Industry 4.0. The industrial internet of things. Digitisation. Smart manufacturing. The fourth industrial revolution. There are dozens of different names for the uptake in connected technologies and the convergence of IT and OT systems taking place in industry at the moment. One thing most people do agree on, however, is that it's tech-driven. But should this really be the case? Here, George Walker, managing director of industrial automation expert Novotek UK and Ireland, makes the case for goal-driven digitalisation.
Recently, I came across the concept of hyper-automation. While it initially sounds like a buzzword akin to the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and smart manufacturing, it actually means quite the opposite. It's a term for operating environments that are bloated with automated, 'smart' systems making production excessively complicated.
This is particularly poignant because it speaks to a situation we have seen time and time again while serving businesses as Novotek UK and Ireland. Plants are increasingly becoming over-automated, with numerous systems installed to perform individual parts of a single process when a single system would accomplish the same thing. This doesn't often happen with physical automated systems, but it's a growing problem with industrial automation software and platforms.
Unfortunately, this problem doesn't seem like it will be going away any time soon. It's often not due to a lack of communication in an industrial business--although this is unquestionably a factor in some cases--as much as it is the result of the wrong approach to the latest industrial revolution.
For many businesses that Novotek UK and Ireland works with, the focus seems to be on obtaining lIoT-enabled widgets to achieve greater results, whether that be increased throughput, higher production rates or better energy efficiency. But because these systems are evaluated individually for payback and for technology choices, they form a patchwork network of equipment and systems that is expensive in its excessive complexity. Customers lose the chance to understand how they could use a common approach to defining key data requirements and to defining uses for data that cross functional boundaries--and this missed chance leads to overlap of systems and duplication of IT and OT spend.
Many successful adopters of digital technology typically work to become digitally-ready first. The process of becoming ready for digitalisation is generally...