Every industrial leader I meet would love to have an all-singing, all-dancing, digitally transformed, IIoT enabled and Industry 4.0 capable plant.
Of course we do!
Now, while that sounds like an obvious thing to say, it’s an important starting point – because if we all have the same goal, then we are all at some point along the road to achieving it. Working back from the end point and finding where we each are is hugely important to understanding how to take the all-important first (or next) step to achieving the goal.
I’ve mentioned in blogs here before we partner with our customers here in Ireland, and how we value and build relationships. A really important element of this approach is to naturally fill some of the gaps in thinking and approach for our customers and help counsel them not just on what sort of technology they need to meet their goals, but how to logically move from where they are, to achieving the benefits of any investment. It’s not an exact science and there is no replacement for bringing in the Rockwell Automation team, and potentially other vendors and partners to help develop a bespoke strategy for your company, but broadly speaking, we recommend an approach that that falls into four key stages.
First of all though, let’s deal with those buzz words and phrases – since many companies don’t feel ready for Digital Transformation, or perhaps don’t have the network capability for bringing in a lot of connected devices – and perhaps the very thought of Industry 4.0 is a bit of a pipe dream. Some people that I’ve spoken to mention that the buzz words come up quicker than they can possibly consider new rounds of investment, and it all gets a bit confusing – which direction should they go in? Can they skip a stage of technology evolution? Is the ‘current thinking’ going to change and will they ever catch up?
For that reason, I like to think of all of the buzzwords as falling into what we might traditionally have termed “modernization”. Because, let’s face it – that is a simple way of describing the forward momentum that may incorporate various elements of IIoT, Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation. Exactly what is drawn from each of these approaches (and of course they all overlap and fit into each other) varies from plant to plant.
So – what are the four steps for plant modernization that we recommend?
Step 1: Assess and Plan
- Evaluate all facets of existing IT/OT infrastructure (information, controls and devices, networks, and security policies) to baseline the current environment and develop a prioritized strategy for modernisation.
Step 2: Secure and Upgrade
- Securely upgrade the OT/IT network and automation controls to prepare for new configurations, advanced technologies (e.g., mobility, big data, and cloud computing) and increased visibility and performance.
Step 3: Data and Analytics
- Determine how to use existing and new data for optimum gains and use it with scalable analytic strategies for continuous operational improvement.
Step 4: Optimise and Collaborate
- Engage with internal business processes and teams, suppliers and customers; extend the use of real-time information throughout the enterprise and value chain and leverage it to respond to internal and external events.
Following this four-step approach – tailored to your own plant and goals, is a great framework for modernizing your plant. It’s practical and it will work.
But there’s something missing. To really get the best out of your modernisation, I strongly recommend that every step is engaged with a human filter. The best that your plant can be is not limited by technology, but by imagination, and the most important single resource you have is the human capacity to learn, judge and redefine what is possible. That capacity is only unlocked by taking your whole workforce along the journey – getting their user expertise on what improvements will work best and encouraging upskilling to upgrade earning potential and value to the business. Investing in your people in this way will return as much or more than in any single technology.
So, there you have it – four stages, through the lens of the all-important human factor, and your path to modernisation is mapped – only question now is, what are you waiting for?