-sigma, 5S are adopted but usually have limited application on the shop floor due to labor intensive activities when collecting critical information of the process or to support the process.

Most of these activities, driven by manufacturing engineers, is usually not even in the purview of facility and corporate IT. Other than a request from production to wire and connect resources on the floor or deploy and manage compute devices for use by production, IT is not necessarily involved in a level of technology adoption outside of their IT management mandates.

With Industry 4.0 going mainstream, production teams are assessing various products and solutions to drive shop floor efficiencies. The challenge in such a selection and deployment process is that IT either drives the adoption from an IT perspective or IT is invited into the deployment phase after OT and production have selected a product, sometimes in a vacuum. Either of these scenarios is less than optimum and, in many cases, unacceptable.

A selection process must support requirements from IT, OT and production regardless of who drives or manages the process.

IT must be included in the initial criteria draft to establish the ground rules for perspective software solutions to meet the security and resource protocols managed by IT. If IT does not support a cloud solution, then that restriction must be part of the selection criteria. IT will need to educate OT and production in areas of concern, yet IT needs to be open to the critical requirements of OT and production. The selection team either needs members of the various groups included or at least a documented criterion specific to their mandate.

So how does IT take ownership of an Industry 4.0 software adoption initiative? Let us make some assumptions.

  1. IT does not fully understand the shop floor. Unless IT members live on the floor it’s all second-hand information.
  2. OT and production do not really care about IT’s mandates other than when it impacts them. That is the reality.
  3. Sometimes the departments are not amiable to each other, that may be putting it lightly.
  4. Everyone understands their respective areas and are subject matter experts.

Where does IT start? They need to ask OT and production to perform a requirements assessment. OT and production should be tasked to define a basic needs list. The IT group then needs to review the requirements from all production departments, production, supervision, maintenance, QA, tooling, CI, engineering, etc. Each department should be canvassed for a high-level list of needs as they pertain to getting their jobs done. Do not let the manufacturing departments get bogged down in trying to understand how any software will provide the proposed benefit, but rather have them provide the “day in the life” of each task, requirement or need. These use cases will enable IT to build a composite of feature requirements. Now, there is NEVER a single software solution which will deliver on all the needs of the departments. But the list will help determine which tasks and requirements can be grouped together to create a requirement list for short listing prospective solutions.

This author has seen in over three decades of IT and manufacturing experience, many projects fail because of myopia of the selection group. To select a product based on short term objectives will undermine the success of a project and in many cases cause it to fail. There are hundreds of manufacturers who have gone down this path and are living with a mediocre product with less than stellar results because they chose the path of simplicity and least resistance. I’ve seen production shops ram in a simple solution because they could do it without IT involvement and they may succeed in getting the solution up and running but the results are limited and non-sustainable, usually with no value after 6 months.

When IT moves their attention onto the shop floor, they inherit a new internal customer. The biggest mistake of any IT team is to overlook this critical understanding. They are not babysitting a department for the benefit of the executive; they are engaging a new internal customer for the benefit of the company itself. IT will need to assign a champion for the initiative and for the resulting implementation and product ownership. That individual will become a subject matter expert not only in the product deployed but in the application of the technology to the various manufacturing stakeholders. He or she must develop a liaison relationship with each stakeholder representative or team. The candidate/champion must be able to understand and articulate to the rest of IT, to OT to management and executive respective needs of each department as it relates to the Industry 4.0 initiative. When the individual builds a trust with each stakeholder group, the champion will become an essential bridge between all participants relating to the Industry 4.0 initiative.

