Industrial networks open-up to the future

The interconnected factory envisioned by Industry 4.0 has the potential to revolutionize

smart industry iot iiot industrial internet of things digital transformation

CLPA-America's John Wozniak, P.E.

manufacturing by enabling greater interconnectivity and control over factory processes. In this way, companies in any sector can boost productivity and efficiency while improving product quality and consistency.

The adoption of Industry 4.0 is much more than a simple plus for general operating efficiency, as it marks the transition to new manufacturing processes that are truly synchronous with customer demand. Now, during this “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the implementation of automation and network technologies is essential for businesses to remain competitive.

Of course, the adoption of Industry 4.0 could be problematic for many companies. In practical terms, the development and implementation of a suitable digital strategy is a marathon, rather than a sprint. It is tempting to reengineer the whole enterprise at once, but this can be overwhelming, compromising the entire digitalization process.

After having defined a suitable digital strategy, its implementation should take place in stages. It is generally helpful to proceed with small projects that have a clearly defined end-goal that are relatively easy to complete and manage. In this way, the success of each automation project can be measured, and their implementation helps to develop a controllable and scalable system that can adapt to future needs. Small projects also lend themselves to small investments where the implementations can be justified and the improvement measured to scale future Industry 4.0 techniques and processes.

Furthermore, the rise of big data is inextricably linked to networking speed and data-carrying capacity, hence any solution needs to have a high capacity. Therefore choosing the right technologies (products as well as the network), especially those that already offer an advantage will help. Also having a clear defined path toward to future developments, can be beneficial.

Digital strategies need to consider interconnectivity

A methodical step-by-step approach, where the installation and upgrade of factory equipment is completed at different times, usually involves vendors, technologies and protocols can vary. Therefore, it is important to make sure that any new component is compatible and can communicate with the existing ones.

This is more difficult than it sounds. Many current products have closed, proprietary standards and protocols that let them exchange data only with solutions from the same vendor. Choosing a single hardware vendor is not always a feasible alternative either, as applications may need to mix different vendors in order to optimize their intended application. In addition, these businesses may face changes in the hardware, the product market and its key players, as this journey to Industry 4.0 is a marathon (as mentioned above).

While this can cause frustration among manufacturers, not all is lost. Open ethernet, which is not locked to a specific vendor system, can provide a framework that not only allows the connection of current automation products, but also features a built-in flexibility for future factory revamps, installations and upgrades. Therefore, open ethernet actively supports innovation and is well suited for the journey to Industry 4.0.

On the flip-side of proprietary solutions, where hardware and software are tightly coupled together, open ethernet is based on independence between hardware and software, which ensures that hardware applications can run on any ethernet-software platform.

Action plan for a more open ethernet

Providing an interoperable environment is a constant work-in-progress activity; one that must function now as well as into the future. An open ethernet platform allows for unification of the interfaces between machines and IT systems. This will ensure openness and interoperability from an intuitive and easy to use platform—today and tomorrow.

John Wozniak, P.E., is manager of CLPA-America