Common threads in the digital cable

Oct. 6, 2021
Highlights from the spring INSIGHT series.
Digital transformation. It’s a broad paradigm shift that encompasses many concepts, a host of technologies and tools, and myriad motivations for jumping into this trend. (Can we still call it a trend or has digital transformation become ubiquitous?)  

And that diversity within this topic makes our INSIGHT webinar series exciting; we’ve got a lot of different things to discuss and a lot of different voices in the conversation. But as you’ll see in this recap of our Spring 2021 INSIGHT series, there are threads that weave through most of the expert presentations...concepts like the criticality of the human component to the success of Industry 4.0 programs, the value of simplifying processes, and the importance of aligning digitalization initiatives to larger business goals.  

Here find highlights from these INSIGHT presentations. We hope this entices you to join us for our Fall 2021 INSIGHT series. And we are encouraged to know that you might be implementing some of these concepts to work smarter at your own enterprises, as varied as those may be.


In the Inductive Automation Keynote Address, Travis Cox, co-director of sales engineering began: “My focus is this: we have a plethora of data out there, how can we adopt an approach that allows us to take the data we have in operations and bring it up effectively to take advantage of it? What does that really look like?”

It can be a complicated picture, he noted. The “the reality of digital transformation,” as Cox described it—all those amazing tools out there—can be undermined when projects get driven from IT down. “The reality is that OT is complex. There are a lot of different technologies and a lot has to happen on the OT side before we can go to the cloud. The focus needs to be on that OT side of the fence. We need to be looking at driving projects from OT up.”

Once that happens, manufactures begin to reap rewards. They can extend on-premises installations powered by cloud-computing to leverage long-term storage capabilities to enable smart approaches like machine learning.  They can connect devices and contextualize data to build models that inform predictive analytics and tuning processes. And they can repeat and scale these strategies to turn normal industrial information into super data.


Click the graphic to learn more about our fall INSIGHT series.

After a run-through of findings from Smart Industry’s latest State of Initiative survey, most notably that expectations of a high impact from DX continue to rise, all while speedbumps continue to slow adoption for some, this webinar welcomed its presenter and took a pulsecheck on digitalization.

“I want to inject some realism into a topic that is overcome with hype,” started William Webb, CEO of Webb Search and a speaker of blunt truths about digital transformation. He began his INSIGHT webinar with an exploration of his concept of the Internet of Things Myth, predicated on a widely referenced, wildly overestimated prediction of 50 billion connected devices by 2020. “Perhaps it’s about 8.5 billion devices, mostly in homes—speakers, lightbulbs, etc.,” he explained before noting that industrial assets are harder to connect than our domestic doodads.

So we’re not anywhere near that adoption prediction. But there are reasons for optimism. In short, we must simplify, thinks Webb. “What is needed are simple, complete solutions and clear evidence that the benefits are worth the difficulty of going through the change.”

Progress is ongoing, pushing us closer to true digital transformation each day. “Continuous evolution is certainly possible,” promised the presenter. “Car production, for example, evolves year after year. Some steps are large, such as the introduction of robots, others smaller such as the use of digital cameras to record stages of car build. I don’t think there’s any trick—this is just the natural state of things.”


New benefits of internal industrial partnerships are revealing themselves as IT and OT teams grow more alike and more accustomed to working in tandem toward not just rethinking our approaches to manufacturing, but building true factories of the future. That’s the perspective of Peggy (Opper) Gulick, director of Kohler Co.’s Smart Factory, who joined this discussion on the persistent challenges—and emerging opportunities—related to getting the two sides of the factory to play nice.

“We’re really all in the same place,” Gulick surmised. She explained how the OT side’s focus is the hardware and software directly correlated to machines and industrial control; the IT side is focused on data and storage, computing, processing and analysis. But, increasingly each day, these formerly disparate fields merge. Or…at least…they do in the most successful enterprises.

Modern digital tools are easing this convergence, but the Smart Factory leader stressed the value in maintaining some of the distinct traits on each side of the IT/ OT divide. You can merge the two sides, she noted, but there is greater strength in balancing those two off each other and having them serve as sounding boards for one another. “There is great value in that dance going on between the two,” she said, detailing how the smartly designed digital-execution system that results will provide exactly the right information about the right machine at the right time only to those who need it.

She warned about the challenges with this strategy—a shortage of competencies, blurred boundaries, culture clashes—but noted now the potential wins dwarf those concerns. “We’re talking about unprecedented interactivity; the great value in multiple areas working together. We all need to be finding solutions to these problems.”


