IIOT: The Wireless Convergence of IT & OT in the Industry 4.0 Era

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February 22, 2021

By Gabi Daniely, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at CoreTigo

Technological developments and innovations are key to major industry leaps, yet do not evolve at the same pace in all fields.  IT has advanced significantly over time at several levels, including wireless communication such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Cellular, and in recent years reached new heights with 5G and IOT, however OT did not advance accordingly. Recent developments though, in the Industrial world, have expedited its evolution. Smart machines and processes, and the development of wireless industrial communication are key drivers in the convergence of IT and OT and consequently the IIOT.

IIOT enables manufacturing enterprises to get a complete view of all operations – IT and OT alike, sharing the common goal of making educated decisions while taking all factors into consideration. It allows strategic decision making at the enterprise level along with actionable insights to the production floor-level data and making it easily and remotely accessible.

Until this convergence took place, data used to remain on the manufacturing floor. In some cases, it remains so to this day, as the total cost of ownership of a wired communication grid at the factory level can be relatively high, especially in harsh factory environments. Cabled communication can be complex to deploy, requires machine downtime and external resources supporting the infrastructure deployment. Many factories have placed significant investments in the deployment of wired communication, which in many cases made them reluctant to add even more cabling for additional applications. Yet, some industrial enterprises and organizations were able to bypass this problem by retrofitting machines and expanding production lines with wireless industrial communication devices. Instead of deploying additional wired infrastructure or purchasing new machinery, they intelligently upgraded the existing machines with Industrial wireless components.

This is also a game-changer for numerous new applications and machines never-before possible. While a range of machines became smarter, some remained unconnected as it was impossible to integrate them with wired communication due to high-speed moving or rotating components. Such systems include Independent Mover Transport Track Systems (powered through inductive power rails), rotating robotic arms and even high speed and harsh environment ones such as tools on CNC machines. With cable-grade industrial communication, a new generation of smart applications on these systems has emerged, enabling all parts of the enterprise with rich information flow in all directions. As connected no longer meant being wired, communication between OT and IT has become unbound.

With this in mind, operational excellence is boosted, resulting in improved quality, smart resource allocation, and improved budget planning and management. Data surfaces from the lowest level of the plant floor to the highest level of enterprise management – making it accessible at each level of the organization. Managers at all levels are provided a real-time view of a variety of processes, being able to make better decisions quickly along with the agility to adopt to new situations as they occur. Being able to spot problems and react immediately in a predictive and proactive manner, means less machine downtime, ongoing continuous machine operation, improved efficiency, better results and eventually more profit. Moreover, both OT and IT benefit from the complexity reduction, the agility to deploy and adapt, increased flexibility and reduced machine footprint.

The key to a good IIOT system is being able to converge IT and OT in such a way that communication flows seamlessly and works flawlessly at all levels of the factory. However, deploying wireless anywhere in the factory was not feasible until lately. The industrial environments and the production floors are very challenging, especially when on-machine communication is required. These are harsh environments with severe levels of interferences, vibrations and noise. Moreover, these systems include a large amount of devices that need to be controlled and monitored in real-time, reaching in some cases hundreds of sensors and/or actuators in a single machine area. Wi-Fi, for example, is typically used in an industrial environment to network computer systems at production halls. It is typically owned and managed by IT. However, the primary motivation of Wi-Fi is data throughput, and it is not suited for deterministic communication with guaranteed latency requirements as described above.

A key ingredient which has been missing is wireless communication that is fit for high performance and fast motion applications in such conditions. Conventional wireless solutions are not suitable for such a task. IO-Link Wireless was therefore designed as a global standard specifically for factory automation applications. Due to that, it has different characteristics than Wi-Fi, and can be deployed with minimal interferences at maximum performance on machines operating in harsh environments and very demanding conditions. IO-Link Wireless enables access at the lowest level of automation, on the machine, with seamless and vendor agnostic cable-free communication. By enabling this type of wireless communication at the machine level, the convergence between OT and IT can now be done at the most reliable, resilient, high-performance, cost-effective and scalable manner. 

IT and OT convergence creates less siloed IT and OT departments that can now work much more collaboratively, maintenance costs are reduced, visibility is improved significantly, and overall efficiency is increased. In the same way that the days of waiting for an employee to get to a landline for the sole purpose of contacting them have passed, so did the days of stopping a machine on the manufacturing floor in order to examine its condition or to revamp and recalibrate it for new missions. All must be done, wherever is needed and on the go. Not being compliant with this new formed reality means leaving money on the table at the Industry 4.0 era.

Gabi is an experienced executive with over 20 years in the hi-tech industry and wireless technologies. He brings global experience in enterprise solutions from a variety of companies ranging from large corporates such as Intel and Stanley Black & Decker, in addition to start-up companies at various stages. Most recently, Gabi led the Marketing and Product strategy of AeroScout which pioneered the WI-FI RFID space and were acquired by Stanley Black & Decker. At Stanley, Gabi led the Solutions, Products, Business Development and Marketing of the STANLEY Healthcare division serving over 10,000 global enterprise customers.

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