The selection process for an application to deliver on Industry 4.0 must be able to accomplish the convergence of three data streams; the assets (machine, station, cell, line, or operation), the human element (operators and other floor personnel) and the Backoffice (ERP, MRP, MES, other third party applications). The solution candidates must provide a productized approach to connecting shop floor assets. The application must connect natively to multiple data protocols and be designed with extensibility as a feature. The moment that the approach to connecting assets becomes an engineering effort, then the project will double or triple its deployment timeline. Almost all IT groups have little to know experience in connecting assets on the shop floor. They understand network topology, and deploying a managed network infrastructure, but they have limited experience in mechanical, robotic or electrical engineering. Of course, if the asset supports a software protocol such as MTConnect, FOCAS, or OPC then there is a better understanding of how an asset should connect to a potential Industry 4.0 product. As for legacy equipment (11 million machine tools still in operation are considered legacy equipment with no networking capabilities) the approach to connecting these assets should be more productized than engineered. IT will not have the ability to support or manage a purely engineered connection. In line with a typical IT management philosophy, the ability to swap out a failed edge device to restore connectivity is the acceptable methodology rather than rely on engineers to rebuild a connection. Regardless of the connection being a soft protocol or a hard-wired edge device, assets in production make money. Access to assets to connect to a system will be limited. There are companies which have chosen the engineered connection route and have taken 48 months to connect three plants and a single dashboard view. An acceptable turn around to connect a machine asset should be measured in three to four hours as an average. The solution provider should offer field services to deploy a solution, if needed. It is a mistake to assume maintenance or another department can shoulder the effort to connect the floor, even if IT has selected an approach. Manufacturing resources should only be considered as a support group and not the prime resource for implementation. If left to internal resources the project will inevitably experience delays caused by lack of resources, production priorities and other unforeseen issues and negatively impact the deployment and possibly the success of the project.

Historically, failed Industry 4.0 initiatives are directly related to two responsible groups; production because they have not assigned a shop floor champion and IT who present almost impossible conditions by which to deploy. From a production point of view, if the solution provider can never get the production resource to commit to assist in deployment, the project will see unreasonable delays and impact deployment costs. The solution provider will inevitably need to have remote access to deploy and configure their Industry 4.0 product. IT protocols for security can greatly impair the ability to efficiently deploy their solution. In some cases, this author has seen deployment times balloon by a factor of three because IT made no effort in providing an approach or environment or concessions to access during the execution of the project. Industry 4.0 providers will need access to the server where the solution will be deployed. They will need to copy and install software and perform configuration tasks. Once deployed, the vendor usually only needs access to the respective portal for continued deployment. A recommendation would be to assign the host server to a DMZ so that the initial installation can be conducted without impairment. Once the host-related tasks are completed, IT can then move the server back into the domain. Then, IT can configure unimpaired access to the solution portal (web based) by exposing the portal with appropriate credentials, VPN, 2 factor authentication or other acceptable security. Since the vendor is restricted to only access the solution portal, the level of security can usually be relaxed because there is no interaction with the host server directory. There may, at times still be need for a vendor to access the host server and in those instances the typical security procedures would be in place. The described approach would remove much of the delivery delays experienced by vendors which impact the project.

Finally, the assigned IT champion must have latitude to embrace the solution and become a subject matter expert. When such a resource is socialized to the various manufacturing stakeholders, he can provide a bridge for the features and functions of the selected Industry 4.0 product to the needs of the respective stakeholder groups. He or she will face a learning curve as it relates to the software and to how the application is applied to the needs of the shop floor. If the initial requirements discussed earlier in the article was implemented, then the IT resource has enough information to create a “playbook” for the stakeholders.

Ultimately, for a successful deployment and ongoing use of the solution there must be a commitment from each stakeholder to embrace features and functions as part of their processes to receive value from the system. This author has seen efficiency improvements in the double digits for most manufacturers involved in an Industry 4.0 initiative when the approach resembles what has been described here.

IT can be the integral agent to a successful adoption of Industry 4.0, but that will require an approach described above and not relegate the initiative only as a management engagement. The IT champion becomes pivotal in understanding how the application’s features and functions can drive productivity for each stakeholder. IT must be more than a babysitter. IT must become an enabler. That is how IT takes ownership of an Industry 4.0 initiative.