Tron, industry and the integration of the digital and analog worlds

In 1982, director Steven Lisberger surprised the world with Tron, a film in which a programmer named Flynn is absorbed into the digital world by an evil program from which he will have to escape to return to the real world. Today, in the third decade of the 21st century, here we are talking about "the digital" and "the analog" as opposing worlds, although not in the same way that cinema taught us. 

In this article we want to reflect on the gap that exists in industry between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), as well as the importance of their convergence in view of the not-so-future Industry 4.0.

The digital vs. analog world in the industry

Information technology (more digital) and operational technology (more hardware-based) have coexisted for a long time, each in its own sphere. They have been perfect neighbors coexisting but each having its own network, objectives and requirements, which has meant that they have not developed at the same pace.

Industry 4.0 has changed the rules of the game: it has blurred the line that used to separate IT and OT.

This model has worked well so far, but Industry 4.0 is changing the rules of the game. The integration of new communication systems, the IoT, more complex machines and more advanced software coexist , blurring the clear line that used to separate IT and OT.

This new context has exposed a problem faced by many organizations today: the development of their OT systems is far removed from that of IT systems.

The gap between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) in our industries

In recent years, everything to do with data management, software development and information processing has developed dramatically, while many workshops are still using hardware that is decades old. In other words, there is a development gap between IT and OT systems.

Information technologies have developed more rapidly, partly thanks to the progressive integration of improvements that have been achieved in different sectors. Beyond the level of technological development, IT has also reached a level of flexibility far superior to that allowed by TO.

Many workshops and factories still use "old" equipment and machinery in their daily business. This is not much of a problem on the operational side, but it is a problem on the digital side. Many equipment and processors do not even have Ethernet (they have older industrial communication protocols), which can be a barrier to integrating these machines with new IT systems.

Many workshops and factories continue to use "old" hardware because it is not much of a problem on the operational side. However, it is a problem on the digital side.

IT-OT convergence would enable companies to solve critical problems faster, make better informed decisions and scale processes both physically and digitally. The challenge now is to bridge the gap between information technology and operational technology. New information technologies are necessary, but at the same time daily production must be maintained with existing means (especially now that the pandemic is beginning to be overcome).

Challenges to be solved in IT-OT integration

👉 Challenge 1: Taking the reality of the workshop into account

The operational part of the industry presents a series of barriers that complicate its development: the existing stock of machinery, the cost of replacing it, the modification of already established internal processes, the training and organization of employees, etc. It is necessary to be aware of all these factors for IT-OT integration to be successful.

The challenge is therefore to integrate these two layers, operational and information, taking into account all the assets of the organization. In other words, the machinery must be able to generate the necessary data and communicate efficiently with the IT systems. This process must take into account not only the workshop's current technology, but also future technology.

👉 Challenge 2: Adapt to the new demand that Industry 4.0 will bring.

Integration is crucial if Industry 4.0 is to become a reality. The next smart factories will be fully connected in order to increase the level of automation, improve communication, monitoring and data exchange.

Production will be much more autonomous and flexible, as processes will be interconnected both between plant cells and with other plants. The situation and location of the machinery will not limit the work process, but the other way around. Processes will now be the king of the ball, regardless of the physical layout of the plants.

In this context, problems can be analyzed and diagnosed automatically with less need for human intervention, reducing downtime and thus improving efficiency and profitability.

👉 Challenge 3: Giving data the importance it deserves

An important part of IT-OT integration is to break down the walls that separate the two worlds and the professionals who are part of them. At one extreme are those who do not recognize the potential of good information management and integration, and at the other are those addicted to collecting data who then do not know what to do with it.

Both parts have to complement each other in a harmonious way: obtaining the necessary information, processing it in a useful way and making decisions that improve production efficiency.

👉 Challenge 4: Increase operational flexibility

Another challenge is related to flexibility. As we mentioned a few paragraphs ago, operational technology lacks the flexibility of the digital part of the industry. Part of this IT-OT convergence involves making the operational part as flexible as the digital part in order to adapt to a demand that increasingly seeks greater customization and adaptation of products.

👉 Challenge 5: Understanding the economic implications of change.

As for implementation costs, this is undoubtedly a factor of concern for many business managers. The cost of acquiring new hardware can be substantial, so it is important to find a system that can bridge the gap between your current infrastructure and the new one that will come with Industry 4.0. In this way, costs are minimized as you move forward with the change, avoiding having to make a heavy investment.

Is the integration of digital and analog so important?

Yes, the market demands levels of productivity and quality that force companies to go further to optimize their organization and production. Moreover, this IT-OT integration offers companies numerous advantages.

Advantages of integrating IT-OT

  • Improved data collection and automation.
  • Better control of operations at each stage of production.
  • Improvement in the organization of processes.
  • Increased work efficiency through better information.
  • Improved customer satisfaction through reduced downtime.
  • In short, improved company performance that increases profits.

In addition to the above points, we must bear in mind that the convergence of IT and OT systems will be a key factor in accessing many of the advantages that Industry 4.0 will bring. In this article we talk about the need to prepare for this new industrial revolution..

Where to start

It is time to start working to reduce the distance between the IT and OT layers in companies. There are protocols, tools and ways of working that facilitate this integration without the need to dismantle current production systems. It is important to comply with the operations plan and maintain production, but that is not an impediment to start with the change.

The process may seem overwhelming. But just as Flynn (the main character in the movie) sought the help of "Tron" (an expert program) in order to achieve his goal, your company also needs to seek professional help.

It is critical for companies to have a partner specialized in automation solutions that has knowledge and experience in these processes. SMARTPM can help you. Contact us and let's talk. You will know if our software solutions y industrial automation solutions and services are right for your company and you'll have a clearer idea of the benefits you could get from them.

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