The convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) has been a looming challenge for the manufacturing industry until recently. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becoming a reality for many forward-thinking manufacturers, demand for the convergence of these two groups has increased. One of EAD’s valued clients challenged EAD to design a new production line with IIoT capabilities at their flagship manufacturing facility.
Our client recognized the value that aligning operational data from the new production line with their existing manufacturing execution system (MES) would create. This project aimed to build a system that would fit their Industry 4.0 goals as a company. As EAD was providing the mechanical, electrical, structural, architectural, and industrial design for the project, the team identified an IT OT gap, which was essentially the scope gap between the OT demands of the new process and the bandwidth of the clients’ local and corporate IT teams.
That’s where EAD’s IT/OT experts stepped up to the plate. Two of our controls engineers who possess substantial experience with IT systems in addition to their OT expertise contributed significantly to the project’s scope by adding specialized IT support. Understanding the OT requirements of the project and the client’s IT standard design philosophy, EAD produced specifications for cabinets, components, cable, and cybersecurity for the new IIoT-capable production line. By determining corporate- and plant-level expectations, EAD also proposed impactful improvements to their OT design standards, enabling them to better expand their IIoT capabilities in the future.
Opportunities like this allow EAD to showcase the skills and experience our staff have in combining industrial OT automation with traditional IT systems to lay a foundation for our clients to implement principles of the Industrial Internet of Things.
What the Future Holds – IT OT Challenges and Potential?
As we continue to bridge the IT OT gap with technological advances, we will continue to develop more powerful ethernet network protocols that more closely connect network systems. However, it poses the risk of major cyber security threats in manufacturing, as having an interconnected system makes it easier for cyber criminals to gain access into more networks or other parts of the setup.
Whether it is new plant construction or industrial plant expansion, cybersecurity will be a rising concern. To thwart the risk of cyber threats and attacks, there is a need for two different approaches to improve security for IT and OT. While they have the same underlying structure, IT and OT run different applications – one for business-side operations and the other for industrial process control.
In terms of the potential for a closer interconnectedness, there’s no doubt that solutions such as protocol gateways, OPC servers, and middleware are helpful in converging the two distinct technologies. However, they have their limitations.
The Opto 22 white paper “Your IoT Primer: Bridge the Gap between OT and IT” states that instead of relying on third parties to relay information back and forth, the future emphasis will be on developing means for direct, seamless communication. It further states that in order to realize the true potential of the IT-OT partnership in the future, the focus will shift from bridging the IT OT gap to incorporating advanced IT capabilities within operational systems.
It predicts that empowering OT systems with in-built communication protocols and languages and web technologies will hopefully result in a direct interaction between assets, nodes, and servers. The stepping stone towards building such futuristic OT systems has already been paved, it says, as developers are designing OT systems that can leverage IoT without third parties like communication gateways or servers.
Resources: 1 https://www.smartindustry.com/articles/2016/bridge-the-gap-between-ot-and-it/