We – those in the business of encouraging automation or supplying solutions – talk a lot about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Or Industrie 4.0.
Or Smart Manufacturing.
Or any one of a number of terms that help to explain the information revolution which, having already thoroughly changed consumer and business technology, now has its sights set on industry.
When I talk to industry leaders though – I can honestly say that it's rare that they mention it to me. That's not because industry leaders don't know what it is, or deny its importance – far from it.
What I hear from them though, in varying forms, is about the need to support the assets that they have to increase productivity throughout the automation lifecycle.
Starting with a blank sheet of paper and building the best, most highly automated and IIoT ready plant is a rarity. Industrial facilities are expected to be productive for a long time, you can't just start again every five years or every time a government comes up with some new jargon.
The top concern for most leaders is getting the most from what they have.
So – in the face of pressing concerns, IIoT is not the first thing on many business leaders' minds. Yet we know very well that a global industrial revolution is needed to satisfy huge amounts of new consumers from emerging countries.
Productivity will need to improve to meet the demand, while efficiency will also need to make a leap forward to meet that challenge using the existing resources of the planet.
So how can the two apparently opposing needs of industry be met?
It's a question of strategy.
First and foremost, I'm yet to come across a plant that can't make improvements to its productivity across the automation lifecycle.
Importantly though, I see many where a strategic approach to what they already have is actually exactly the right way to unlock the potential of the future. In short, the right approach to the pressing needs of industry leaders is also the right approach to IIoT.
In fact, it's possible, in most cases, to be even more explicit. Connectivity – connecting up the enterprise – is the key to both improving the productivity of an enterprise, and laying the foundations to reap the rewards of the IIoT revolution.
Much existing plant can offer more intelligence to an automation control system than it presently does. When operational technology (OT) is securely ‘plugged in' to an enterprise's information technology (IT), the potential for collecting and analysing data to improve productivity can begin to be realised very quickly. There's a five step guide implementing this process available.
By taking a holistic approach to managing network infrastructure and security throughout the entirety of the automation lifecycle, many of our teams have delivered huge savings. And we practice what we preach at Rockwell Automation – here's a case study of how we benefitted from implementing The Connected Enterprise in our own business.
Moreover, the business case for improving assets such as installing Intelligent Motor Controls, for example, becomes compelling, because armed with information about what is happening on the plant floor, sound, strategic, incremental investment can be made on a continuous basis against predicted ROI.
It's revolution by evolution.
Importantly, with every improvement to productivity across the automation lifecycle, the business gets closer to unlocking the potential of so-called Industrie 4.0.
Or Smart manufacturing.
Or whatever you choose to call it!