Before COVID, Air Liquide was in the process of automating functions in the operations arena. The pandemic provided an early, but solid test, resulting in reasons for optimism. Most encouraging, perhaps, is the acceleration of autonomous plants controlled by smaller staffs with help from smart “digital automation assistants,” as Air Liquide America’s Director of Process Control Technology Arnold “Marty” Martin called them during this INSIGHT webinar.

“Digital assistants are digital technology applications designed to partially or fully automate repeatable plantcontrol tasks to augment operational staff effectiveness,” he explained, before his colleagues Bruce Eng, Air Liquide international expert for smart manufacturing and process control, and Letícia Zarpellon, process controls engineer, added perspective on using software suited to your standard operating procedures to enable advanced operation of equipment, particularly off-site by reduced, less-experienced workforces.

The trio spotlighted ways that industrial processes can now easily be remotely controlled from a command center, boosting efficiency, reducing costs and protecting personnel. And they explored methods on building this automation foundation with a focus on sustainability, scalability and the capability to keep your facility running at full capacity during this process. “It’s about ensuring that your industrial network is intuitive and cyber-secure,” explained Martin. “And that prompts adoption.”


It wouldn’t be surprising if some of the attendees to this INSIGHT webinar were sipping on a Pepsi or nibbling on Cheetos during this presentation. Brendan Wiggins, senior manager of fleet strategy for PepsiCo, oversaw the delivery of each of those Pepsis, each of those bags of Cheetos, regardless of where the consumer was located.

As Wiggins detailed during his session, delivering millions of snacks to millions of mouths is a tall task made easier with advancements in machine learning, no longer a “scary new trend that is impossible to adopt,” but rather a regular tool that regular businesses (even global behemoths like PepsiCo) are using to work smarter.

This webinar spotlighted a case study of data-driven decision making with the fleet of delivery vehicles under Wiggins watch—some 70,000 trucks with the primary mission of delivering snacks, of course, but also transmitting data that enables insights on optimally making them run.

“Fuel consumption, odometer, idle time, etc. We have a giant amount of data to use,” the presenter explained. “And we’re still finding new ways to apply it.”

Each component (think engines and lift gates) of each vehicle (think huge trailers and small trucks) feeds into the algorithms that inform machine-learning that benefits the larger fleet. How to boost reliability without spiking costs? How to move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance? Which routes to assign to newer trucks under warranty?

He celebrated the quick wins in fleet management afforded by machine learning, so long as data is cleaned up properly before being inserted to programs and then managed in a clear method. He warned against endlessly splitting hairs and drowning in data as a result. “Data integrity is critical to making these decisions and scaling up machine learning.”

And while Wiggins’ assets are stocked with pop and rumble down country roads, he stressed how his digitally informed decision-making strategy is applicable to the traditional factory with brownfield assets bolted to the floor. “There’s not much difference in terms of asset management. We’re measuring different things but the insights are the same. The only difference is that these things move around a lot more.”


It’s easy to get caught up in wanting more. For manufacturers this means more data, more integration and more technology. But is it all really necessary? Mark Hungerford explained that, frankly, all of the approaches and insights and tools and tricks aren’t really necessary to successfully implement your digital-transformation strategy.

“Identify what’s necessary and what is not so necessary,” advised L2L’s vice president of global customer support during his INSIGHT webinar. “Identify your biggest challenges and your biggest opportunities, then develop your strategy considering your behaviors and your larger transformation goals.”

This less-is-more approach to a digital strategy enables decision-makers to take first steps without feeling overwhelmed and discover what questions they should ask to identify the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities. It simplifies strategies, Hungerford explained, by basing them on your unique enterprise behaviors—learning different ways to interpret data and filter out what is not needed to focus on actionable insights. Finally, the presenter detailed how a simplified approach lends itself to designing long-term digital-transformation plans that will be readily supported from the top down, resulting in quick wins that are scalable as these data-driven efforts mature.  

Of course, not everybody is on board. Hungerford estimated that 80% of the companies he works with have little or no digital integration programs in place…still lots of paper forms. And some of those clients of his that have already started their transformations still fall into what he labels “the traditional approach”—they digitize and integrate everything, they insist on perfection before taking action, they are machine-focused, they fall into pilot purgatory.

He advises “the minimalist approach” focusing on digitizing only what is necessary, considering the enterprise’s behaviors, accounting for a digital strategy that will evolve over time, etc. “You’ve got to ask yourself why you are looking to digital transformation,” Hungerford said. “People know they need to evolve, they just don’t know where to start.”

Simply put, the presenter stressed, they should start simply.